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Outrage: When parents cross the line

Where's the line?

The imaginary line. The line between "do what is best for your family" and "that is cruel, abusive, neglectful." Where is it?  Do you have one in your head? That dividing line between "not my cup of tea" and "wrong, wrong, wrong"?

I do. Sometimes. It shifts and moves a bit, but it is there. However, my line is not necessarily the same as your line and this is what I'm struggling with right now. I believe there is value in discussing what works and what doesn't work, what is beneficial and what is detrimental, what is valuable and what is useless. When we do that, however, it is almost always accompanied by cries of  "don't judge me."

I believe that leaving a baby to cry it out is cruel, that spanking is wrong, and that circumcision should be abolished.  Over the past week or so, I've heard people who have chosen those practices (by choice or in desperation) speak out against Chinese mothers who berate their children and force them to study and practice for hours on end. I've heard them chastise mothers who have a five year old's eyebrows waxed against her will for a beauty pageant. I've heard them express outrage at water torture techniques used on toddlers in polygamist communities. Why did they speak out against those things? Because they are better mothers? Because they have limits or standards too? Because the practices are abusive? I don't know.

I think water torture is on par with cry it out. I think spanking is on par with forced practice while being threatened. I think cutting off a piece of a child's penis is on par with waxing a child's eyebrows.  So yes, I am outraged by these things that everyone else is outraged by, but I must admit to being confused about why it is okay to critique some parenting techniques, but not others (yes, I get told how wrong and judgmental I am every time I critique something).  The only conclusion I can come to is that some of these are mainstream acceptable cruelties in the Western world and the others are outlandish things that only those strange Chinese, polygamists, or human show pony families do. Personally, just because something is widely done and accepted, doesn't make it acceptable to me.

There are extreme and less extreme versions of any of these parenting practices, for sure (e.g. graduated extinction cry it out versus let the baby cry until she vomits and beyond, make-up and a sexy outfit on a toddler versus forced eyebrow waxing and toddler lingerie). But I think that if it is acceptable to express outrage, then we need to realize that none of us is perfect and that not everyone's imaginary line is in the same place. We need to allow the dialogue and expression of opinion on both the things we are outraged by and the things that we may be doing in our own homes.  We also need to keep that dialogue respectful, regardless of whether we are criticizing our neighbour, a fellow blogger, or some anonymous woman on YouTube.

Image credit: Subharnab on flickr
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Reader Comments (103)

Because they have limits or standards too?

Of course mothers have standards -- just because my son is circumcised does not mean I do not have standards on what constitutes abuse; just because my friend used the CIO method doesn't mean that she doesn't have thoughts on child neglect.

I'm not going to say that you're wrong to feel the way you do -- God help us if we become so homogenized that we can't make individualized choice. I agree that it's hard sometimes when everyone's opinion of the right way to parent is so widely varied that we can't find common ground, and disagreement is automatically turned into judgement.

I don't think that we should automatically judge parents based on one or two disagreements of practice; almost none of my friends agree with how I parent, but I don't think any one of them would call me a bad or abusive mother.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley


I wasn't intending to suggest that some people don't have standards or limits. I think everyone does and I think they are different for each person.

What I was questioning was what makes people feel they have the right to criticize someone else (and why it is okay to do so sometimes, but not other times).

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I don't think eyebrow waxing is even remotely close to circumcision. I'd rather a child had their eyebrows forcefully waxed than had part of their penis removed.

That said, I struggle with this topic too and I'm glad you brought it up because it's been a constant topic in my circle of parent friends of late - although not because of the book that's caused such a stir. I don't have the answers either, but I guess that on a case-by-case basis I make judgments about whether or not I feel that a particular incidence of discipline is acceptable or not. It's a totally arbitrary line drawn in the sand. And what I feel is acceptable for all people is not always something that I feel is acceptable for my family.

It's just a tough topic, that.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I think what makes people feel they have the right to criticize another persons parenting is the same thing that makes people feel like they have the right to criticize anything - a feeling of superiority. "Well, I may have cut part of my son's penis off, but that's for cleanliness and he was too young to remember. But waxing the eyebrows of a toddler for beauty well that's just torture."

I've noticed that its almost never "okay" to criticize (or question) mainstream Western practices without being labeled or suffering some sort of backlash. That is especially true when it comes to parenting styles or decisions. But, its also true about fashion, beauty, marriage, feminism, alcohol and/or drug use, etc.

In my opinion, that is because people who follow the norm without analyzing or thinking about it aren't as secure in their decisions; they just do it because "that's the way its done." So, to have those practices questions is especially threatening because if they did the "wrong" thing, its not because they did research, thought about it, struggled through the pros and cons and then came to a decision. If they did the "wrong" thing, its because everyone else did it, and surely everyone can't be wrong!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmie

I love what you have brought up here. I have found myself wondering many of the same things about parenting in general as well. I have found that i have similar parenting philosophies as you do & for sure have my own personal views on what constitutes 'right' & 'wrong' in my own books - but try to understand where someone might be coming from if they don't share my views.

I find it interesting that on what i see as 'large & long lasting consequentlal' parenting issues such as CIO, physical violence {spanking} or circumcision people tend to argue that everyone is able to have their own parenting views (which i do believe as long as its thought out & researched IMO) and will argue to the death their right to do what they feel best for their family - - will shut down any conversation on other parenting views {like you have mentioned above} for being out right ridiculous ... it's just all very interesting to me... where & when people feel their judgments on people are 'valid'.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevan @ Accustomed Chaos

My apologies for misinterpreting the context; the "too" came off to me as though you found it strange that these parents would have had standards, and as one of those parents on your shortlist, I found it (understandably, I think) disconcerting.

That criticism line is tricky, because I think we all genuinely want to be helpful and promote healthy, happy parenting -- but what might strike me as helpful commentary might strike my friend as totally inappropriate and offensive. In general, I choose to live and let live; I'm pretty non-confrontational like that, and I never expect to change anyone's mind.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Also, everything Amie said.

Nothing irritates me more than the assumption that by thoughtfully reconsidering the choices my husband and I make for our family, and therefore coming to conclusions that are sometimes at odds with mainstream parenting, we are negatively judging parents around us. We are not. We are making different decisions, that's all. We all have things that we consider absolutely unfathomable (i.e. some people believe spanking is physical abuse) and by all means, speak up if that's the case. Otherwise, why can't we agree to disagree? If we all spent the same amount of time researching that we do passing negative judgements and jumping to conclusions and just plain doing what other people do without thinking twice, I'll bet the world would be much different. That doesn't mean it would look like my ideal world - who knows what it would look like? - but it would certainly be different.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

Because I am a crunchy, granola mom.. I faced a lot of criticism from the baby boomers in my life who thought I was nuts to be holding my kid so much, and crazier still to be sleeping with her in my bed.
Still, at the time... all I wanted was a respect for my choices as a parent. I do my best to extend the same courtesy to other parents, despite a strong judgey feeling sometimes. I realize that some of my choices as a parent could be viewed as harmful as well.
Where is the line?
Like you said, different places for different people.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay Dianne

Boy I love your blog.

This post makes me think of Our Babies, Ourselves, an fantastic book by Merideth Small. It takes an anthropological look at parenting in various cultures. I read it when my first baby was very tiny and I was just starting to reassess those things that our culture takes for granted about babies: bottles, cribs, daycare, instant rice cereal, circumcision, pacifiers, teddy bears, blankies, bouncy seats, growth charts, naps, etc, etc.. and the book just pushed me further in the direction I was already going. But anyway, by the end of the book it boiled down to this: most parenting variations aren't wrong or right, they are appropriate or inappropriate within the context of the society's culture. We are not born into a bubble. Parents raise their children to fit into the society they are born into.

This is not in the book, but I've heard that parents with jobs that are very strict (time punch card, overbearing boss..) tend to be strict with their children. Parents with more flexible jobs tend to be more lenient with their children. Which makes perfect sense. If your job doesn't dock you for being a few minutes late, you're not going to come down on your kid for having a few tardies at school. But if your job does doc you, you'll want to teach your child to be on time.

So naturally the language that the "Chinese Mother" uses with her children is perfectly fine within the context of her culture. But it doesn't fly in ours. Even within "Western Culture," there are variations of how we can talk to our children. As a preschool teacher, I saw differences in my students in a poor ethnic area. The children considered their nicknames terms of endearment, though upper class white women were appalled and offended by them. Children inherit culture. If you act outside YOUR culture, your child knows it. I cannot get away with calling my child garbage. Amy Chua can. Her children understand. My child wouldn't. It's not appropriate in my culture.

It doesn't make everything within a culture OK, and it's OK to act against the norm. 1/3 of the boys in the US are being circumcised now. By the time we had a boy, the choice was easy because it wasn't rebellion.

Some cultures nurse each others' children. That's not bad, but if I were to pick up someone else's crying infant and nurse them it would be completely inappropriate. It is also inappropriate for me to walk around in public topless, even if I've got a nursling in tow. Though I wish both of those things were OK in our culture, I won't teach my child to do these things because I want her to function well in the society I brought her into. I want her to learn the language of the power culture so she can be successful and have choices. When she does do something that varies from the norm, I want her to do it intentionally, not by accident because mama raised a freak. I love freaks, but a happy freak is a freak who chooses to be one.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Why is it "okay" to critique some parenting techniques, but not others?

As you say, there is a range of parenting practices that are deemed acceptable by the mainstream. And we live in a diverse society. And many of us are parenting differently from our parents, and differently from our friends, and so on. And many of us are learning a lot from books instead of from our (fragmented) communities. And we're making it up as we go along. There's a lot of uncertainty and vulnerability to parenting in this context, and so even the most respectful critique can be perceived as some kind of attack. But, like you, I believe that the discussion has value. For one thing, it's a way to find — if not certainty — some clarity.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachael

I'm not even going to google water torture techniques on toddlers...

It is interesting that a culture that has no problem cutting off part of a newborn baby's penis for cosmetic reasons would get worked up over eyebrow waxing. Don't get me wrong, I think that's pretty awful too but at least the owner of the eyebrows can let them go natural one day if she wishes.

I'd be curious if the people horrified by eyebrow waxing feel the same about piercing babies' ears, or is that OK because everyone does it? My own line in the sand is pretty anti-permanent bodily changes for cosmetic reasons without a person's consent. And "parental choices" that seem to be more about parental convenience than a child's well-being.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

@Ami, I like what you said. A quote I read recently that pretty much sums up just what you said in the 2nd paragraph: "Facts are such stubborn things...but no so stubborn as fallacies." (Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery. People can hear a study that spanking, cio, circumcision, etc is bad. They can read the facts. But when it comes down to it the weakness to admit they are wrong becomes to driving factor. (certainly not in ALL cases, but probably in most).

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

@Sarah, lately I've been getting really annoyed at people's "concerns" for me with regards to specifically my birth choices (homebirth, midwife), and also somewhat my parenting choices. It struck me yesterday that the reason is because I have spent over a year studying, reading, talking, learning about so many of these things. All of my choices are informed. But I'm treated like I'm stupid and naive, when in actuality, just because someone has more experience than mean doesn't mean they have more knowledge that I do, because (and not to sound cocky) I probably am much more informed with regards to my choices than the ones criticizing me.

That said...*sigh*...as a newbie I am in the "Oh I'm so excited about what I'm learning and everyone should be doing it it would make their lives so much easier!!!" stage which totally comes off as judgmental. Doesn't help that I grew up in a judgmental family. Ugh!!! I hate it.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Yes. Cultural context is critical and by acting intentionally we can shift our culture.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

>>But I think that if it is acceptable to express outrage, then we need to realize that none of us is perfect and that not everyone’s imaginary line is in the same place.

I agree most "outrages" should be addressed in less inflammatory ways - I admit I have responded viscerally to things I've seen (i.e. the detached and impassive mother of the eyebrow waxed young girl) - but some, i.e. routine infant circumcision, should be universally outraged against, and often are not. And if we all go along thinking, "I don't like what I see but I don't want to offend anyone with what I think because they just might have a different way of looking at things and I need to respect that possibility, so I should just do what I do, and mind my own business," then some outrages - which need to be addressed - will continue under cover of "culturally acceptable". As you said, there are some things, regardless of cultural norms, which aren't acceptable. No matter where the parental line is drawn.

We just need to be sure that in our effort to be respectful and choose our words carefully, we aren't instead just not saying anything.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Bloggers say the darndest things.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBackpacking Dad

Oh boy. I know this struggle. I make a big distinction between situations where we're tossing around ideas and opinions (like on blogs) - to some extent, if you decided to participate in that, then there's an implicit acceptance that it involves listening to the judgment of others. Outrage can be in that space and still be legitimately constructive.

But it's a whole different thing when we get into situations where a mother needs support and is reaching out to other women - in my breastfeeding support work, there have been times where I've wondered where I stop supporting mom and start supporting that family or baby (which isn't always the same thing).

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle @ Mama Bear

I have been thinking this as well as I recently got in an online "conversation" with an "intactivist" about parenting and judgement, and it did not go so well... (and my sons are all intact...that was the kicker...)
Anyway, I think that it comes down to the wording that people use when discussing certain topics. I think we all have to realize that people just read into things differently, and have different upbringings and different ideas of what is okay and what isn't and that is OK!
I think that the most helpful way to talk about these things is not to judge and condemn, but rather to say WHY you feel that way, and have a real honest discourse about it. And maybe both parties will learn something? Thank you for this post by the way, I am feeling a shift in the "activist" communities around me. :)

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlisha


I think the actual word "forcefully" in context with "waxed" is the problem. (Yes, circumcision is also forecfully done, but hear me out...)

The thing is this: the five year old, who could be well on the way to discovering its autonomy is in a completely different position than an infant which will (apparently) have no recollection of his "forceable" circumcision.

(None of my boys are circumcised, so obviously this is not one of my priorities in caring for my children. But I would put this question on my "to immunize or not immunize" list... something deemed to protect the health of the child, where-as the eyebrows seems to be more *cosmetic* and in my mind more for the parent than the child -- I am speaking from zero experience, though, as all my three daughters have grown up in Germany where we never encountered five year olds with waxed eyebrows... the idea never crossed our minds!)

And I agree completely with you: it is a tough topic.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Schmitz

Michelle - It can be difficult to take heat from mainstream birth/parenting advocates. Hang in there. Honestly, the most important thing is that we each do our best; that we each strive to do what is best for our family. And what's best for my family isn't the same as what's best for your family (although, it might just be so please please tell me what works for your family cause things are looking a little crazy around here ;))

The tricky thing about facts is that they have to be gathered and then interpreted. I think the biggest problem with the parenting discussion is that we all want to plop our facts down on the table and say "see! LOOK! Its all right there in black and white!" And Mainstream Mommy is standing there going "Yep, just like I told you." This isn't math; its opinion (sometimes backed by research). There is no right answer.

BTW, I read the Anne Of Greene Gables series about eleventy-billion times as a girl. Now, I'm off to rescue them from the bookshelf yet again!

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmie

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Because there is no one right way to raise children, there will always be critics. Even the definition of "abuse" varies from state to state (USA). In my work, I see a variety of innovative parenting styles. Anyhow, good discussion here.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrenda Nixon, M.A.

I have also been thinking about this, with regards to parenting and with regards to other topics like education, human rights, etc.

This is a really tough question because there does have to be a line, both personally and legally. As Annie and pps mentioned, the line is different for different people, states, provinces, countries, cultures. I read this blog regularly and other similar blogs and my opinions are very similar, I'm thinking I should branch out and read some other blogs with different perspectives, any suggestions?

That being said, I have heard cultural relativism used to defend practices that violate the UN Human Rights Declaration (I realize that is a Western document), such as female circumcision (interestingly not male), controlling a woman's activities and using force to do so, and many more. How do the intrinsic needs of people get met in these circumstances? How can these types of practices not damage a human being?

There is science to back up that emotional and physical abuse(I can't think of a word other than abuse right now and I realize that definitions vary) has negative long term effects on the psyche. Of course, there is a new study out every day to back up just about anything in the social sciences...so. I'm back where I started.

I guess it comes down to trying to keep the discussion positive in that everyone expresses their opinions, and comment on those of others, respectfully.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin@MultipleMusings

Great post! Circumcision is good example of something taboo to "judge" other moms on. But how can we expect practices to stop if there is no stigma or open criticism! I think "to each their own" is null and void when it comes to raising our future society. I agree with everything you've said here (except the part about dialogue remaining respectful - I don't think that is always possible or even healthy) although I had never thought about it this way until you posted it. It makes me wonder how my 'line' looks to outsiders.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanine

Thought provoking post. Parenting is hard work and most parents I know spend time contemplating these difficult decisions. Therefore, I try my best not to judge others choices. Why do we spend so much time worrying about other people when the only people we can change is ourselves?

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMindful Mom

If you write an article in the WSJ about how you call your child garbage to motivate her, I think you're opening yourself up to judgement and criticism. (And I also think this is partly a manufactured controversy to help sell AMy Chua's book.)

That is vastly different from criticizing someone who has not put themselves in the spotlight like that. And I think that's why people feel they have the right in this case.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

Completely agree with this as well, controversy sells books, it's really win-win for her. If she didn't think some of the incidents would at least raise eyebrows, there would have been no point to writing at all.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Long time ago, I once told somebody that, yes, actually, I DO think the way I parent is the best way to parent. I got a lot of flack for that, but only because they didn't hear what I said after that:
I owe it to my child to parent the best way I possibly can. If I thought there was a better way to parent, I'd be doing that. And I hope that *you* and *you* and *you* also think that the way you parent is the THE BEST way to parent, because you owe your kids that as well.
However - my best way and your best way don't always have to match. We are not the same and our children are not the same, so it makes sense that our best way to parent is not the same. But we should each strive and be proud to say that the way we parent is indeed the best.

I love that you are outspoken about these things; that you identify the lines and know where yours are.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkarengreeners

hi annie:

thanks again for raising the topic of civility. i think that's why i visit your blog. you're calm, level-headed, 'non-judgmental' [you clearly state your bias] and respectful. i can "tell" the kind of person you are simply by reading your posts which are often nuanced and provide a variety of scenarios and options.

when you do "judge" you present it in a way that is knowledgeable and reflects the community in which you live. you freely admit that your point of view reflects your experience, and makes it "easy" for others to express their own. i like that.

when i blog about parenting/mother issues, i'd like to think that i am respectful, and i'd like to think that my point of view isn't alienating, or harsh, but i can't say with any certainty that it is. i'm rather passionate, and a little bit sarcastic, at the same time, i do wish to engage with other parents, moms, and individuals who either completely disagree with me, or who share a similar point of view.

certainly alot can be read into things based on tone. your tone is non-combative. [my "tone"-- perhaps not so much]. but this is precisely why it's oh so important to keep the lines of communication open and flowing. i'm generally of the opinion that it's good to know what a great many people think as opposed to only privileging or preferring those voices who are similiar to my own or deemed "acceptable."

i'd like very much to know abt the moms who wax their kids eyebrows, who think nothing of using a spoon on their 2 yo's rear end than not, or believe that crying breeds stamina. i think what happens to children in society reflects that society in which they live which makes awareness all the more important. and because we are all unique, so too will our parenting practices and experiences.

the bottom line is that all moms care, and most if not all of us care "differently." i think that cultural background, education, community, access, ability, etc., ALL affect, effect, reflect and infect the way we mother, and certainly the way we parent. and certainly having a point of view, and feeling confident enough to speak that view is what makes our 1st world country so awesome.

here's a link to a post i wrote about the so-called mommy wars media wars circus called, "the mommyhood regret narrative." http://bit.ly/ek3tii it's kind of controversial and a bit snarky in that i think it expresses the very thing you are talking about--"outrage!"

anyway, that's "just" my two-cents.

cheers, and thanks again,

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbolaji williams

I love this Karen. Thank you.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I do agree that she obviously put herself in the spotlight (as did the mother who had her child's eyebrows waxed on national television).

However, I don't think that means that we cannot or should not criticize when people have not put themselves in the spotlight. That could result in sweeping abuse under the carpet and pretending it isn't happening (which is probably what the polygamist water torturers were counting on until they were outed).

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


Most people I know who chose to circumcise their boys did it either for religious reasons or for cosmetic reasons (so he would look the same as Daddy).

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

What stands our for me in this post is that we seem to abhore or speak out against "other people", people from different cultures and their practices. While what seems "normal" in this culture doesn't get a lot of critical and deep thought. The most obvious example of this, to me, is our outcry and laws against female circumcision in the Western world but our acceptance of male circumcision. Both unnecessarily remove healthy genital tissues and both are done on non-consenting children. Why decry one and not the other? Why do we think what "the other" does is more deserving of judgment then what our equally dysfunctional society is doing? (I'm not really asking you to answer this :))

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRashel

Yes yes and yes to this comment.

All I would add is that sometimes we aren't the parents we want to be. I've fallen well short of my best. It feels awful, but I have been alone at night and out of my mind with exhaustion -- my sanity tenuous at best. Had I not let my child cry, I would've done worse. I had to recognize that my least was my best in that moment. But I do not let one moment define all the moments of thoughtful gentle parenting that I've given them.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex@LateEnough

This is so true Alex. I've done a lot of things that I regret, but I don't let them define me and I don't let it bother me when other people criticize those practices (because I know they weren't the best thing to do, even if they were all I could do at that moment). I think that recognizing that no one is perfect and forgiving ourselves for our imperfect moment is critical to having constructive dialogue on parenting issues.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Ha, so he would like the same as Daddy? (That might take a few years or a lot of imagination, if you were to ask me!)

I never ever thought of circumcision as cosmetic... my bad... just shows how ignorant I am of this issue.

Anyway, this article (and the comments) has put me on to thinking even more about how we guide or lead our children in life to an increasing maturity and independence.

That is the point I was also trying to make with the difference of the child's perspective with circumcision (by the time the child thinks about what happened, it is all way too late and likely -- but again I have zero knowledge -- not to question what happened way-back-when) compared to the waxing of the eyebrows (which a child obviously consciously "gets" -- by degrees -- when it happens).

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Schmitz

I am totally on board with the two above posts- I too HATE the fact that everyone assumes that, because I have made certain non-mainstream parenting decisions, I am automatically going to judge them. I do love to give advice, but in almost all circumstances I understand that parents have to ultimately make the decision they feel is best for their child, and it's really not my business. But, like the post immediately before mine, I get really excited about new information and feel like EVERYONE needs to know it, and I know that makes me come across as judgey. I think that everyone needs to get past their insecurities and recognize the sharing of information as just that- a sharing. But I also think that criticizing another parents judgement, in a respectful and open way, is totally appropriate. Anyone who feels otherwise is probably too insecure about their decisions. But I've lost friends that way- I openly (to her, not gossipy) questioned the way she was raising her child and expressed that I found one of her decisions as inappropriate (btw, her only defense was "my parents did it and I turned out okay... did you, did you really?). We haven't talked since. And it doesn't really bother me.

I also agree that a lot of these parents are grossly hypocritical, and I don't feel it's the least bit inappropriate the criticize that. I pose the exact same question- how is berating your child into practicing music any different than spanking? And I think all this talk about Chua's book is a big media stunt to get those of us who would normally not give the book a second look to read it. They don't care if we buy it to apply it to our own lives or if we buy it to criticize it- they just want us to buy it. So I'm trying to avoid it all as much as I can by telling myself that 99.9% of parents are smart enough to realize that it is NOT a good way of parenting. Now I just wish they would all realize it's a media stunt and start to ignore it...

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandis

Amen! Well said... and you helped me put my thought into words. That is my line- parental decisions made without thought (because it's "the norm," like feeding formula and rice cereal to infants despite being perfectly able to breastfeed- I get that some people can't, but many can and still choose not to) and parental decisions made for the good of the parent, not the child. And, naturally, causing physical harm to a child (including all of the above cited examples- circumcision, waxing, ear piercing, spanking... etc). BUT there are certain things beyond my own personal line that I don't judge (or try not to judge) other parents for doing. Like spanking- I try to be empathetic because I know I have a huge advantage in my education and past experience. Had I not worked in a preschool in college and taken many early childhood education classes it's possible I would have spanked my kids, too, because I either didn't know the alternative or I didn't believe it would work. Same with circumcision. I try not to judge after the fact. But I do try to educate whenever I can in hopes that a parent "comes to the light," so to speak. I don't think that it's totally forgivable for a parent to do these things mindlessly, without looking into the alternatives. But I think that once they're done (at least with circumcision) there is nothing to be gained by judging.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandis

I feel the need to explain that I mean not judging an individual parent once they have already circumcised their child... I still would criticize the act of circumcision itself, I just think that judging a mom on something she can't change is counterproductive.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandis

Oh, I totally agree. Sometimes it's crucial for someone to speak out or be critical, or so many atrocities would still be happening. I meant more like if I heard a mother speak harshly to her child at the playground, it wouldn't be appropriate to be critical of her based on that one instance. Or if a woman pulls out a bottle of formula to feed her baby, it would be highly inappropriate for someone to sit next to her and start talking about breastfeeding and quizzing her about why she didn't and implying that she made a poor choice.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I"m really enjoying this conversation. I completely agree with @karengreers above, and was going to post something similar. I've always pushed back against the label "judgmental" as negative - don't we all make judgments? Human beings NEED to make judgments about what they find acceptable or unacceptable, in order to make their own moral and ethical decisions. But these judgments don't need to be about creating an Unalterable Truth For All People. Moreover, I think there can be huge differences in the way people talk about issues. I mean, there's the difference between criticizing a practice (not-medically-indicated primary Cesaerans, for example) and a person (ie a woman who chooses to have one). By focusing on the deed, we can talk about evidence and perspectives in ways that can change peoples minds and hearts. But yelling at them and calling them names is never going to make that change - and sometimes using strong terms like child abuse to describe certain practices works in the same way. So, for example, I didn't circumcise my boys. I didn't do a lot of research into it - I just generally don't for "optional" procedures for myself or my children. Then I read some really thoughtful blogposts about circumcision as a human right's issue; I had never thought of it that way, and I was changed by that argument. I mean, my mind was already open, but I appreciated the measured conversation (even though the poster obviously had a strong opinion - it was laid out as an argument in the academic sense, rather than an attack).

I think there is LOT of backlash against women who chose non-traditional parenting methods. What's up with all these waves of media stories about how bad and oppressive they are? It's so depressing. Mothers who make non-mainstream choices are in the minority, not a privileged majority. Why are they deemed oppressive rather than dominant parenting culture? It's not even possible to have anything like a civil conversations about vaccinations these days. But it is only by talking to each other with compassion and integrity that we will ever understand each other, and make, as Annie mentions, intentional change (or just be kinder to each other).

I've been having this problem lately about CIO. I definitely lean crunchy, if you want to put it that way, and I feel strongly about compassionate, responsive parenting, baby wearing, extended breastfeeding, unmedicated birth, etc. But we have let both our babies "self-soothe". I wince now at the CIO label, because it is associated with extended periods of sobbing/ loud crying/ vomiting, and the parenting books that I tend to gravitate to ltalk about it as "abuse" "trauma" and "terrorizing." I would never let my child sob without going to him, and I would certainly never allow him to cry for hours, or get so upset he vomited. But my children wouldn't *sleep* and they did NOT like co-sleeping. I like being cuddled with them at night, but it was a miserable experience. The baby would wake up 7 times a night, just screaming with frustration and exhaustion. So we put them down. Five, ten minutes of fussing (*not* crying, or maybe a very short burst of crying), then sleep. Six, seven hours of uninterrupted sleep. Everyone so happy and well rested, stronger family, more patience and love all around. But now I find myself turning away from AP books and blogs because I'm told that what I did constitutes a traumatic event leading to brain damage and permanent emotional scarring. And I'm like, really? Or do I just have a baby with a specific kind of personality? (Askmoxie has a great series on tension increasers versus tension decreasers.) I tell myself, well, I know my kids, and I know my relationship with them and how respectful and loving and gentle we are to them, but it hurts my heart, too, to feel like I can't "fit in" with the type of mothers I want to hang out with.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Good Point! I've seen lots of differences in parenting practices across cultures because I've lived in multiple regions of the USA, I spent several years on a military base, I've traveled extensively in other countries, my mother is Korean (father is white), and my husband is Indian.

I try to respect people's parenting choices. But frequently mainstream parents feel free to judge me. I remember when I was pregnant and if I mentioned that I planned to have an unmedicated natural birth most people would say something like "you'll be begging for an epidural." I thought that was mean. Or most people I know can't believe that I have never used CIO, or that my toddler does not watch tv, or that I still breastfeed him.

My favorite example of cultural relativism occurred while my husband and I were in India. We were babysitting sister-in-law's children. The five-year-old was being naughty so I gave him a time-out. When my sister-in-law came home she was shocked when she learned what I done. She had never used a time-out. She thought it was cruel to force a child to sit alone. She thinks that spanking is a much better way to discipline children.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Bitragunta

My mom and mother-in-law have taken all my parenting decisions to be a slap in the face. I actually think that they think (I know convoluted) that I parent the opposite of them on purpose.

I educated myself the best that I could during the pregnancy and then did the best I knew how with Claudia. My parenting style is not theirs because MY child is very different from THEIR children. That is the part that most ppl don't see. Everyone is different, children ARE people, and we most take their personalities into consideration when parenting them. (look, I found another line for me).

Claudia is 3.5yo now and we co-sleep in her room every night at least part of the night (unless I can sneak back to my bed). The other night she said to me: "Mami, promise that you will be in bed with me when I wake up". And she often says that she "needs Nene" (nursing). She can't articulate her reasons to me, but I do take those feelings into account with my parenting. As Karengreeners said I owe Claudia to parent her the best way I can. And I wish Claudia's grandmothers and main stream society could see that.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

What a great topic. I say it's all in the tone. We need to define our own limits and values, and live by them as best we can. We need to call out injury and cruelty when we see it, especially when it involves kids. But we can begin this conversation with respect and willingness to consider a larger "right." Of course, if I see someone openly beating his kid, I'm not going to politely invite him to consider alternatives...I'll step in (at the very least, to reflect for the child that adults care, and that there's more than one reality in the world). Otherwise, I'll just speak up for my beliefs and be open to widening them along the way.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAsha {Parent Hacks}

I am not sure the question you are posing. Is it "when is it okay to openly criticize?" or "when is parenting conduct abuse?"? As to the latter, I think we can stick to science. The neurological damage caused by extended crying; the permanent nerve damage and sexual dysfunction caused by circumcision; the emotional damage caused physical violence even if the violence does not cause immediate physical harm (spanking and other corporeal punishment). Science supports abolishing these things. Science documents the harm.

Once science shows injury the conduct is abusive. That seems clear cut. And when it is abusive, it must be criticised.

I think where we run into trouble is assessing why parents engage in abusive conduct and how our criticism is likely to result in change. Hollering at someone who circumcised her sons because she didn't know how damaging it was or didn't know she could withhold consent is not going to change how she behaves. It isn't even likely to change how other parents act in the future. Certain acts of criticism make people even more unfriendly to reconsidering the issue. To open an old wound, verbally beating up on a woman whose infant has just died from a circumcision injury is simply cruel. Working toward changing laws or international agreements concerning the rights of children are more productive routes.

Also I don't think "X is just like Y" descriptions of abusive conduct are helpful. It opens the door for side arguments that don't lead to ending abuse. I *do* think circumcision and eyebrow waxing of children are both abuse. But they are not like each other. Eyebrows grow back and as
Sinful as it is, waxing is not as painful as circumcision.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJake Aryeh Marcus

Correction: sinful=painful Damn autocorrect.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJake Aryeh Marcus

My husband and I are starting down the road of adoption right now. Since we have no intention of circumcising any future boys of our own, my husband asked me if we only consider adopting boys who are not circumcised. I was totally confused. Why would we refuse to accept an infant or toddler into our family and our home because of a choice someone else made for them that we don't agree with? My husband said, well, because then they won't all look the same and don't you think that'll bother them?

Um. No. They probably won't all have the same skin color or eye color or hair color and that probably won't bother them.

Such a weird argument.

ANYWAY, that's beside the point. Andrea, I feel that forcing cosmetic preferences on a child is always wrong. The forced eyebrow waxing IS WRONG. I just think that forcing circumcision on an infant is much, much worse, not even remotely comparable to forcing eyebrow waxing on a five-year-old because it's permanent. The kid will grow those eyebrow hairs back. The foreskin? Not so much.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I should say, though, that I think you're right about degrees. It's true that a five-year-old is more cognizent of the way they are treated and the choices made regarding their appearance and their behavior than an infant is. And I absolutely believe that the way a child is treated matters more than just about anything. I'd rather a kid were fed McDonald's every day than physically beaten, for example. I personally just don't think that the two (circumcision and waxing) are on the same plane in terms of treatment. I guess the five-year-old would probably feel more long-term effects of being forced to have their eyebrows waxed than the infant would feel about being circumcised, but I still think circumcision takes the cake in terms of maltreatment between the two.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

Brandis and Michelle - I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND!

You guys are welcome to be my friends any time. I get the same way when I come across new ideas or information - I want to talk about it, share it, have other people challenge me to reconsider those ideas and find flaws in my newfound logic, etc. My dad and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but I have to give him credit for being AWESOME where this is concerned. I'll come up with a new idea that goes completely against the way he parented me, but he'll still welcome the discussion, consider where he could have made better choices, and encourage me to think about whether or not I'm making good choices.

But sometimes people in the family overhear me talking with my dad and get offended by one or both of us for not believing what they believe. It frustrates me to no end. We're just talking, learning, thinking together. When did that start meaning that we were negatively judging you?!

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I have a few lines in my head. Loosely, they look something like:

(1) Totally fine, but not for me.
(2) I disagree with this, and it may be harmful, but not so much that action must be taken.
(3) Objectively damaging and harmful, intervention is required.

Category 3 would include cases of actual child abuse, where I would feel compelled to call for help on behalf of a child.

I will concede that there are some things that fall under my category (2) which may be roughly on par with things in my category (3), but because of societal standards they are not considered actionable. The line isn't always clear. HOWEVER, I don't think that means that we should not speak out when we see something truly alarming. And, hopefully, with time we will gain more consistency.

Having said that, I avoid speaking out publicly in criticism of another parent. However, when they put their ideas in a public forum, I think those are fair game. So, it's all right (in my book) to say that I disagree with calling a child names like "garbage". It's NOT all right to cast stones at Amy Chua herself in an insulting manner that doesn't contribute to the conversation. And if I had evidence that someone was being truly abusive, I would take action only in private, and not speak out publicly at all.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

While circumcision is lasting, and eyebrow waxing is temporary...
The potential emotional & psychological damage done by forcing a young girl to get her eyebrows waxed is real and unthinkable. Loss of self-worth and damaged/skewed self-image for one (big one). Way to teach a girl that she's not pretty enough as-is. AND that prettiness is all that matters - and at such a tender, impressionable age - it's dispicable. teaching a little girl that she's not worthy unless she's physically altered can cause life-long emotional scarring.

Circumcision's physical effects are immediate & lasting - and are documented and awful, I'm not sure lasting emotional effects on a newborn of newborn circumcision are well proven. I certainly don't like the thought of, nor would I subject my baby to, a first experience of forced limb splaying, physical restraint, and pain in a highly sensitive area, but I don't know that those emotional/psychological effects are lasting.

Personally, I'd do neither to my children.

But the comparison is a valid one as both lead to potential permanent damage (it just may be comparing phyical & emotional damage.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

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