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Friday, December 31st, 2010

Intentional vs. Default Parenting

HuiTuan Wang -

Everyone in my family had saved up in anticipation of my arrival. Nonetheless, when I was under one year old, they needed part-time childcare for me while my mother Nina went back to work as a nurse. My mom had heard of another nurse who had recently taken leave and might be willing to watch me. Enter Simone.

My mother is a lesbian and Simone, a born-again Christian. Hence, she thought I was pretty special because I was one of the chosen people. We did lots of biblical coloring pages. I remember watching an older sibling in the family get in trouble for using the Lord’s name in vain sometime during my toddlerhood. My mom was working at Planned Parenthood at the time and was well aware that Simone tended to protest outside such establishments, so she asked her, “Can you promise me that you won’t bomb the clinic I work at?”

“No,” Simone replied.

“Um…okay. Will you raise my child if you do?” My mom continued.

“No problem.”

What these two apparent opposites shared in common was the desire to parent with intentionality—to make informed decisions around how their babies were fed, put to sleep and cared for. In memory and pictures, they are twins—tiny long-haired nymphs bearing babies on their hips. Nina wanted me to be in a loving environment; Simone provided one. Simone loved babies, the last time I saw her she was on her ninth. She happily promised to nurse me alongside her own daughter, Amber, who was six months older.

Now that I have done some research of my own I know that most of what they agreed upon is commonly referred to as attachment parenting. Part of their attitude was a reflection of that era and the funny intersection of Christianity and hippyness that momentarily sprang up. That being said, I believe the parenting world can be sorted into two factions: intentional vs. default parenting.

Default parenting is something no one can likely wholesale avoid. It is the kid in the car seat while I cook dinner parenting, the turn on the TV and give them apple juice to shut them up parenting. It is a necessary evil produced by a society that devalues intimacy, presence and the prioritization of family life. There are some folks for whom this parenting is the primary mode, these people being the focus of my largest portion of ire. Nothing drives me more crazy than a child repeating “mommy” ad nauseum while their parent attends to something else. Maybe because it makes me want to kill the child myself and I generally love kids.

I am by no means immune either. Lord knows I’ve tried to distract many a baby while I finished eating or made use of one of those evil Bumbo thingies that prop up babies before they can prop themselves. There is a crusade of mine taken up from a friend in childcare licensing, the crusade against “container care,” the problematic process of transferring a child from car seat to bouncy seat from there to high chair and then the crib. Babies in my belief are happiest engaged, either in your arms or on the floor where they can entertain themselves by moving their bodies.
Still, even crusaders like myself have to go to the bathroom and want a safe bucket to plop an infant in, but those are my moments of weakness and I try to make them few and far between. It’s like at Yom Kippur when I spend a few hours repenting and promising to be better for the next year only to start trashing people’s fashion choices before I make it out the door. Intentional parenting is hard but it’s the holy grail of childrearing.

Parenting, even in nanny form, is life’s hardest and most important job so it’s worth the effort. Just today, I was skimming a book in the library on child-led weaning to broaden my horizons of best practice. Thank goodness I have employment that allows me access to the library with its newly truncated hours. It’s not as though our culture makes learning to parent a prioritized task. You have to do it on your own time.

Obsessing over the dichotomy between intentional parenting and modern American culture made me think about how this related to multicultural parenting. Are parents with different backgrounds perhaps more likely to be intentional in raising their kids? Do parents in other cultures break down across this same divide? Questions that begat questions…will I find any answers? To be continued…

© 2010 – 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.

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Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsMariana   |  Saturday, 19 March 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I can relate to your experiences and I do think that culture plays a major role on what you call “default parenting”.
    There is nothing more sadening than a sad child.

  2. CommentsAileen   |  Saturday, 05 April 2014 at 2:09 am

    I agree. Culture affects it, most likely the default parenting.

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