25 Signs That You Might Not Be a Natural Parent

I subscribe to a couple of natural parenting groups on Facebook, and a link popped up on my newsfeed the other day that listed 25 signs that you’re a natural parent. It was a fun, lighthearted look at some of the practices that come along with natural parenting (for the record, I try to avoid labels like “natural parent” or “attachment parent” when possible, but it was a cute article). Then I looked at the comments. Oh, Lord, I’ve said it before, but NEVER look at the comments.

There was, of course, one commenter who “rolled her eyes at how mainstream the list was”, then proceeded to give a point by point assertion of how she was even more natural, and therefore a better parent. I especially liked her condescending query of “doesn’t everyone?” when discussing packing organic lunches and making her own laundry soap.

Uh, no. In spite of the fact that it seems to be the new standard, we don’t all parent that way. I hit a few points on the list, but definitely not all of them. So, in response to that comment, here is my point by point list of 25 signs that you might not be a “natural parent”:

  1. You vaccinate your kids according to the recommended schedule, and feel good that they are protected against potentially fatal diseases and that they are contributing to the herd immunity for unvaccinated children.
  2. You gave birth in a hospital and/or were induced, used pain medication, or had a c-section.
  3. You have fed your baby puréed food out of a jar or a pouch.
  4. Two words: formula feeder.
  5. If you breast-fed, at some point you “topped up” or supplemented with formula.
  6. You buy powdered formula from the store, or the pre-mixed ready-to-eat formula.
  7. Your child’s primary health care provider is a pediatrician.
  8. When illness strikes you do what works, even if it means using over-the-counter medication.
  9. Your kids attend public school and possibly also attended pre-school or daycare.
  10. When someone says, “What are you doing?” you reply, “Doing laundry.” With store-bought soap.
  11. You did not eat, freeze, encapsulate, dry, plant, or preserve your placenta in any way. You may not have even seen your placenta.
  12. The only people present at your birth were your doctor and your partner.
  13. You pack your kids non-organic fruit, store-bought bread, and juice boxes in their plastic lunch box.
  14. One (or more!) of your Pinterest boards has a title like “Meals in less than 30 minutes” or “COOKIES!!!” or “Barbie cleaning tips”.
  15. You’ve asked a stranger where they bought their stroller.
  16. You buy your vegetables from the store.
  17. Your children’s chore list includes loading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, and Windexing their handprints off the window.
  18. Your trash can is full of disposable diapers.
  19. You’ll be using your next pay cheque to buy more diapers, wipes, and formula.
  20. Your friend calls you to ask you if you have a canning pot and you tell her that you don’t, but let her know that jam is on sale this week at the grocery store.
  21. Within minutes of meeting a new friend you’ve swapped birth stories, but neither of you mentioned whether you used a doctor or a midwife.
  22. You know the cheapest place to buy formula and diapers, the closest store that sells baby food, and exactly how many uses you can get out of a Diaper Genie refill.
  23. It’s the middle of winter and you and your kids are stuffing your faces with store-bought hot chocolate and marshmallows.
  24. Your kids wear something with a Disney or Pixar character on it.
  25. You try to limit the amount of TV that your kid watches, but sometimes putting him down in front of “Blue’s Clues” for half an hour is the only break that you’ll get all day.

I want to be clear that I am not mocking the original list or saying that one way of parenting is better than the other. This list is in response to a specific comment, but I know that the commenter doesn’t speak for the natural parenting community (in fact, everyone was pretty quick to let her know that she was out of line).

My intention is not to draw a line between natural parents and…unnatural (?) parents. I had a midwife and I make my own baby food, bake my own bread, grow a garden, and babywear. I also buy disposable diapers and use store-bought formula, and my son is fully vaccinated. Does that make me a natural parent? Who knows? Does it matter?

I think that parents who make their own laundry soap and homeschool should be proud of themselves. That’s a lot of work! But I think moms who buy their laundry detergent from the store and have to put their kids in daycare should be equally as proud of themselves. We’re all working hard, and the most important thing is to find a way to parent that works with your own lifestyle.

Disposable diapers or cloth, homemade or store-bought, organic or not, we’re all doing okay. No eye-rolling necessary.

Miffed About Myths

I was very glad to contribute this piece to a new blog that’s a project to encourage moms to be kinder to each other. This post was the first of a series on subjects that are contentious in the parenting community.

End the Mommy Wars

We welcome Meagan Harris with End the Mommy Wars’ inaugural guest post.  When I asked moms on our Facebook which topics were most debated in their social circles, I was baffled at the diversity of the responses!  Meagan’s is the perfect first post because it addresses one of the more unusual of the mommy wars topics.  What speaks to me most about this particular issue is the fact that it is an issue in the first place.  I believe that the fact that mothers are willing to judge and battle over such a very personal, and in my opinion very seemingly innocuous, nuance of family life is evidence of the depth and breadth of the mommy wars.


fb tooth fairy

Before I had my son, I had no idea that there were so many things that I needed to worry about. Eight months into motherhood, I’m still learning. Sometimes things that I…

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Formula Feeding Myth #3 – We’re Stupid

In a blog post entitled “Is Pushing Formula Evil?“, Dr. Darcia Narvaez makes the following statement regarding formula-feeding moms:

Too many [moms] have fallen for the hype from the pharmaceutical companies (who make formula) telling them that formula is good enough for normal babies and best for digestive problems. These are ignorant mistruths.

Even if it’s not overtly stated, this is a common accusation made of formula-feeding moms. The assumption is that we’re misinformed and somehow didn’t get the message that breast-feeding is recommended for our babies. Take a read through the comments section of any formula-feeding support post on Facebook, and you’ll see countless people spouting, “Breast is best!” and detailing the benefits of breast milk over formula.

Of all of the misconceptions regarding moms who don’t breast-feed, this one is the least true, if only for the reason that in this day it is virtually impossible to not get the “breast is best” message. From the time that we find out that we’re pregnant, the advice that we should be breast-feeding is transmitted loud and clear: on parenting websites, in pregnancy books, in our prenatal classes, from our health-care providers, and from our friends and family. Hell, it’s even written on the side of the formula containers. When I sent away for my free diaper bag from Nestlé, they sent me a barrage of pamphlets, each of them prominently displaying the message that I should be breast-feeding. And if we somehow didn’t get the information before we started formula-feeding, there’s a lineup of people to tell us now.

I think I can speak for most formula-feeding moms when I say: we get it. We’ve heard the arguments for breast-feeding. When you lecture us that breast-feeding is best, or inform us of the supposed dangers of formula, it’s insulting. It implies that the decision on how we feed our babies was made out of ignorance rather than necessity or choice. We aren’t stupid. We made an informed decision that works for us and our families, and that’s the best that we can do for our babies.

This, along with being labelled as lazy and selfish, are the three most common misconceptions that I have heard about formula-feeding moms. Are there any others that you’ve encountered?

We Ourselves Must Walk the Path

Well guys, the internets have gotten me all fired up again. And surprise, surprise, it’s because of an online parenting “support” group.

Not having a great many friends with kids, I joined a bunch of these groups shortly after baby P. was born as a way to connect with other moms. What I discovered is that many of these groups masquerade as support, but are really nothing more than a sanctimonious group of moms who tout their own parenting skills while condemning those who don’t agree with them. After feeling frustrated and angry reading some of their posts on my Facebook feed, I dumped almost all of them, save for a few that seemed to be offering real support.

One of these was a Facebook page that focuses on a style of parenting called “continuum parenting”. I actually really enjoyed it as I agree with much of what was writen. Until the moderator posted this Facebook status last Wednesday:

Do you know what I find so frustrating? When parents argue that all parents make different choices and that just because they are not the same as our own, we shouldn’t butt our noses in.

Of course I am not under the illusion that we all have to do things the same way – we all have our own thoughts and feelings on how to parent.

However, I feel it is my duty as an adult to stand up for those who cannot do it for themselves.

I cannot stand by in silent acceptance and hear a mother tell me how she lets her baby cry it out for her own good.

I cannot hear a parent tell me they smack their child to get them to comply, without speaking up.

I cannot blindly support a parent who refuses to let their child play in nature, or fills them up with nothing but junk food.

I just cannot do it.

These children need someone who can speak up for them, who can help their parent to find another way. The parents deserve to hear all the information out there, to know that there is a happier path for all of them.

It is their right to ignore my words. But I wont stop sharing what I believe. This page and my website are about sharing the truth, sharing how joyful parenting can be and educating parents about the myths of parenting. I want to help parents to find the confidence to follow their instinct and enjoy their children, and I want to protect the children (who will soon grow in to adults responsible for the care of our planet) from harm. Saying nothing is in effect, condoning these choices. I can’t do that.

Can you?

This is a perfect example of the type of judgement that is so prevalent in the parenting community. I made a pledge that I won’t stand for it, and I won’t.

I want to say that I know that I am not perfect. We all judge each other, and I am no exception. There are times when I see parents doing something that I myself would never do. And yes, sometimes, I judge them on it. The difference, however, is that I don’t say anything (unless the child is clearly in immediate and honest distress). I tell myself that I don’t know that mom’s story, and I don’t know her child. I have no right to think that because something does or doesn’t work for me, that she should follow my example.

I appreciate and respect that other women have their opinions on how they want to be a mom. I acknowledge that anyone has a right to post her viewpoints on her Facebook page or blog, just as I do with mine. What I can’t tolerate is someone thinking that she has the right to offer unsolicited parenting advice to another person based on her own values and morals.

The problem is that if she’s allowed to do it, then I’m allowed to do it, and you’re allowed to do it, and every mom is free to tell every other mom how they feel we should be raising our children. It’s a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? Sure, it makes sense to say that we shouldn’t feed our kids only junk food. But what is junk food? One parent might consider a Happy Meal once a week fine. Another might consider anything other than a strictly organic, vegan diet as harmful. Which one is right? How often does a child have to “play in nature” in order to meet that particular mom’s threshold of acceptance? Once a week? Once a day? Two hours a day? Do you see how subjective this is?

I can show you communities of moms who think that sending your child to public school causes irrevocable damage. There are those that condemn mothers who let their children wear a certain colour. I’ve recently written a draft post on moms who think that letting your child believe in Santa is tantamount to child abuse. “Well,” you might say to yourself, “That’s just stupid.” Not to those moms it isn’t. They believe in it just as passionately as we believe in how we raise our kids, and they can probably find studies to back up their claims, just as other moms can of theirs.

The result of imposing our perceptions of “proper” mothering onto others is exactly what we see in the parenting community today: moms feel judged and unsupported and learn to tune out other people’s opinions, no matter how well-meaning. Being a constant, unwitting combatant in the mommy wars makes us weak, tired, and doubtful of our own abilities. By “speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves” we are cutting the legs out from underneath our children’s caregivers and most crucial support system. This does nothing to benefit our children.

In the Facebook status that inspired this post, the author describes the worst-case scenario as the recipient of her advice ignoring her words. I’m sorry to tell her, but it could be a whole lot worse than that. You don’t know how someone else is going to react, and the last thing you want is a mom going home and taking out her frustration on her child because she was made to look bad. It happens. Providing “education” to other moms is simply not helpful.

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Image Courtesy of I Am Not the Babysitter

There are ways that we can support each other, however. If you think that someone’s child would benefit from more time outdoors, invite them on a play date to a park. If you think that they eat too much junk food, make sure healthy snacks are available when they come to your house. If you don’t agree with spanking, be a compassionate ear and let your mom friends talk and vent to you, so perhaps their frustration won’t reach a level where that happens.

If you have a legitimate concern that a child is in imminent danger and should not be in the care of its parents, then there are trained authorities that can step in and assess that situation. If you feel compelled to devote your time to helping children, there are many community organizations that do good work with at-risk children and youth, and they’re usually looking for volunteers. There are so many ways to help without telling a mom that she’s doing something “wrong”, no matter how nicely you think you’re saying it. It is not our job to tell other moms how to raise their kids. Ever.

I find it presumptuous that anyone would tell me that their unsolicited advice will help me find a “happier path”. My son and I are on a happy path; one where I make choices that others might not agree with, but where my son will always know that he’s loved. I hope that by modelling tolerance and respect, I am creating a safe space for him to explore and make mistakes without fear of me condemning him for his choices. So, to all of the parenting communities that I’ve left behind, it may not matter to you that you’ve lost a follower, but removing myself from environments like your page helps me on the path to being a better mom.

Formula Feeding Myth #2 – We’re Selfish

The following is an excerpt from a comment left on the Fearless Formula Feeder website:

“…It is a scientifically proven fact that breastmilk is hands down, better for babies than formula. Moms can come up with any excuse why they don’t or won’t nurse. But it all comes down to selfishness. Nipples bleeding, mastisitis, drying up, etc. It’s all excuses. Why would one promote formula feeding knowing it doesn’t compare to the nutrition in breastmilk? I don’t get it. It seems like this website is a bunch of moms trying to justify themselves for not nursing because they feel guilty, as they should. If a mom isn’t willing to do the best possible thing for her baby, then why even have a baby. It’s really sad because there are so many women who would love to have a baby that they could nurse and nourish, but its not possible for them to have children. Then there is women telling stories on here that won’t even give their newborn baby colostrum??? So selfish and sickening. Poor little babies.”

This is obviously the opinion of one person, whom I don’t even know, who decided to spout off a bunch of judgemental nonsense on a website. I get that. But this person is not alone. I’ve heard the word “selfish” tossed around often when it comes to describing moms who don’t breast-feed.

It’s confusing to me. Of all the moms that I know who formula-feed, and in the countless number of stories that I’ve read online and in books, no one chose formula without seriously considering what the consequences would be for their babies. In the end, the choice was either made for them (they were physically unable to breast-feed), or the ramifications of breast-feeding their infants were negative enough that it was prohibitive to try or keep trying.

How we feed our babies is just one of the thousands of decisions that we make as parents. Our babies need nutrition to thrive. They also need a caretaker that is happy, healthy, and able to engage. Putting aside our own egos and admitting that breast-feeding isn’t working, or doesn’t work in our situation, is not selfish. Ensuring that we, as mothers, are healthy and whole is for the benefit of our babies. Making the decision to feed our babies formula, in spite of the criticism and judgement that we receive, is a decision made out of love. And it’s just about the most selfless thing we can do.

Strong Moms Empowered

Similac (a company that makes formula) has come out with a new advertising campaign. It is called “Strong Moms Empower”, and is a call to remove the stigma and judgement associated with formula feeding. This is how the company describes it:

It’s time for moms to feel good about the decisions they make for their children and their families. The StrongMoms Empower campaign, brought to you by Similac, is a call-to-action to create a more supportive and less judgmental environment, online and off.

You can go online, “sign” a pledge, and then add a badge to your blog or website to show your solidarity with the cause. There is also a discussion on twitter under the hashtag #strongmomsempower.

I have so many mixed feelings about this campaign. Regular readers of my blog know that I am a strong advocate for infant feeding choice. I actively fight to dispel the misconceptions that surround formula feeding. Any support that I can get in spreading that message is more than welcome.

I’m concerned that it’s a formula company who is initiating this message. I’d like to think that they are doing this out of an altruistic concern for our mental health, but I suspect that it has more to do with the bottom line. Formula feeding moms already take so much crap for being “in the back pocket of the formula companies”. It’s commonly assumed that our decision to formula feed is influenced (or solely decided) by advertising. It takes away from the power and autonomy that we used to make our decisions. I know that this campaign will be wielded as a weapon by those who choose to condemn us for our choice. I’m also worried that the validity of the message will be challenged due to where it originated. There will be those who ignore it altogether; the thinking being that because it came from a formula manufacturer, it must be wrong.

Strong Moms EmpowerOn the other hand, I do use formula (not Similac, but another national brand). Why not have the industry that I have entrusted to provide my baby with nutrition stand up for me and my rights? Regardless of their motivation, the message is an important one. Although formula companies have a shady past when it comes to their marketing practices, I don’t think that they are all inherently evil.

I’ve written posts about the massive amounts of judgement that moms receive in regards to every parenting choice they make. It’s ridiculous. We all complain about it, but we do it to each other. The day that I wrote my post about being nice to each other, I took a personal pledge to support other moms more and judge less. I encouraged others to share my post and to take some time to say something nice to a mom every day. I think that Similac has the same idea, just on a much larger scale.

Do I think that this campaign will make a difference? I don’t know if it will make anyone judge less, but perhaps it will make moms who have been judged feel more validated in their choices. Regardless of where the message is coming from, that will be a good thing. And, like it or hate it, this marketing initiative has people talking. It is a concept that resonates deeply with parents. Do I like it that Similac is exploiting that for financial gain? Maybe this is a case where the ends do justify the means. So, for now, I will display the badge on my blog in solidarity. I will align myself not with a corporation, but with the idea of a judgement-free parenting community where everyone can feel accepted.

Formula Feeding Myth #1 – We’re Lazy

breastfeeding memeLast week, the website Babble.com featured an article about the benefits of formula-feeding. Predictably, in the comments section were a number of judgemental responses that insulted moms who formula feed. For any new readers to this blog, I am a formula-feeding mom, although that was never my intention. You can read earlier posts on the subject of formula feeding here and here.

I think my earlier posts quite succinctly covered my opinion on the breast vs. bottle debate, but for the benefit of myself and the other formula-feeding moms out there, I would like to publicly refute some of the stereotypes of moms who don’t or can’t breast-feed their babies.

Something that I’ve heard over and over (and have even beaten myself up about) is that moms who weren’t able to breast-feed just didn’t try hard enough. We’ve been labelled as lazy quitters who are uncommitted to our babies’ best interests.

I can’t speak for other women, but I can tell you that I have never worked as hard at anything as I have at trying to breast-feed. I never, ever thought to myself that I wanted to quit because it was too much work. I saw countless lactation experts, read every resource that I could find on breast-feeding and latching, watched every video on the La Leche League website, and kept on trying until I literally could not stand the pain any longer.

When I made the decision to switch from breast-feeding to pumping and bottle-feeding, it was because breast-feeding wasn’t working. It was because I was miserable and my family was suffering for it. And pumping was no easy way out. First thing in the morning I would feed my baby a bottle as I leaked all over my shirt, then hook myself up to the pump and try to simultaneously comfort my baby (who was whining to be held) and pump enough milk for the next feeding. I would hook myself up to that pump every two hours, and my baby hated it. As soon as he heard the whir of the motor he would start crying. I felt so guilty as I tried to hold the pump and bottle with one hand and rock him with the other. When my milk supply dried up, I tried to double my pumping to every hour, while downing upwards of 12 pills a day.

Now that I am formula feeding, it is no easier. As soon as my baby lays down for a nap, I’m in the kitchen washing and sterilizing bottles and mixing up formula for the rest of the day. I always need to make sure that I have a full kettle of boiled water ready so that I can make a bottle if I need to. When my baby cries, instead of being able to put him to the breast, I have to grab a bottle, put it together, and warm it up while trying to comfort him and not feel guilty about making him wait so long to eat. If I’m leaving the house, I must gauge how much formula to bring with me. If I bring too much, it will spoil before I can use it. If I don’t bring enough, I’m making an emergency trip back home or finding a store to buy some ready-to-feed bottles.

I’ve heard many women chastise those of us who tried to breast-feed, citing themselves as an example. “It was hard in the beginning, but I stuck with it and I’m so glad I did, because it got better and now I’ve exclusively breast-fed my baby for a year. You shouldn’t give up just because it’s hard.” I think stories like that are great. I wish that I had a story like that. But the fact that it worked for one mom because she stuck with it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone if they stick with it. Sometimes the negative side-effects of “sticking with it” aren’t worth it. Sometimes, physiologically, breast-feeding just isn’t possible for some women or babies. And sometimes women choose formula feeding for their own reasons, reasons that don’t include “I’m too lazy.”

Yes, breast-feeding is a lot of work. Yes, formula-feeding is a lot of work. Yes, pumping is a lot of work. Regardless of how we feed our babies, this is one area in which no mom is lazy.