On Parenting without Dogma

…or the alternative name for this post, if you prefer: “Why I Suck At Marketing.”

Let’s just get straight to the point.

(Enjoy it, I don’t do that very often. I’m a wanderer, and proud of it.)

I have a business.  It’s called Visible Child.  I make my living working with, writing for, and speaking to parents and schools about child development, always through the lens of respect.  This is my work, just like your work.  It’s not a hobby.  Like any business, it grows and thrives off of people “following” me and my work.

So you can imagine the problems that arise when you’re a person who constantly turns around and says “Shoo!” to all the people who are trailing behind.  A person who does not want to be followed.  I’m an introvert (it’s true, it’s okay if you don’t believe it).  I don’t like all those people following me, I just want to be left alone in my little pseudo-office.  And yet here they (you?) are.  Following me.  Cut that out.

See?  This is why I suck at marketing.

Yes.  I get that marketing is about getting people to follow you and hang on your every word or idea or answer or blog post.  That’s the way it’s supposed to work.  I do know that. So what happens when what you are trying to “sell” is not an idea or an approach or an instruction or a belief, but the far more elusive critical thought?

Here’s my dream:  If I had my way, would I have every parent doing what I say or agreeing with me?  No.  That sounds horrible.  And boring.  If I had my way, would I have every parent listening and reading and thinking and weighing and being conscious and agreeing and disagreeing and thinking and deciding for themselves, regardless of the position of Visible Child?  OMG, yes.  That would be like a dream come true.

I know this is where it gets confusing for many people.  If I may, I will even dare to take a potentially inflammatory and heretical stance, and say that there are an awful lot of people in the world–most of ’em, in fact–who grew up with three significant influences, all of which taught you to “do what the person in charge tells you to do.”  In my view, those three factors are: 1) Authoritarian parenting (high in control, hierarchical); 2) Public (and often private) education (didactic rather than Socratic, “listen to the teacher and do what they say”), and 3) (and this is where I get in trouble, I know) Religion.  These systems, all of which surround us and dictate much of our lives, do not teach us to think for ourselves.  And then we grow up, and we look for leaders and answers and solutions, as if the world works like that, as if there is a multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank “right answer” that will make parenting easier and produce the outcomes we are after.


Here’s my dirty little secret.  I didn’t grow up like that.  I didn’t have authoritarian parents.  I went to public school, all the way through (even university), but never got the message (from my parents) that I was to blindly follow whatever the  teacher said. And I was raised without religion–indeed, I was raised with quite question everythinga bit of disdain about religion, being modeled, day in and day out.

I was raised to question everything.  All the time.  This could be why we (you and I) sometimes have trouble communicating, I’m realizing.

believe nothingAlthough it was never put in these words, I was raised to, as they say, never accept anything unless it feels right to me.

This is the lens through which I see the world–and parenting.

So maybe you can understand why I feel so confused–and occasionally frustrated–when parents respond in anger or defensiveness to a position or belief that I share.

That happened just this morning.  (you knew something prompted this post, didn’t you…ah, you know me well.)  It pretty much happens every time that I take the the leap and talk about differences in parenting philosophies.  Someone reads that I disagree with something that they feel strongly about or hold sacred, and their response (a la Facebook, of course) is “I’m outta here!” or “Unbelieveable.  Unfollowing!” or “I thought you were about respect!”  Something–anything–that clearly communicates that disagreement is tantamount to disrespect and that positions that differ from our own must be quickly and thoroughly discarded.

This is the very definition of dogma.

I don’t believe in dogma when it comes to parenting.  Ever.  Okay, with the exception that hitting or shaming children is never okay.  But otherwise, yeah, I don’t do that.  Actually, I don’t believe in dogma about anything, just to be clear.

So, this morning it was about “babywearing,” a term I dislike semantically and a practice that I have mixed feelings about.  Some of it is great.  Some of it makes a lot of sense.  Some who babywear do it very consciously and thoughtfully.  Others, not so much.  Like anything else, it can be used well and misused.  I have my opinions.  I would love it if those who “follow” me could engage with those opinions and listen and learn and see if they can understand exactly what I’m saying so that they can then weigh it for themselves, and come to their own conclusion.  This morning it was about babywearing. But it could be–and is–about anything.

I know that you want answers and scripts. I do.  I empathize.  It would all be so much easier if someone, some “guru” could tell you what to do or say and you could do it.  I know that it’s more comfortable to ask a question and get an answer.  By all means, there are a lot of people who will do that for you (the ones who are much better at marketing than I am.)  But you see, there’s a trap there.  A really important trap–one to pay attention to.

One of the key principles of the Visible Child approach is: Authenticity.  Here’s the thing.  If you do what I say, or use the words that I have given to you to say–if you follow a prescription that I write for you (if you could get me to do that, which you probably know is pretty hard to do)….you are being me, not being you.  And in the long run, your kids won’t buy it.  They know when it’s you, and when it’s something someone told you to do or say.  Your task, then is to take it all in, roll it around, try it out, see where it feels right, see where it doesn’t, find your own voice, and then make your own decision and find your own words.  This is your journey, your family, your child, your process.  Success lies in the “space between”–in the relationship with each of your children, as individuals.  I’m not there in that relationship.  You are.  And they are.  So you have to forge your own way.

So this is the point at which I share a little story.  Because I like stories.

There is a young mom who lives near where I live.  She follows my work, and has even been a coaching client of mine.  She’s been a member of my facebook group for a long time, and has organized workshops where I have spoken about respectful parenting, RIE®, and Visible Child.  I’m gonna go ahead and say it–I think she is a fantastic mom.  She is tuned in to her kids, responsive, loving, positive, and open.  (Am I embarrassing you yet, A?)  She reads, she takes things in, she engages, she thinks.  She absolutely knows how I feel about various topics, I’m confident of that.  And I know how she feels.  We disagree on some significant points–never in heated or dismissive ways, mind you.  I speak about my discomfort with some aspects of babywearing (back to the example from this morning!).  She is president of the local chapter of Babywearing International, and regularly promotes events that reflect that role, a few of which admittedly make me squirm (I’m sure she knows that, but why should she care? She shouldn’t.)  She is passionate about a topic and serves others out of that passion.  Just like I do.  I cannot overstate how much respect and genuine admiration I have for this mom of two.  We see many things the same way.  We see many things differently.  So what?  I speak my truth.  She speaks hers.  I have found what works for me and I share it.  She has found what works for her and she shares it.  We learn from one another.  What would be lost–to either of us–if we dismissed one another over a difference in perspective?  So much would be lost.  So much.  (Including being “told” about babywearing by her then 3 year old son–one of my favorite moments and memories.  It still makes me smile.)

It is possible to learn from others and value others without agreeing.

Disagreement is not Disrespect.  Information can’t hurt you.

It is possible to take in information that challenges our prexisting knowledge or beliefs–even strongly–and consider it and engage with it thoughtfully and patiently before deciding how we feel about it.

It is possible, when we find ourselves saying “But, a month ago, you do i contradict myselfsaid….” or “But you told me to _____ and now you’re saying the opposite!”, to remember that yes….all of us are large, we contain multitudes.

What is Visible Child about?  Ah, that’s the tricky part.   You think it’s about parenting, and about children.  And it is.  But more than that, it’s about nurturing a community of critical thinkers, empowering parents to become well informed, synthesize and tussle with what we have learned, and support one another at the places of overlap, even if and when we disagree.

What do I want from you?  Thinking.  Openness.  Consciousness.  A willingness to engage and to “stay in it”, even when it’s uncomfortable.  Commitment to your own stances, while always remaining open to other perspectives, even if in time you reject them.  A fierce determination to question and slow down.  A genuine desire to, as Magda Gerber said “really understand what I mean.”

There is always something to learn.  If you want to be on this mutual journey of expanding consciousness about parenting, stick around.

We push one another.  That’s the joy of it.


5 thoughts on “On Parenting without Dogma

  1. This is absolutely my goal as the newly appointed Parent Educator at my school! Thank you for authentically addressing this…it’s not always about the answers, no…it’s about the questions. You’re the best Robin! I’ll try not to follow you *too closely 😀

    ~Sara Zacuto

  2. This is one of the most perfect things I’ve read in a very, very, very long time. If only the world was so willing to learn from each other and share our differences as ways to learn. Thank you for all that you do.

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