Parenting discourse

Entering into the world of parenthood has been reminding me lately a little bit of starting grad school. My first semester in grad school, one of the things that was most difficult was the fact that I was walking into conversations that were well underway, conversations that had whole histories and baggage that I knew nothing about, and in general the people having these conversations (mostly in books I was assigned to read, but sometimes in class discussions, too) weren't taking time to explain the back story to newcomers. They were just moving ahead with the discussion, and newbies had to scramble to catch up. To complicate matters further, these conversations were making use of all kinds of vocabulary--references, shorthand, allusions--that I didn't understand. It was clear to me that the stakes were high, because even without the requisite jargon I could pick up on the emotional tenor of the discussions, but it took me a long time to figure out just what the stakes were.

The discourse around parenting is a bit like that. There are conversations happening that I know nothing about. When the childbirth educator asks, "What are your thoughts on vaccination?" I know that this is a loaded question--but in fact I have no thoughts on vaccination. I'm fortunate that in this case, at least, I know what it is that we're actually talking about, but that's not always true. There's a lot of parenting jargon that's not unlike grad school jargon. People will throw out terms and concepts--attachment parenting, "babywise," cosleeping, demand vs. scheduled feeding--and my emotional antennae can sense that these are highly-charged terms, terms about which people have strong opinions, but I'm not always sure even what's being discussed. It's very odd to walk again into a conversation where people are arguing fervently about something that I have never heard about or thought about.

As with grad school, I'm feeling my way around this new discourse terrain and trying to see if I have an opinion--or want to develop one--about these subjects. I have the clear sense that what Biffle and I decide will put us in a particular camp, and might alienate us from folks who identify with another camp. So it seems that the stakes are high, not just in terms of the small person who'll be experiencing the vaccinations or scheduled feedings but in terms of the larger community of parents to which we'll belong.

Biffle and I both made it through grad school, so I imagine we'll make it through this, too.


nashvillemidwife said...

On the vaccination issue, I strongly recommend you pick up "The Vaccine Book" by Sears (actually, I recommend any of the books from the Sears series). It's the most intelligent, balanced look at childhood vaccinations I've come across.

Jims said...

You perfectly described how I already feel after reading three of my course books early. After the most recent, I ended up making a long list of other things I needed to research.

The interesting parent discourse I just learned about via the internet is Montessori vs. Waldorf schools.

I'm blogging again, by the way!

Happy Monkey said...

Boy are you ever right! I remember the heat between working and non-working Moms! I worked part-time, so never really fit into either camp... I was glad.

Keep your head where your feet are, even if you cannot see them over your belly, and things will unfold beautifully on their own time!

Ian McCullough said...

For Carol and I it was shoes and socks. Max was a spring child, he didn't walk, so why put him in shoes and socks during August in Tennessee? Apparently so people at the grocery store won't bombard you with their absurd, ignorant opinions.

In gathering absurd, ignorant opinions childrearing greatly reminds me of graduate school.

For jargon, Google.

Anonymous said...

What Biffle and you decide hasn't met reality on the ground yet. In other words, baby Bifflmeier will have a lot to do with what you end up doing as parents.

Good luck,
Blogless Reader

claire said...

The discourse on parenting is different from parenting itself. the discourse on parenting involves lots of strongly held positions that some will claim correlate clearly with different political and or worldview positions. But parenting involves choosing what is right for you and your person. Others will certinaly politicize those decisions and might even label you based on them. But you don't choose how to get your child to sleep through the night for political reasons or to ally yourselves with one camp over another. You choose what works for you and what you want to work for the person. Your actual parenting may contain a mishmash of different positions, something frowned upon in the academic paper, but the state of life on the ground in the world of parenting.

Curtis said...

Silly Alison! Parenthood's not something you can make it though. There's no end to reach- just ask your own parents. ;)

Hmm, that's two comments in a row I've made about the emotional weight of language. No wonder I'm starting a new grad program on Monday- and more than a little nervous about it. But I'll make it through.