Saturday, March 6, 2010

Radical Parenting on Discovery Health was Rad

My family participated in the recently aired Discovery Health Channel show Radical Parenting. In case you missed it, it will air again on March 23rd at 8pm and 11pm ET.

It was a wonderful experience and a main motivation for doing it was to open up a dialogue about Attachment Parenting. It has been very interesting to hear and read different responses.

If you didn't see the show, it followed the lives of 3 families who practice parenting styles that are considered unusual in our culture today. I represented Attachment Parenting and other practices that fit well with AP lifestyle. We showed and discussed extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, Elimination Communication, placental ritual (we planted ours), and avoiding the use of pacifiers, sippy cups, highchairs, etc.

Before the show aired I tried to imagine what the different reactions would be. I immediately figured that we would come across as more child-centered than we actually are. I anticipated this by writing my first blog entry.

I also figured that there would be the strongest reaction to the scene where we plant my daughter's placenta under a potted tree. This has turned out to be true, but not as much as I'd anticipated.

I figured babywearing would fair the best because it has become more mainstream. What I didn't anticipate was that there would be so many comments about babywearing beyond, "What's so radical about babywearing?".

Of course my inner tween was most nervous about what people would say about how we looked. I could hear chants of "You're weeeeeird!" while I was denied access to the "cool table" in the cafeteria. I know, I know, it's cliche. In reality I fared okay in middle school. I was able to straddle the line between the most popular students and the least. But somehow the self-conscious kid hides inside forever.

After the show I obsessively scanned the Internet for comments. I've been inspired, energized, annoyed, and surprised by the reactions. I'd like to go through a few of them and respond, as well as respond to the expert comments on the show. Here goes...

Attachment Parenting:

Jenn Berman's main criticism of Attachment Parenting was that it can be very demanding and parents can get burnt out. She's right. It's true of all parenting, at least in modern Western culture. I've found that staying as close to natural, biological expectations and merging them with modern culture have decreased the demands I've felt as a parent. The one thing my husband and I could do better, though, is to one of these days let someone else watch the kids so we can go out as a couple. We haven't been out without children in 11 years.

Something that surprised me was that some people described us as very "extreme" APers, but yet others criticized us for different things being too "mainstream" or "old school" (like the frame backpack my husband uses), as if we weren't really AP. Some people said they thought we were chosen because we are so extreme, and others implied that we did things just for show (yes, I started AP 20 years ago thinking that someday I might go on TV).

The truth is that I don't think of us as extreme at all. I think we might have come across that way to some people because I really think of us more as practicing Continuum Concept parenting (if I have to label us at all). I actually asked to be identified as practicing Continuum Concept parenting, but the producer felt that this would be too confusing a term for the audience. She was right.

I think the reason we were chosen was based on a lot of things, but if we didn't practice a lot of Attachment Parenting and Continuum Concept practices not only would we have gotten criticism for not really showing AP, but also the practice wouldn't have registered well on TV. We did not do anything just for show though. And I certainly don't practice any of these things to get a "most AP prize" (though if there really is one, someone please let me know).

Extended Breastfeeding:

This may have been the biggest surprise reaction-wise, on several levels. Jenn Berman's comment that a drawback to extended nursing is that kids can feel different from their peers. I'm usually pretty good at anticipating what expert comments will be. I did not see that comment coming. I do, however, have my own comments in response. First of all, all kids are different and may at times feel different from their peers. Secondly, older children who are breastfed typically only do so a couple of times a day in their own house. It is very often just at night. How would their peers even know?

Even if their peers did find out, it would be because the child felt comfortable enough to let their friend find out, say after hurting themselves while playing and needing to nurse for comfort. But also the age I was talking about, age 4, is not a typical age for kids to tease each other or exert "peer pressure". That leads me to wonder if the family or families Jenn Berman was talking about had much older children, say over 7 (not that there's anything wrong with that).

It also makes me wonder if these self-conscious children felt that way because an adult, maybe even Jenn Berman herself, made them feel that way. It reminds me of when I took a nursing 3 year old Bekah to the hospital to be treated for Rotovirus. The only thing she could even hold down a little bit of was breastmilk, which was good because it protects against Rotovirus.

When we got to the ER and talked to the nurse I let her know that thankfully Bekah was still nursing. She proceeded to turn right to poor sick little Bekah and say, "That's really silly that you do that! That's a really funny thing to do.". I wanted to deck her! I would have engaged in a very heated debate with her but she then started looking at Bekah's bruised knees and basically let me know that she suspected me of child abuse. Something inside (that intuitive parenting) told me to just shut up at that point rather than giving her an excuse to call Social Services.

Thankfully when the doctor finally arrived he felt that she was so well hydrated because of breastfeeding and decided she did not need to be admitted for IV fluids. The nurse had previously said she was positive she would need an IV. My main point though is that the adult nurse was doing everything in her power to make my daughter feel weird, different, and like she was doing something wrong.

In cultures where extended nursing is still the cultural norm (it is the biological norm everywhere), children don't feel weird at all for openly nursing as an older child. It isn't that extended nursing itself makes American children feel weird. It is that people have directly made them feel weird and simply because it isn't practiced enough. I'm hoping that shows like Radical Parenting will actually make more families feel okay about extended nursing, and more and more will practice it.

I thought though that the extended nursing would have gotten way more negative comments. I only read a couple of comments from people mistakenly thinking that there are no "benefits" to it or that I must be "doing it all the time". So perhaps we have come a long way towards greater public acceptance since extended nursing controversies of just a few years ago.


Jenn Berman was probably the most harsh about co-sleeping. She said the the American Academy of Pediatrics is not "a fan of co-sleeping". This actually isn't quite true. The AAP defines co-sleeping as sleeping in the same room or close proximity to your baby, a practice they support, and bed sharing as in the same bed. I happen to disagree with the suggestion that all bed sharing is dangerous, and that all crib sleeping is safe. Just as there can be safe crib sleeping and unsafe crib sleeping, there can be safe bed sharing and unsafe bed sharing.

There is also evidence that co-sleeping is safer than crib sleeping. I think the better approach Jenn Berman could have taken would have been to talk about safe versus unsafe co-sleeping. Parents are not going to stop co-sleeping and they deserve to have safe co-sleeping information.


A lot of people have mistakenly commented that I wear my son Luke "all the time". I can see where they would get that impression based on Radical Parenting, but that was 15 minutes of time shown out of 3 days of filming. It would hardly show babywearing if even half of the time he was on the ground and one of the things we were trying to show was babywearing and how that helps to include your child in family life.

During the show an information box popped up that said that from birth to the crawling stage Luke was carried or in close contact with a caregiver 24 hours a day. It did not say that we carry him 24 hours a day now.

Another factor was that during the filming my 17 month old was teething big time. This increased his need to be held. I would have been holding him more whether there was a film crew there or not.

Which brings me to another factor. There was a film crew there. Just having new people and equipment in the house made him want to be held more.

I always find it interesting that the parents criticizing babywearing are the same ones lugging around a toddler without the help of a baby carrier, often while pushing the stroller that their child refuses to sit in. They are the same ones who end up with carpel tunnel syndrome and sciatica from the strain on their bodies from not using a baby carrier. Babies and toddlers need to be held. To me it makes sense to make it as easy for yourself as possible.

One thing I was worried about before the show aired was a lot of criticism about how I was wearing my sling. There was one commercial I saw where my sling was a bit too close to my shoulder and I thought other babywearers might jump on that. In my defense I am short and if the sling is too far over on my shoulder it hurts my rotator cuff. I have been babywearing a long time and I know where the sling is comfortable on me. It also may have been in a slightly different position because I had a microphone under my clothes. In the end, I only read one comment that mentioned the way I was wearing the sling.

What I didn't anticipate is that there would be criticism of my husband wearing a framed backpack. I personally don't find them comfortable, but my husband does, as do many other guys. I have close to 30 baby carriers of all types, and my husband has tried many of them. This is the only one he will use. So if it is the difference between him wearing my son in the backpack versus not wearing him at all, the backpack is just fine to me. My son also likes it.

Now to Jenn Berman's comments from the show. She said that a drawback to babywearing is that children miss out on the tactile stimulation of being able to explore their environment. I couldn't disagree with this more. In my experience children worn in slings or other baby carriers are in the perfect position to interact with life. They are within reach of a rich world of tactile exploration. They are able to hear and participate in family and community conversation. They feel the familiar shifts and movements of their mother as she goes about her day, and they learn the movements of their dad and other caregivers. The mechanism that teaches balance is stimulated and develops through their babywearing experiences.

My children have all reached their motor milestones at expected times. They have all been alert and engaged in their surrounding. They have all spoken and understood language at an early age. Bekah said her first word at 4 months, and it was clear enough for strangers to understand.

To me, what Jenn Berman said was a drawback, is actually a benefit.

Elimination Communication:

Jenn Berman gave 2 benefits of Elimination Communication, which was great, but I guess she wasn't aware of the other 73 reasons listed on the DiaperFreeBaby website.

I guess Jenn Berman didn't hear the part in my interview where I said that Elimination Communication is not early potty training. Many ECers have found that the potty training struggles and regressions that Jenn Berman cited as being a possible drawback to EC, don't happen. In fact, DiaperFreeBaby lists reducing or eliminating potty training struggles as a benefit of EC. Difficulties such as these have more to do with how a child becomes toilet independent, rather than when.

As far as the public's comments I was again very surprised because I expected to hear a lot of negative comments, but there were very few. Of the ones that I did read, they were all just based on confusing EC with early potty training.

Placenta Ritual:

I knew there would be a lot of comments about the scene where we defrost, examine, and plant my daughter's placenta. Personally, I really find looking at the placenta interesting. My midwife has showed all of us each child's placenta right after birth, and explained different things she was looking for and what they meant. Each one was a little different. One child's placenta was really unique and beautiful, even more so the umbilical cord. We used it to make beautiful tree-like prints.

Every culture has a history of placenta rituals. Experts agree that family rituals are important and healthy. I don't think planting a placenta under a tree is any more weird than say saving a lock of hair from a 1st haircut or putting a tooth under a pillow for the Tooth Fairy.

Random Comments:

The funniest comment I read in the "random" category was that the weirdest thing about the AP family was the dad going outside in the snow in shorts. Now, first of all, he really does this. It was actually a really big deal for him during the filming. He insisted on wearing his shorts for comfort and for accuracy in the depiction of our family. He shovels in shorts, bbq's year-round in shorts, checks the mail in shorts, etc.

All in all, I think Radical Parenting opened up the dialogue I was hoping it would, and I hope it continues to do so. Please let me know your thoughts on the show and any questions that you have. Also, Gina from The Feminist Breeder, the "gender-neutral" mom is hosting Radical Parents Talk Back on her radio show on March 21st. All 3 moms from the show will be on. Here is the link:

Happy Parenting!


  1. I agree with all your comments here... just have to see the show.
    I'd love to see someone film a child's day from their perspectives. From a stroller and from a babycarrier. I think that would really help people 'get' babywearing.
    And yes, on the concentrate on talking about save vs unsafe cosleeping comment, yes on the babywearing instead of carrying around a toddler and pushing a stroller, etc. etc. Yes on the helicopter parenting blog post. Yes especially on the continuum concept family (and being told you would have to be the AP family because people wouldn't get it). Not that I think it is necessary to 'fit' any one catagory. I kept saying, yes, yes, yes when I was reading through.
    Glad I checked out the article through facebook and your blogs.

  2. OOps, should have said 'safe' vs unsafe not save