Relativist Parenting Is a State of Mind, Not a Style

In this age of too much information, parenting can be scary business. But when we trust our instincts, we know more than we give ourselves credit for.

Author Jennifer Senior says in her TED Talk, “When I was born, there was really only one book about how to raise your children and it was written by Dr. Spock.” Did my parents actually read Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care?

Probably not.

But, I would steal glimpses of it in my mother’s dresser drawer. It always looked too new to have really been consulted. I saw no evidence of hurriedly penciled, chicken-scratched notes, no bent corners, not a single coffee stain on the cover.

I’m a child of the 70s, a product of a hippie preschool teacher and a working-class dad. I’d bet money they never stopped to consider just how their unique combination of life experiences contributed to my upbringing. But those were their tools; they were equipped with everything they needed and never even knew it.

Back then, the Internet did not exist. There were no TED talks to check your parenting M.O. against. My mother was the nurturer, my father, the disciplinarian, and both were supportive figures. Thinking now about their traditional gender roles, what stands out to me was the perhaps unconscious middle of the road balance they were able to achieve.

My childhood was a normal one, delightfully dysfunctional, and probably similar to Jennifer Aniston’s with her “Trauma-dies.” Who doesn’t want a dose of that? In my family, being in touch with your feelings no matter how irrational they might be – was a birthright, and I often wear my many inherited idiosyncrasies on my sleeve.

Like most new parents, my folks relied upon a mixed bag of tricks. Not all of them worked, several failed miserably, and a great many needed to be tested and tested again, on me, and then my sister. And, somehow, these tricks have survived – are they in my DNA? Now I’m testing them, yet again, a generation later on my daughter.

When I hear myself saying things like: “Get your little butt in the car!” as a last ditch effort after employing several motivational techniques, I feel my dad (and maternal grandmother) standing next to me, smiling. And while there never seems to be a shortage of moms directing their disapproving glares at me because I’ve strayed from the latest popular parenting style’s formula, I know that I’ve made the right decision. A sure sign that my instinct was spot on this time.

Relativist or “Middle of the Road” parenting to me means firm yet supportive. Rules are made, limits established, but love, support and a healthy dose of “whatever feels right” prevails. I strive for balance, a state of mind that (sometimes, if I’m lucky) arrives after trial and a lot of error. How else will I learn if I’m not screwing up every now and again, right?

I’d like to believe parenting is the “great experiment” but, since I’m guilty-as-charged with classic infophile syndrome, I have trouble getting there. I’m constantly inundated with information, statistics, philosophies, and rants, and I’ve been known to contribute a few of my own daily WTFs to the mix, as well. All of this frightens the calm, confident mom right out of me. The act of parenting is serious enough without having to be scared sick while diligently researching preschool education or the latest statistics on the autism-vaccine link.

I teach college design courses remotely and “stay home” to care for my three-year-old daughter. My husband works 9 to 5 where he is out of the office most of the day, far enough away to keep the act of scrolling at bay. The downside of our lifestyle choice is that I’m always “plugged in,” and the digital world plays into my anxieties about parenting, sometimes on an hourly basis. Newsfeeds filled with information and opinions, tailored to my “likes,” fire adrenaline rockets at the pit of my stomach. I’ve created my very own personal recipe for an ulcer at best, and a hyper-emotional toddler at worst.

I like to think that I got a little bit of this and a little bit of that from my parents – the best and worst of both of them and their exceptionally different backgrounds. In her pivotal New York Times bestseller, “The Invisible History of the Human Race,” Christine Kennealy talks about the undeniable link we have to our past through DNA. Not much of what we try to control can actually be controlled; DNA has a permanent grip on our being. This scientific certainty gives me great comfort, especially on the days when less than perfect is something to strive for.

I say, let’s get back to our roots. Let’s ditch the books and the mommy blogs, unless they’re satirical, of course. I don’t need to hear all the testimonials about free-range parenting every morning when I drop my kid off at school, pre-caffeine fix. And what’s this new philosophy about not praising your children on a job well done? Really? Talk about scary.

Let’s all just do our kids a huge favor and unplug every now and then. How can this not allow us to look at things from a clear, fresh perspective? We’ll achieve a greater balance, for ourselves and for our children. We’ll arrive at a more peaceful, centered place, the relativist state of parenting mind.