Parenting StylesPseudoscience

Modern Parenting – It’s Naturally Fallacious

I am fed up with sancti-parent bullshit. It seems like every decision from conception to college is scrutinized by the cult of awesome-parenthood. There’s one subsect of this cult that has gotten way out of hand, to the point of being dangerously irresponsible – the natural parenting movement.

True Confession Time: Hello, my name is Steph, and I was a natural parent.

It’s true. I birthed with midwives (Certified Nurse Midwives in a hospital), breastfed (as much as and as a long as I was able to), cloth diapered, co-sleep, made my own organic baby food from homegrown produce and then practiced baby-led weaning (a.k.a. feeding baby table foods), own nine baby carriers and slings, practice gentle discipline, made my own cleaning supplies, used coconut oil as a diaper cream, washed my hair with baking soda and vinegar, and even moderated two natural parenting Facebook groups. I found myself buying into and even making “natural is better” arguments. And while I still do some of these things – gentle discipline, babywearing, co-sleeping, gardening, I no longer call myself a natural parent.

Why? I realized how dangerous this movement really can be. Also, I found myself a target and having to defend my choices –  everything from choosing a hospital birth, getting an epidural, having to be induced for pre-eclampsia (the nerve!), using birth control, having to supplement with formula (to avoid my kids starving), working outside of the home and vaccinating to letting my kids watch Wonderpets, wear sunblock and eat conventional produce. I realized that as a woman, a skeptic and a feminist, I should not associate with a movement that shames women and uses fear to motivate people to make unsafe choices.

If one spends some time on a natural parenting board, they will discover a few key themes.

1978676_604005333006960_1049953816_nNatural is good; unnatural is bad. Idealizing the past and/or ancient or non-Western cultures is common and conversations are often colored by privilege, with a touch of racism and/or a lack of recognition that some people live the way they do because they have to, not because they choose to or that lifestyle is ideal or healthy.

Anti-birth control, especially hormonal birth control (it’s not “natural” and remember, natural is good; unnatural is bad). Instead, monitoring your cycles and knowing your body is recommended.

Pro-homebirth, even for high-risk patients; anti-regulation of midwifery and/or lawsuits against neglectful midwives because it is bad for the movement; anti-hospital birth; anti-birth interventions (if a woman chooses them, she is weak or has been bullied); anti-OB, a general feeling that OBs are anti-women, don’t support birth choices and force unsafe interventions on poor, unsuspecting, vulnerable women; anti-Cesarean Section, even for women in situations where it is medically indicated. Remember, surgery is unnatural; unnatural is bad. Shaming women who had to or chose to have birth interventions.

Extreme pro-breastfeeding lactivism by breastfeeding absolutists ( I refuse to call them Nazis) and formula demonizers, who discourage anything but “exclusive breastfeeding” (cue choir of angels singing), even in cases like mine when a baby needs supplementation to grow and thrive or in cases where a baby cannot tolerate breast milk. People recommend informal donor milk-sharing and unsafe and unregulated homemade formula recipes in cases of lactation failure versus commercial formulas, because again – natural is good; unnatural is bad; shaming women who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed or use donor milk or who didn’t “try hard enough” to overcome breastfeeding challenges.

Anti-vaccination and pro-parents “educating” themselves about so-called dangers of vaccination; encouraging parents to make their own choices and trust their instincts, rather than trusting their doctor or the government’s recommendations; shaming parents who vaccinate or accusing them of being stupid, ill-informed or misled by the medical community or government, which has ill-intentions or motives.

Pro-natural remedies for mild and even serious conditions; trusting supplements or natural remedies over medicines; avoiding doctor visits and crowdsourcing medical advice and reassurance; shaming parents who seek medical help for their kids or who opt for a medical solution.

Pro-chiropractic care in lieu of medical care or physical therapy and for conditions unrelated to the spine; belief that chiropractic care can cure a variety of illnesses, medical conditions, allergies and even turn breech babies.

Fear of chemicals and toxins; the overwhelming fear that anything unnatural we put in our bodies or our children’s bodies could be harmful; this is often paired with a trust of natural substances (lead is natural; uranium, also natural).

Fear of GMOs and a belief that organic, pastured and cage free foods are better for you, even when faced with evidence that they are not nutritionally different or that GMOs might be helpful.

Fear of corporations and the overwhelming belief that if a company is making money they must have evil intentions, yet an overwhelming trust in companies that make supplements and natural remedies; calling anyone who detracts a corporate shill (I am still waiting for my checks – BigPharma and Monsanto, PM me for my address).

Fear of the government and mistrust of information from government sources.

In summary, this entire culture is based on a logical fallacy, relies on fear and shame to motivate, and promotes dangerous and irresponsible practices. It’s like a religion. Seriously.

On one of the groups I moderated, an atheist natural parenting group, a friend once asked, “How do you resolve your beliefs in “woo” with your disbelief in God or religion?” What a great question. One, for which, no one had a great answer. It seems that there is a lot of cognitive dissonance happening.

As a skeptical person, can you really believe that a chiropractor can cure your allergies by realigning a special force in your body? Can you believe in amber teething necklaces or homeopathy? Can you really ignore science and evidence and allow the culture of “nature is good” to guide your decision-making?

For me, the answer was, and is, no.

Hello, my name is Steph, and I am an evidence-based parent.

Featured image credit: Steph, all rights reserved.
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Steph is a mom, stepmom, freelance writer, and advocate. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes, and trying to change the world, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, politics, reading paranormal fiction, yoga, and fitness. A fully recovered natural parent, Steph now trusts science, evidence, and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist. Her writing can be found on Grounded Parents, Romper, The Cut, and other print and online publications

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  1. My wife and I had a rather similar birthing experience: Induced at 40 weeks due to pre-eclampsia, she struggled to make it without an epidural and then got one, and then ended up with a C-section after pushing for over 3 hours. During the 30 hours of labor, there were also several times when we were a minute away from having an emergency C-section because our son’s heartrate was dropping too low. Now a coworker and her wife are trying to get pregnant, and I am hearing about how her wife wants to have the baby at home, on an island with no hospital, and won’t be vaccinating, etc. I have tried to make peace with just strongly urging my coworker to find a place on the mainland to give birth, even if not a hospital, so that if things DO go wrong, they won’t be both a drive AND a ferry ride away from a hospital.

    Before my son’s birth last month, I was somewhat ambivalent on home births. I am now actively hostile to the idea. If we had been trying for a home birth, we may have lost the baby, or even my wife. Instead we had a trying week, but at all times we knew that if something went wrong, we were in good hands who did this all the time.

    Thanks for your story.

    1. I support healthy babies and mamas. And better regulation of midwifery. And evidence based medicine. And no shame for people who choose pain management.

      1. Are you involved with any activism to regulate midwifery? I’m trying to make any connections I can. Its completely unregulated here. You don’t need any qualifications to deliver a baby and last week a midwife was charged with manslaughter for trying to deliver premature twins and interfering with the ambulance when it showed up (its vickie sorensen if you don’t know).

  2. Can you please write a book about this? “Science Based Parenting” or something? It’s just that when I was a clueless new parent looking for resources (well, in many ways I still am. My oldest is only three) a lot of the information I found along these lines. Like I wanted to know “when and how do I switch over to solids?” and found some mix of “exclusive breastfeeding until >1 year old!” and “baby-led weaning — I give my six month old carrots to chew on” and “you must blenderize your own organic baby mush so you don’t accidentally give them any toxins/GMOs!” and was totally scared and intimidated. Same with trying to figure out if I needed a “birth plan.” Same with trying to figure out when I needed to bring my kid to the doctor and how to help them sleep through the night and how to handle breastfeeding issues (like a blister, or like a baby who refused to drink pumped milk!) Fear, guilt, fear, guilt, fear, guilt. But they all cited Dr. Sears and seemed so educated and intelligent.

    On the other hand, the people who are all “In my day, we spanked children who spit their food on the floor!” or “They’re spoiled — they are manipulating you / trying to get attention” are no help either.

    I found the “What to Expect” books helpful, but not opinionated enough to warn me away from the scaremongers!

  3. Hey, I did a lot of the things, too!
    Some because I thought them better (have you ever tried commercial baby mush? It’s horrible!), some because they are more convenient (when breastfeeding works and you have the time it’s VERY convenient), some when they suited my needs (using a sling is wonderful for more crowded areas).
    Others? Never-ever! Vaccines are a must for kids who can be vaccinated, so is adequate medical care. I’m also not a cow, I don’t go moo, I was not going to breastfeed until they start grade school. Lots of the things “natural parents” do is plain child abuse, like not vaccinating and not getting kids adequate medical care when they’re sick.

    1. I sometimes wonder if this vehement refusal to get medical attention for their kids, or to trust doctors/hospitals is partially from inexperience with them. What I saw when my sons were in the hospital was the opposite of what I hear on natural parenting forums: the hospital strongly encouraged and supported breastfeeding, and the medical team that worked with my sons was very cautious about using invasive procedures or medicine, frequently choosing a more conservative approach when there were options to medicate or operate. I get frustrated on parenting boards when people disparage hospitals who don’t have any experience being IN a hospital.

      1. My son has thrush, and it has been extremely painful for my wife to breastfeed, but all the doctors have been trying to make it possible for her to continue breastfeeding, not telling us to go to formula. They have mentioned that pumping and feeding him pumped milk some of the time might help, but have also recommended not using a bottle so he doesn’t get nipple confusion. There has been TONS of emphasis on how great it is for the baby to be breastfed.

        It’s almost like science based parenting involves noticing when the natural way is better, and encouraging that, but also noticing when it’s worse.

        1. I had heard nipple confusion was something of a myth but I haven’t researched that. All kids are different so maybe some are more prone to that kind of thing, but I breastfed, with and without nipple shield (had latching problems in the beginning), and formula fed with the bottle and beyond that initial latching problem no confusion occurred.

          1. When my boys were in the NICU, the nurses and lactation consultants were pretty much unanimous that nipple confusion was a myth. They said the problem people sometimes had was because the nipple lets milk flow more easily, but that’s not the same as nipple confusion and babies preferred the breast to bottle because they could set the rate themselves, whereas the nipple on a bottle sometimes allowed flow to be too fast. Again, this is not research, just what the breastfeeding staff said.

            When my boys moved to the step down nursery and into open cribs, I often saw new parents of babies who were term and just there for observation. It was a sad reminder of the fear mongering that surrounds not breastfeeding immediately. Despite the fact that their babies were sick and needed to be in a NICU crib, many moms were deeply concerned that they were missing the golden hour for breastfeeding and insisted that they would never be able to breastfeed their child because they missed that hour. Coincidentally, I seemed to always overhear that while breastfeeding my child behind screens. . .a child who was unable to breast feed for months after his birth. No nipple confusion there.

        2. I had thrush three times. Give her a hug for me. It was almost the worst pain I have ever felt. Has she tried gentian violet? I also used a prescription “all purpose nipple ointment.” That was the only thing that worked for me. Also boiling pump parts every day and washing anything that touched my breasts on hot. For the record, my babies never experienced nipple confusion. One thing you may want to try if she wants to continue breast feeding and doesn’t want to try bottles is using a supplemental nursing system at the breast or a syringe to give pumped breast milk. Breastfeeding is great. Formula feeding is great. Combo feeding (what I did) is great. Feeding your babies = great.

          1. I will give her all the hugs, thanks. She got painkillers after her C-Section, and after a while she was just using them to deal with the breastfeeding pain. We got something like “All Purpose Nipple Ointment #4” prescribed by her OBGYN, which has a topical painkiller, antifungal, antibacterial, and I think one more thing I’m forgetting. We also were told by our son’s doctor that it was a good time to introduce a bottle, so she has been using the manual pump she got from the hospital to pump and bottle feed some of the time, which was great, since a) it is less painful for her, and b) I get to feed him sometimes now!!! Feeding your babies IS great, as is helping your partner feel better.

      2. I have had the same experience. The doctors I have dealt with have all been very cautious about starting any intervention, or prescribing medication. On the other hand, I once (long ago) got talked into trying acupuncture, and I was shocked at how quickly she wanted to start treatment. I left immediately, and when I ask people who are into alternative medicine about this, they all say that this happens to them as well (the practitioners are quick to start treatment) but for some reason they think this is a good thing, since the “treatment” is “natural”. I’m starting to believe this is a great marketing job by big alternative.

  4. EXACTLY! This entire article speaks so perfectly to me and my situation. I partially cosleep with our toddlers, babywear, didn’t use baby food (I had a food processor and the extra 5 minutes, and now they eat table food), didn’t sleep train, don’t have a rigid schedule. I use gentle discipline, have a garden and buy free range/local when possible (because it’s less miserable for the animals). Heck, I even cloth diaper on days when they’re not leaving the house. BUT, I also can’t live without my processed baby snacks and formula, vaccinate like mad, had a hospital birth, allow screen time on the iPad, medicate as needed, and totally trust our doctor.

    I talk about how I parent a LOT to people, not to sell them on it, but to combat so much of the scaremongering and shaming you mention in the article. It makes me sad how often people “admit” with shame to doing something parenting-wise that doesn’t fit into cookie-cutter standard ideas of parenting. Whether it’s admitting to having to walk out of the room on a crying baby who won’t go to sleep and letting the baby cry because you can’t take it anymore, or admitting to being “weak” and letting a baby/child cosleep (safely), it’s just sad that people don’t feel they can own their choices because so many people are so vehemently critical and scary.

    1. I try for balance and common sense and I also talk to a lot of people about my parenting. Mostly so that they know that parenting is a journey for which no one has a map. I am letting my kids watch Wonderpets right now. 🙂

  5. I did natural parenting for awhile and made myself completely miserable. My time was completely spent on taking care of my baby, making cleaning products, cleaning, cooking, and it got to the point that I didn’t really have my identity anymore. So I gave up most of it. I do cloth diapers for sustainability reasons. (Though I question that a bit because many people recommend a pre soak, a wash, and two rinse cycles, and that is a lot of water. I baby wore because it was easy, breast fed because I was too lazy to make formula, and baby slept in the same room. I tried to make my own baby food buy my child would not eat it. Most would end up on the floor and I ended up wasting so much that I felt that it was getting expensive. I resorted to squeeze packets to supplement between breastfeeding or else he’d want to nurse all day and I needed a break. When I weaned, I was much happier.

    I do find it disturbing how much natural parents idealize the third world. I even saw someone say that people in the third world are much happier than those in the first world and that they know joy that we could never understand. There was a picture of a girl smiling in a run down place. Africa is treated as one big country despite that there are many different cultures across the continent. Asia tends to be treated as a mystical place. Some woman on a natural parenting facebook page said that she wished that she lived in India because then she could do yoga all day. A friend from college, who is from India, stopped going to parenting groups because other moms would ask her to show them yoga poses, recommend herbs, treated her like a spiritual guru, and asked why she would even leave India to live in the US. I was on Peaceful Parenting’s website said not to donate formula to Haiti after the earth quake because even if a baby lost their mother, there is likely to be another woman who lost a baby who could nurse the orphaned child. Formula would poison them. Yeah, the last thing a grieving mother needs to do during a disaster is to be pressured into nursing another child, instead of being concerned about her own safety, or her other children’s safety.

    I have a few questions. I have heard that doctor sears is a religious nut who believes that all of societies problems are due to women going to work. Is there any truth to that? Also, I often see the claim that the skin absorbs everything put on it, so organic beauty products are a must. How true is that? Finally, a lot use the Skin Deep Database to determine if products are safe. How reliable is that source?

    Mayim Bialik seems to be the big celebrity among natural parents. I worry that she may eventually do more harm than Jenny McCarthy because she does have a PhD in neuroscience.

    1. Forgot to mention, I also don’t like that many have the idea that a woman’s place is in the home and that the husband must be respected because he works for them. I know many have jobs, but many aspire to be SAHMs because they believe that makes them a “better” parent.

    2. I lived in West Africa. It is not idyllic to lose 4 babies before 5 to illness and accidents and then to die in childbirth. It is not idyllic to not be able to go to school because your parents can’t afford to or won’t send you. It is not idyllic to marry at 12 to a man with three other wives. It is not idyllic to start having babies and contract HIV as a teen because you have no choices. No.

  6. I think for many things on the list it’s not so much of what you do but why.
    I don’t buy the organic free range because I think it has magical properties. I buy it because of animal welfare, because I want to support local farmers and because frankly their stuff is delicious.
    Same with organic exotic fruits: I don’t think the bananas are any better, banana peel harldy lets anything through anyway, but those standards ensure that the workers don’t have to handle very poisonous substances without propper equipment.
    I don’t buy things with glutamate. Not because I think it would harm anybody, I understand well that it’s in abundance in some of my favourite foods. No, I don’t buy those things because they usually mean a sub-standard product. Also, too much glutamate is bad for my digestive system…

    1. “those standards ensure that the workers don’t have to handle very poisonous substances without propper equipment.”

      Is that true? It was my understanding that organic pesticides can be quite dangerous and have less regulation than synthetic pesticides. Therefore, workers’ exposure can still be quite harmful. (I have never worked in the agricultural business, so I am just basing this off of what I have read.)

      1. Well, that’s my current knowledge.on the issue.
        Problem with pesticides in exotic fruit is that they come from countries with more or less NO regulation and oversight, while the organic labels are generally more strictly controlled, since their whole market value relies on their image.
        This could be a cultural difference, too: organic standards in the EU and the US are quite different.

      2. I have a friend in biochemistry who works with plants, and I remember her saying once that industrial vinegar for killing weeds and such in organic farming in the US results in many many hospitalizations and ill health.

  7. Great, great, GREAT article. I’m a former “natural parent” myself, and went through a very similar process of realizing it’s mostly bullcrap.

    That said, I do want to put a little (non-GMO) food for thought out there. As a scientist (I teach environmental issues in chemistry) I have some significant problems with GMOs. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1) No good evidence suggests increased crop yields with GMO crops, regardless of what the theory suggests.
    2) There is proof that allergens from one organism can be introduced into another when a gene of interest is transferred (this was demonstrated with GMO soy; brazil nut genes were introduced to boost methionine content of soy, resulting in production of brazil nut allergens. This could be disastrous for a person who was not soy-allergic but was brazil-nut allergic, and of course, the potential is not limited to this particular example
    3) GMOs can have significant negative impact on food quality. Transgenic salmon can be farmed on a diet nearly entirely made up of corn. This, however, removes the omega-3-containing algae from the diet, thus rendering the fish no longer a source of valuable essential fatty acids
    4) “Roundup-ready” GMOs are shown to increase herbicide pollution, as growers no longer need to worry about harming their crop with excess Roundup, and spray tremendous quantities of the stuff.
    5) Data on safety of GMOs is not conclusive; GMO food safety is essentially being tested in the population (on unwitting subjects). Are GMO foods likely safe (environmental and food quality/allergen issues aside)? Yes. Likely. But they have not been subjected to the rigorous testing generally required of food products due to industry interest and lobbying.

    As a scientist, I feel REASONABLY confident that GMOs aren’t likely to cause harm if consumed (again, leaving out food quality and allergen issues). That said, though, safety as food items is only one tiny part of the GMO impact. The environmental issues are tremendous, as are issues of scientific ethics.

    Additionally, geneticists do not yet have confirmation that the same rules apply to “horizontal” exchange of genetic information (as in transgenics) as apply to “vertical” exchange of genetic information (as in reproduction). If for no other reason than our (new and growing) understanding of the importance of epigenetics, or gene context, we have NO business assuming genes are “independent operators” that can be picked up out of one organism and plopped into another – without their typical context – with predictable results.

    This is like going to an alternate reality where the laws of nature may or may not be the same as ours, and firing a missile at a target on the ASSUMPTION that the calculations you did at home (which ensure that you’re safe where you’re standing and that the missile will hit the intended target) still apply. It’s not that we shouldn’t do GMO research to try to figure out whether the same rules apply, it’s just that we shouldn’t start growing/breeding/feeding people GMOs without having that information firmly established.

    I realize I’m harping, but this is a classic case of reversal of burden of proof. Instead of our society (and gov’t) requiring that GMOs be proven reasonably expected to be safe before being used, the GMO industry (for lack of a better unifying term) is asking that those who object to GMOs prove that they’re NOT safe…but they’re highly proprietary, which means it’s not possible for objectors to do that testing…which means we just have to wait and see whether there’s a problem. It’s just bad science.

    Finally, I am really bothered by the fact that GMO companies (like Monsanto) are championed by the free market ideologues – the same folks who create global warming denial because they don’t want to see gov’t regulation – but these companies (and their champions) refuse to LABEL THE GMO FOODS.

    Obviously, it’s too late to try to “stop” GMO foods; that’s ridiculous. In a truly free market, though, the food should be labeled. Let the consumers decide. The same people who rail against “communist” regulation (of emissions, etc) are engaging in tactics taken right out of the “red” playbook; they’re keeping critical information hidden from consumers and effectively thwarting a truly free market. So, even if we ignore the science (what? blasphemy!), I object to the way GMOs are being handled because of the hypocrisy.

    1. I appreciate your comment, but find your lack of references frustrating. I also didn’t write this piece intending to defend GMOs.

      But, here goes.

      Disclaimer: I am not a scientist. I work in public health. However, I spent some time working with research scientists who genetically engineer crops. Also, my dad is an agronomist (breeder).

      The misinformation about GMOs that is spread via fear-based campaigns and internet memes really annoys me.

      Let me address your points from my informed parent perspective:
      1) What if there are other benefits to genetically engineering crops other than increasing crop yields? Increasing nutritional quality or content, increase the drought resistance of a crop so that it can be grown to feed people in harsh climates or subsistence ag societies? Check this out:
      2) Please post links to articles related to this. I am not an allergist immunologist, but most of the reading have done on this subject actually shown otherwise.
      3) As for food quality, I would like to see research on this subject. I used to work with scientists who actually showed promising research showing the opposite – increasing the nutritional quality of food crops, which could potentially dramatically improve the nutritional quality of diets in less developed countries.
      4) Has this actually been shown? Again, the potential for or fear of harm is not the same thing as harm.
      5) GMOs have been tested extensively. And not just on the consumer population. I used to work for a land grant university where this testing is happening in labs today. There is simply no evidence that GE foods are dangerous or are more dangerous than conventional foods. None. Again – fear of harm is not the same as actual harm.
      The idea that genetic engineering is against the laws of nature sounds like something I would hear at a fundamentalist church.
      All I hear is – “but it’s not natural!”

      Gosh, I wish people would stop conflating GMO and Monsanto. Monsanto and other agribusiness companies are motivated by profit and are pretty much as good/evil as any corporation with profit as it’s main goal. Do they do questionable and harmful things? Yes. But let’s not paint all GMOs with the Monsanto brush.

      Finally, I have a fundamental problem with sweeping generalizations about a huge diverse group of products. My main argument against labeling GMOs is that it won’t actually provide the consumer with important information about what they are buying and may actually hurt food producers who would have to label perfectly safe and healthy foods with a “GMO” label.

  8. And don’t forget the theme of sanctimonious pretense, as in: “I’m not judging anyone… I’m just explaining about 10 [almost always scientifically false] reasons why what I’m doing is better! Now don’t you judge me!!!”

    I also like that you point out that the cult of “natural” parenting is anti-feminist. Any time facts are misrepresented we rob women of *true choice*. I’ve taken some heat from friends for coming out against various elements of “natural” parenting on my “Married to Medicine” blog but that’s fine with me; women deserve facts and science.

    1. Thanks. I love your blog. Women do deserve science and facts! And birth control. And adequate information about how to birth, feed and care for our kids. 🙂

    2. I’ve noticed that most that claim to be feminist are only concerned about themselves and other people’s perception of them. They often need to rationalize their choices in the modern world and say my choice is feminist. (Biggest one is choosing to be a stay at home mom) They don’t care about the issues that lower income mothers face and may even call them irresponsible for having children. They don’t seem to care about children in poverty and blame the mothers forgetting themselves in that situation. And some are hostile to working mothers. (Some “natural” mothers do work and often feel guilty for it.)

      A lot who are religious are very pro life, anti birth control, anti in vitro and whatever. Some blame mothers for going into early labor and I even saw someone state that premature children shouldn’t be saved with medical care because ” nature has decided that they weren’t supposed to live.” They can also be very homophobic and do not believe that homosexual couples should be allowed to raise children, especially homosexual men because babies should only be with their birth mother. (Which doesn’t make sense because are anti choice and pro adoption) They can also have the idea that motherhood is the greatest thing a mother can achieve. And some heavily enforce the gender binary.

      1. I agree with most of what you say above, but you are making a lot of generalizations and lumping different people all in with each other – SAHMs, church-goers, homophobes, pro-lifers, etc. Personally I am a SAHM and also a feminist. I started calling myself a feminist back in 1994, before it was “cool,” back when my mom went back to school at UW-Madison for her PhD in clinical psych and herself became a big feminist. She taught me that feminists are simply “people who believe that men and women should have equal rights, and be considered equals.” I always assumed I would work outside of the home but I also always wanted to be a SAHM… I would probably work part-time if I’d found a career I loved as much as I love being with my kids but law wasn’t that for me (blogging is becoming that, actually). I grew up hating the church but ended up falling in love with a very good and altrustic man, someone who devotes his entire self to others, from doing Americorps to volunteering Saturdays at a free clinic during medical school, to forgoing a private practice salary to devote his Harvard medical training to cancer research. His faith and how it inspires him to act for others are the reasons I’m a practicing Christian – that, and one of the first times I ever set foot in a church in 1998, we recognized Coming Out Day and had any gay students who felt inspired to stand so we could show our support. Do I consider the act of staying home to be an act of feminism? No. But it’s not anti-feminist either. It’s a neutral decision having to do with personal preference and individual family situations.

        1. Oh I didn’t mean to imply that being a stay at home mom wasn’t feminist. I was actually one for a while. But I’ve noticed that some women who choose to stay at home, even those that don’t practice natural parenting, sometimes feel the need to justify their choice. They call it a feminist choice I think to justify it because many women are working today and some on the more extreme side want to enforce the idea that being a SAHM is the best choice. I don’t think they need to justify their choices. When I stayed at home, I didn’t think it was the feminist choice, or the anti feminist choice. It was just a choice that I made and I felt it was best for my family. I was aware that most women could not make that choice and that any women’s choice to work was just as valid as mine’s. Heck my job right now is a very stereotypical feminine job and I wouldn’t call my choice to pursue that career as feminist. I’ve also noticed that some women in the natural parenting movement who can’t afford to be a SAHM often do feel a little guilty for having to work, and they absolutely shouldn’t. I think some of it is the mommier than thou attitudes that come up on natural parenting sites. Sometimes there seemed to be huge competitions of who was the best “natural” mom. (Such as “I stay home, cook all meals from scratch, my kids don’t eat or put chemicals on their body, my kids have never had artificial dyes, flavors, and they have only ever eaten organic food.)

          I also didn’t mean to imply that being a SAHM made someone church going, homophobic, prolife ect… I’ve noticed on message boards, at least when I was on them, most natural parents tended to be either new age/hippy or religious with the most vocal of the religious being very extreme (though religious issues aren’t discussed in the natural parenting sub forum many of the same members are very active in the christian forums and in any religion debate threads and their posts can be extreme). There were of course other groups (atheists, moderates, other religions) but they were a minority. This is the case on my facebook where those that practiced natural parenting were of the extreme religious variety. Part of it is where I live and I was raised in the religion. On top of posting anti vaccine memes, articles on attachment parenting articles, baby wearing and cloth diaper posts, Mayim Bialik posts, they would also have pro life memes, religious memes, anti birth control. They also post the “what makes a great wife” memes which usually involve tending to all their husbands wants. I clicked on their facebook group just out of curiosity and was a bit disgusted with what I saw. I’m not sure if any of this happens in the groups that are more new age or …. other subgroups. Also not sure if their is something about the natural parenting lifestyle that attracts those with extreme religion. There is an interesting political divide in that the extreme religion tends to be very right wing and the new age/hippy tends to be very left wing. This tends to be the case at farmers markets too. (Vendors with religion are very republican, vendors that are more hippy I believe are much more liberal. They all hate Monsanto though)

          1. I don’t think we disagree on anything here, I would just add that as a SAHM I’ve often felt I had to justify my choice to a select few of my friends – which I would NEVER do by claiming it was a “feminist” choice. I have one friend in particular who will not even acknowledge that my staying home has enabled my husband to go further in his career than he could if we were both trying to “balance” …. she objected to this blog entry that I wrote that talks about how if more men were at-home parents, more women might break the glass ceiling. To me it’s clear that she refuses to acknowledge that my work at home benefits my family in any way whatsoever. She clearly has the idea that if a mom stays home it’s doing a disservice to her daughter and to whoever marries her son, and that even when dads stay home it’s of no benefit to a working mom who is freed up to go more miles at work in her career. To me it’s insulting; I would never deny that working moms are doing a huge service to their families by financially supporting them in a time when college is outrageous and retirement benefits are dwindling. I’ve also said that I’m so glad there are working moms because without other examples, my daughter might well not know she has a choice to live her life however she most enjoys it (within whatever financial confines they have). Two other friends have clearly said they think I should be working so my husband doesn’t have to moonlight… nevermind that the fact that my not working frees my husband up to stay however long at work and work however much at home is what he strongly prefers to not moonlighting. One of those friends has definitely assumed I’d have sexist positions on unrelated issues, and I have been shocked by it because I grew up in a super liberal town with super liberal parents, I think because she’s from a rural area she thinks others must be 1950’s-minded if a woman stays home. This is the blog entry. The fact that friends of mine would object to it to me says that they cannot admit there is a single benefit to an at-home spouse, which in turn tells me they are insecure about their own choices. I have to say that 2 of these 3 most clearly anti-SAHM friends are physicians and as the spouse of a physician, I know that my own husband works far too much and I can only assume that it’s just very hard to feel successful as both an MD and a parent. If my husband struggles with it, surely others in his profession do as well.

  9. Great article. I often feel the very same way. I too had a CNM attended birth (although I did have a bad OB/hospital/medicated birth experience the first time around), breastfeed a preschooler, I volunteer helping other moms with breastfeeding, BLW, co-sleeping, babywearing, gentle discipline, homeschooling, I JUST bought my first tub of coconut oil so we’ll see how that goes 🙂 A lot of which doesn’t seem to jive with the larger parenting community in the Bible Belt here where baby “training” and bottlefeeding are very popular. But I do NOT fit into the “crunchy” community wear I live because I’m an atheist, super feminist, vaccinate, take my kids to the doctor regularly, like science and stuff, have eaten at McDonalds. Some of the crazy woo shit they are doing is terrifying and baffling. And the anti-feminist rhetoric is…creepy. And honestly, I’ve gotten some flak from other feminists I went to college with for staying at home, pursuing an unmedicated birth in a midwifery center (after experiencing abuse during my first birth which was/is routinely ignored), breastfeeding “so long,” etc. because that doesn’t fit into their idea of a modern, feminist mom, I guess?
    So thanks. Good to see other kinda crispy but not totally crunchified feminists out there!

  10. My feelings exactly. I’m still a new parent, with a 15-month-old child. I always wanted to babywear, so I got involved with a babywearing forum. I found a great community, which led me to co-sleeping, cloth diapering and extended breastfeeding (for which I’m grateful!). But one day I discovered that lots of the people there were anti-vaccine. It came as a shock, because in my country it’s still a rare phenomenon, vaccines are obligatory and most parents don’t think twice about that. I started digging, and found lots of woo: homeopathy, absurd home remedies, belief in anecdotes. Luckily, I have been a sceptic for a while now, so I’m kind of vaccinated against these things, but I bet lots of people have been convinced…

  11. I think there is also the mistaken assumption that nature is benevolent and perfect, which is very far from the truth. I don’t like when nature is personified as “mother nature” because if that really were the case, she would be a very cruel and uncaring mother. Most animals die violently and young, diseases, are a product of nature and kill many. Not to mention natural disasters and that there have been five mass extinctions. Yes there are some herbs that can fight off the disease, but they are not always without side effects. Many plants are poisonous. Nature doesn’t care whether or not you survive. I read on forums that nature will happily take care of you. This is far far from the actual. There is a fun youtube channel called “nature hates you” which covers flesh eating bacteria in lakes, the fact that trees kill 100 people a year by falling on them, and many other fun grim facts.

    Many of the natural parenting ideas aren’t really that “natural”. Baby slings aren’t natural, diapers (even cloth) aren’t natural, growing your own food isn’t natural, chiropractic medicine isn’t natural, the computers that they use to communicate on message boards aren’t natural (and some seem to be online all day), heck clothing and houses aren’t natural. I guess a true natural parent would live out in the woods in a tribe and forage for food. That life sounds awful. I don’t understand how they determine what is considered “natural”.

  12. You didn’t hit on my “favorite” one – those stupid, choking hazard “amber teething necklaces.” They hit a lot of the points – woo, reliance on anecdote, ignoring real risk of harm, anti-chemicals, etc. I cringe every time I see a kid wearing one, or a parent recommend them.

      1. They look adorable, and I frequently see safety guidelines on sellers’ websites suggesting that they need to be snug on the baby’s neck to be safe, but they really are a choking hazard. It’s weird that the US govt. hasn’t issued a warning, but others have.
        Canada – (the original warning is only available in archive form)
        Australia –
        There was a kind of interesting study on why parents still use these necklaces even though they are a choking hazard:

  13. If you wanna see some weapons grade woo join the freebirth groups. You’ll get banned if you tell anyone to get medical attention for any condition. Natural parenting groups have someone going “wtf is this?” and posting their kids rashes all the time. There are discussions on how to avoid CPS and other anti vaccination worries.

  14. This is an interesting article. I found my way to atheism/skepticism via feminist blogs talking about reproductive justice via crunchy woo woo parents. I had a CNM attended home birth, I read Dr. Sears’s The Baby Book from cover to cover, I nursed for two years, did bed sharing, baby wearing, gentle discipline… However, I also went back to work full time four weeks after he was born. My husband stayed home. I got a lot of flack from people judging me that I wasn’t maternal or something. I also vaccinated. At first I did the delayed schedule thing, but by that time I was reading more and more about the science, so that didn’t last long. My son looooves going to the doctor, and loves getting vaccines. He thinks the whole thing is amazing.

    Fast forward to a few weeks ago, having a picnic with a crunchy mama friend, who is showing me her youngest’s teeth, which are decaying horribly. They don’t know what to do. Another mama drops by to give her a pH changing solution for him to drink, because his saliva is too acidic. I asked her if she had talked to her dentist, but she sees a ‘natural dentist’ who told them to stay far away from fluoride. My town does not have fluoride in the water, so her son has never been exposed to it. He does have an amber teething necklace, though. It is weird how my journey has me ending up on the science based parenting side from the woo side, but it does happen.

  15. There’s also, “Trust your instincts.” Really? That’s actually going against pretty much all of human history. We’ve almost always lived in interdependent societies and have relied on collective wisdom from experience. It’s one of the reasons researchers theorize menopause exists – it protects older women from the dangers of childbirth so they can be around to share wisdom and assistance with their children and grandchildren. But no, somehow just having been pregnant or given birth automatically gives one the instincts to understand every medical and psychological issue, even if it contradicts over a century of empirical data. The only exception is if your instincts somehow tell you to do something other “natural” parents consider wrong. Then you’ve been corrupted by “The Man.”

    I sometimes find it funny when they’ll rage against “Big Pharma” and all the other evil corporations who are trying to use them to make money. But they don’t have a problem with all the money that alternative health practitioners make – because somehow despite charging prices that can be ten times higher than mainstream medicine, they’re not about the money. Really, one group of natural parenting mothers often recommended a “medical intuitive” who charged up to $50 an hour to find the root of medical problems and decide a course of treatment, or refer you to some alternative health practitioner. For example, one woman’s fetus was in breech position. The intuitive deduced that this was do to the woman’s ambivalence about motherhood and the baby was trying to remain closer to her heart to open her feelings. The recommendation was weekly reiki sessions for the remainder of the pregnancy. When that didn’t work, a chiropractor tried manipulations that made the woman pass out and her blood pressure sky-rocketed that night. Her baby was delivered by c-section the next morning. The baby’s umbilical cord was much shorter than average and wrapped around his neck, so if the turning had been successful, it could have killed them both. The woman was told that they both needed many more reiki treatments to heal the trauma of a surgical birth.

    I am sometimes staggered by the amount of money spent by these parents on their treatment sessions (even if the child is healthy, things like chiropractic visits are seen as necessary preventative care), supplements, special toys, special clothing, special soaps & products, and all the special trainings – even one series of courses costing up to $3,000 to learn how to “unschool.” Some mothers spend more on supplements than actual food. Yet, it can be rationalized to be okay to buy Happy Meals, Bratz dolls, and let the kids spend hours a day playing World of Warcraft, if you can call it natural.

    The worship of “Asian Wisdom” can be infuriating. I keep dealing with people who swear that all the traditional Chinese medicine must be wonderful and perfect, after all, it’s thousands of years old. Yeah, blood letting was also done for thousands of years, but when modern medical science discovered it didn’t work, it was abandoned except for the few things it does benefit. Acupuncture has been studied, and it not been proven to cure even 10% of what it’s claimed to, yet somehow it must be believed.

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