Tuesday, January 29, 2013

harm reduction parenting chez moi

What kind of parent are you?  An attachment parent (Read: Clingy)? Authoritarian (read: hard-ass)? Authoritative? (Yup, those are different). Permissive? (Read: wishy-washy). Laissez-faire (read: francophone permissive)? Detached (read: emotionally unavailable)? Hands-on? Hands-off? Democratic? (Democratic?  People let their children have a vote?!)... the list goes on.  I am probably none of those (and possibly all of those at times, as well).

I believe (yes, with the rising popularity of attachment parenting in popular culture) that we've all been encouraged to go a bit off of the deep end, analyzing and re-analyzing (and then talking about in therapy), the consequences of our parenting choices and philosophies with our children.  I do it, too.  I'm not saying that I'm immune.  But I also wonder about a culture that encourages self-doubt (sometimes to the point of immobilization) about one's choices in parenting.

So - if I had to choose a term for what "kind" of parent I am, I'd say that I'm a harm reduction parent.  By this I mean, I do the best I can, with what I've got, in order to make choices to do the least amount of harm to them AND to me.

Okay, yep - cutesy little moniker, that.  But what does harm reduction parenting mean?  Here are some concrete examples.

1. If I'm exhausted, and have no groceries - I will take my kids through the drive-through and buy them formaldehyde laden chicken nuggets rather than take their tired cranky asses (and my tired cranky ass) through the grocery store (which would result in tantrums and dragging their bodies through the aisles whilst enduring the disapproving stares of better parents than I.)  Feeding children formaldehyde, in this instance, reduces everyone's harm.  And yes, I do it.  Sometimes often, sometimes less so.

2. When I do things that are harmful, I say I'm sorry.  I *do* do things that are harmful. I'm not unrepentant about that and I'm not overly invested in my children preserving the notion that I'm all good at life and shit.  Life is tricky.  It is for me, and it is for them.  Making them think I'm some kind of expert (at anything) seems like a wayyyyy bigger lie than Santa.  So - when I yell too much, when I say something that might hurt their feelings, when I have an "oh-fuck-there's-one-for-the-I'm-not-proud-of-that-parenting-book" (which is already longer and more varied than a Norton Anthology), I sit them down and tell them I fucked up.  And that I'm sorry if that hurt their feelings.  And then we all try to do our best to regroup.

3. I can't afford organic produce. (I know, right?!  GASP!)  So I wash the veggies.  When I remember.  (Whaaaat?  They're eating veggies....).

4. Sometimes - I don't make my kid do his homework.  He's tired.  I'm tired.  A cuddle feels more beneficial.

5.  There are some things I"m just not willing to fight with them over.  Don't wanna eat dinner?  Ok.  Don't wanna have a bath?  Ok. (Within reason, people.  But kids can go a day or two - or three! -without bathing.).  Fighting over this stuff is an epic waste of energy for everyone. They aren't going to die if they don't eat dinner, and I have to make a bedtime snack anyways.  Whatevs.  They have a little extra dirt behind the ears?  Maybe it'll help them fight off those daycare germs.  The truth of it is, I don't actually care that much.  They'll eat when they're hungry.  They won't actually get scurvy if they dine on PB&J three nights in a row, and if they go to school with dirt behind the ears, they worst that will happen is that I'll get 'the look' again.  Which I'll likely get anyways.

6.  I try to let them make their own decisions. But this here ain't no democracy, friends.  Sometimes, my needs and the needs of the household have to come first.  Partially, this is more of an issue in a one-parent household.  Sometimes, shit needs to get done and so they need to come along for the ride.  End of story.  And sometimes, it's because I'm a selfish prick.  True story.  I know that as a mama, I'm not supposed to recognize 'em, but I have needs that also need to be met.  I try to balance out our all of our (sometimes competing) needs whenever possible.  But you know what they say: 'If mama ain't happy, nobody's happy.'  True story.

7.  Bribery.  Ahhhhhhh.  My friend bribery.  It works.  It really works.  And so I use a liberal sprinkling of it.  And a big Pooh! to all those books that say children should do things just because their parents tell them to, out of respect,  and a desire to please blah blah blah.  If my children turn out anything like me, they will not be lacking in a desire to please others.  And it hasn't always worked out spectacularly for me.  So maybe teaching them to be a little selfish will actually work in their favour.

8.  I try to balance the fun stuff with the shit stuff.  But sometimes I have a deadline and they get/have to watch a lotta tv.  Life goes on.  It actually does. Their little addled brains will survive it.  And truth be told, they spend all day being 'activitied' at school and daycare.  I don't feel the need to provide programming, and moreover, I actually feel like sometimes the poor little dudes just need to chill.

There are other harm-reduction-y things I do.  But that's a glimpse into what I mean.   Trying to remember that while of course they are little people, I'm a person too.  Balancing needs with needs and veggies with pesticides.  Rolling with the punches, and throwing a few bribes around when necessary.

The best I can with whatever I've got in the tank.

(And if it turns out that I've managed to do an exceptionally crap job of things, I'll be happy to help with the therapy costs later on...)


  1. I love this! Thanks for writing it. I am very much the same type of parent.

  2. I really feel that we all should be this type of parent! My grandmother once told me that we should all be striving toward a goal. Whether or not we attain that goal is unimportant. The fact that we were aiming for something means that we are nearer to it than we otherwise would have been. So, if we aim for organic living, and occasionally we end up feeding our children formaldehide-laden chicken from a fast food place for various extremely important reasons (like our sanity, for example), we are still closer to that goal than we otherwise would have been. So, let's all become harm reduction parents!!!