Do you want to raise the most emotionally secure, mentally healthy, highest-potential achieving children the human race has ever seen? Sure, why not. Enter progressive parenting. Progressive parenting is a relatively new phenomenon that involves different (and often contrasting) philosophies, but from an outside perspective, the endgame is all the same: a culture of helicopter parenting and unconventional choices like, say, breastfeeding a kid for half a decade. How far can this go? Very. Herewith, a look at the child-rearing fads du jour.
Elimination communication—sometimes referred to as natural infant hygiene—is a practice in which parents forgo the use of diapers. Instead, they employ a combination of timing, nonverbal signals, and "intuition" to anticipate and address an infant's need to pee or poop, typically holding the child over a toilet or other receptacle. The term was coined by Ingrid Bauer in her 2001 book Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene, but it actually stems from a widely-held, age-old convention of many Eastern civilizations. (In China, baby pants are actually produced with a split or a window, for easy access and less of a mess.) It was first introduced to Westerners by Laurie Boucke, an early proponent who began writing about the practice in 1979, but EC never really took off until the millennium. Since then, a slew of books have been written on the subject, including one by former Blossom star Mayim Bialik, who began EC with her second son when he was just two days old.
Pros: The obvious benefit of a diaper-free life is a diaper-free budget. EC is also very green, minimizing a person's carbon footprint. Additionally, no diaper means no diaper rash and a reduced risk of urinary tract infections. EC advocates claim that it creates a "unique and wonderful bond" between babies and parents, accelerates a child's learning process, and encourages a positive body image.
Cons: While EC might save the Earth, it will probably ruin your carpet and furniture. It's often described anecdotally as "messy," with Blossom referring to shit smears on her hardwood floor as "misses" instead of "accidents," because "that implies some sort of right or wrongness to the body." Another drawback — beyond the inconvenience and filth — is that it is a very time-consuming process. Two parents working outside of the home is considered "an obstacle" to EC. Because most parents that practice EC tend to also breastfeed, it's more logical for mothers to stay home instead of fathers.
Based heavily on the continuum concept—which posits that humans have "an innate set of expectations that our evolutionary process has designed us to meet in order to achieve optimal physical, mental, and emotional development and adaptability"—there are three major tenets to attachment parenting: Breastfeeding on demand into toddlerhood and beyond, co-sleeping, and "baby wearing," meaning the infant is attached to the mother throughout the day in a baby sling. The term was coined by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears, the husband and wife team who wrote the attachment parenting "bible" The Baby Book in 1992.
The momentum of the attachment parenting philosophy reached its crescendo 20 years later on the cover Time—featuring a photo of a thin, attractive young mother breastfeeding a little boy who looked as though he were old enough to procure his beverages at a vending machine—that screamed, "ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?"
Some of Dr. Sears' more extreme views include the belief that excessive crying can cause brain damage (which is why he advises against sleep training and suggests that mothers keep their babies close at all times to avoid any separation anxiety); and to balance work and motherhood he suggests that mothers quit their jobs and borrow money until their children are old enough to be in school.
Pros: The goal of attachment parenting is to promote a strong emotional bond between parents and children that will hold lifelong consequences for the children, including feelings of security, socio-emotional development and well-being.
Cons: There is no empirical evidence that suggests that Dr. Sears' methods are more beneficial than "mainstream" parenting or that children raised via attachment parenting are better off than those who were not. And there are no studies that prove that bouts of crying associated with sleep training affect brain development. Additionally, because exclusive breastfeeding and carrying a baby around in a sling isn't conducive to most jobs or careers, attachment parenting is ostensibly removing women from the workforce.
Consensual living is a philosophy in which parents regard children as equals who have a say in the family's consensus-based decision-making. The intent is to resolve conflicts (insolence, poor grades, messy bedroom, etc.) not through coercion or punishments, but through mutually agreed upon solutions, where the needs of each person are considered and addressed. It's most notably touted by controversial, progressive-parenting author Alfie Kohn in his 2006 book Unconditional Parenting.
Kohn believes that imposing conditions that are enacted through punishments and rewards is detrimental to a child's development, claiming that it sends children a message that their parents only love them when they behave a certain way. "The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions." He suggests parents and kids solve problems together by using reason and humor.
Pros: Resolving conflicts with reason and humor is a lot less stressful and traumatic than doing so with screaming and punishments, leading a family to live in a state of harmony.
Cons: Reason and humor tend to be lost on most young kids in the midst of a full-fledged temper tantrum.
There are two different ways in which parents can use hypnosis to raise their children. The first is self-hypnosis, which is more of a calming technique than anything else. The working theory is that stress-free parents will have an easier time dealing with their children, and that their calmness will be contagious in the household.
The second involves actually hypnotizing children through a series of Jedi mind tricks that Hypnosis Motivation Institute instructor Lisa Machenberg refers to as "suggestibility." Many of the methods she teaches involve a lot of positivity, light touches, eye contact and encouragement. Machenberg says that hypnosis can even help put an antsy child to sleep:
Right before he/she goes to bed, have your child close his/her eyes and get comfy and cozy under the covers. Then simply tell your child a wonderful story about succeeding in whatever the challenge he/she is facing. Remember, use positive images, like "Once there was a little girl who could sleep comfortably all through the night."
Pros: Lulling a child into submission through tranquility and suggestions seems preferable to doing so through anxiety and screaming.
Cons: Unlike comedic stage presentations in which the hypnotist can cause a group of audience members to dance the funky chicken, hypnosis parenting doesn't really involve a swinging pocket watch and the suggestion of performing certain behaviors—like doing homework or putting away toys—upon command. Instead, it's just a different, slightly kookier way to speak to children.
Based on the bestselling book On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by evangelical Christians Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, Baby Wise has been turned into a parenting empire. With methods that are nearly the exact opposite as those advocated in attachment parenting, the philosophy of Baby Wise revolves around "parental control," viewing an infant as a "welcome addition" to—instead of the center of—the household.
It's all about creating a stringent schedule of eating, sleeping, and play, according to Ezzo and Bucknam. In something they call parent-directed feeding (PDF), they instruct mothers to train babies through routine, feeding them when it is time instead of when the infant cries. In fact, they recommend against ever picking up a child upon its first cry.
Pros: Ezzo and Bucknam claim that their methods of strict schedules and limited comfort cause babies to start sleeping through the night at just seven weeks old. But the main selling point is having an infant who fits into the parents' world, instead of parents having to readjust their lives for an infant-dictated schedule.
Cons: Baby Wise has been criticized by the likes of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, MD, FAAP, and Professor Emeritas at Harvard Medical School and The American Academy of Pediatrics for its association with infantile failure to thrive, dehydration, malnutrition, and problems with milk supply in breastfeeding mothers, due to its PDF philosophy.
"Unparenting" is the inevitable response to the parenting philosophies craze of the last 20 years. The New Yorker recently took a look at the books that have comprised this new movement which suggests that we take a step back from the environment of "helicopter parenting" that our good intentions have fostered, and asks if maybe we aren't fucking our children up.
In her book Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, psychologist Madeline Levine beleives that we parents overestimate their influence on their children. "Never before have parents been so (mistakenly) convinced that their every move has a ripple effect into their child's future success," she writes.
Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special. Being special takes hard work and can't be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.
Pros: Critically evaluating different parenting techniques and how they might be negatively affecting a generation is probably for the best.
Cons: It is possible to completely over-think the over-thinking.