Mommie Dearest: Parenting Is A Fear-Based Industry

Avital Norman Nathman | January 4, 2015 - 12:00 pm

In the latest issue of Porter magazine, actress Emily Blunt discusses motherhood — she and her husband, John Krasinski, are the parents of 10-month-old Hazel — stating that raising children “…is such a fear-based industry.” She goes on to clarify that “there used to be one book that everyone read, now there’s How to Raise a Gluten-free Baby, How to Raise a Scientific Baby… It’s insanity! So I haven’t read anything, I’m just letting her do her own thing.”

Yes, Emily Blunt, YES! I totally agree with her that there is a culture of fear being pushed around parenting, and much if it has to do with the unrealistic expectations that are pushed on moms and dads. The idea of perfection (thanks: Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, etc…) in parenting is everywhere you look, causing parents to scramble to be the best in every aspect, despite living in a society that is not set up to support families in the ways that they need. Couple this notion of perfection with the idea that if you fail in any regard — nutrition, education, extra-curricular activities, etc. — your children will fail, and the fear becomes very real. Add to all of that a market that makes money off this fear and it’s a near recipe for disaster.

I remember the moment I got those two positive lines on my pregnancy test. I started reading everything I could get my hands on regarding pregnancy, birth and parenting. I consumed it all, taking in book after book and clicking through websites like it was my job. For me, my biggest fear has always been the unknown, as well as lack of control. Pregnancy, birth, and parenthood felt like the epitome of lack of both control and any sense of a solid plan. And so, I read.

But, the more I read, the less secure I actually felt. Much like Emily Blunt, I felt overwhelmed by everything. First, there was just so much to take in. Then, I had to sift through all the conflicting “advice” that is out there. No caffeine, yes caffeine, no soft cheeses, maybe a little brie is okay, no pain meds in birth, yes pain meds, breast is best, formula is fine, cry-it-out works, cry-it-out harms, co-sleeping is beneficial, cribs are great but only with video monitors, etc. It’s enough to drive anyone mad.

Eventually I was able to source out what made sense to me and my situation from pregnancy to parenting, and now, eight years in, I’ve found that the only constant — ironically — is flexibility. I waded through enough of the bullshit to get to a place of — if not 100 percent confidence — comfort in my parenting. And that’s good enough. It also allows me to look at the birthing and parenting industries to see how so much of it profits off of fear.

Economist Emily Oster’s book, Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know, which came out in paperback this summer, does a wonderful job of debunking so many of the myths that are out there that fuel the fear when it comes to pregnancy. My own book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality offers up more nuanced, varied stories of motherhood in the hopes of eliminating the idea of perfection (and fear) based parenting. But a few books aren’t going to change the status quo.

We need to stop buying into the idea that there is a one size fits all solution or philosophy that will make parenting — and by proxy, kids — perfect. It’s just not reality. Not now or here where families are coming from all sorts of different backgrounds and don’t have access to the same opportunities. There’s no quick fix for this problem either. Instead, we need to keep reminding ourselves that the next big parenting philosophy or expert might work… for some families. Or that you don’t need every single product on the market, and that your child will turn out perfectly wonderful anyway. And we need to stop beating ourselves up as parents for not fitting into whatever pre-determined set of unrealistic standards.

There are a million aspects of parenting that honestly, really don’t matter, despite entire industries telling you that they do, in hopes of profiting off your fear and worry. Here’s what matters:

  • Love. Love your kids, and more importantly make sure they know you love them. That doesn’t mean showering them with stuff, but rather spending quality time with them when you can, and making that time truly count.
  • Safety. Keep your kids safe, and more importantly, teach them how to keep themselves and those around them safe as well. This does not mean you need to be a Helicopter Parent. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. Allow your kids the room and space they need to make mistakes and grow from them.
  • Health. This one is tricky, because there is a divide in our country when it comes to who has access to what. So, do your best. Vaccinate your kids. Feed them healthy food the best you can and know that the occasional doughnut or fast food sandwich never killed anyone.
  • Kindness. Treat your kids with kindness, and teaching them to treat others with kindness. And don’t forget to treat yourself with kindness as well. We can be as hard on ourselves as anyone else, so be kind to yourself when it comes to this whole parenting thing, okay?