I continue to socialize, both virtually and in real life, with My New Friend (MNF) and it’s been a frustrating but overall positive experience as it makes me think a lot about competitive child-rearing. And I’m sure she would object to the word “rearing” and that’s the kind of thing that crosses my mind regularly now, which frustrates me deeply.
As I’ve mentioned, she considers herself attachment/montessori/home-school/no-TV/only-wooden-toys/early-potty-training/paleo and is pretty sanctimonious and vocal about buying into all of that. Her social media presence is constant (I wish I could provide links or even quotes, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that) and each post contains a picture of her kid doing something along with a quote and several hashtags (ugh, hashtags at all) claiming in all seriousness (and out loud! to people!) that she believes her 17-month-old daughter is a genius, an engineer, going to Harvard (though maybe MIT would be more appropriate?), an Olympic athlete, will be no less than 6 feet tall, and on and on.
She’s not joking or exaggerating. My husband thinks it may be a long-term troll of the mommy blog sphere, which is a charitable explanation and I’d probably be in love with her if that were the case, but alas, I am pretty certain that is not the case. I saw her neurosis in person as she became visibly anxious and emphatically defensive when her kid did not make the best gingerbread house in the group. So this is a for-real person who embodies every single stereotype all the “bad mommy” mommy blogs like to hate.
Lately her social media presence has included a lot of Montessori stuff, since she’s naturally into home-school Montessori (and looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was sending my son to two days of preschool a week next year). I like Montessori. I think it’s entirely positive and and a great philosophy for educating kids. But Montessori itself is a brand which, like any major brand, adds big bucks to anything containing its label and doesn’t provide very much you can’t get somewhere else or provide yourself.
If you tour a bunch of preschools that are above the level of just extended daycare, especially the ones in the same neighborhoods (i.e. demographics) that contain the Montessori preschools, a lot of them are going to use the same basic concepts. It’s just the foundation of early childhood education at this point: learning through free play, independence, etc. The only major difference might be the multiple-age classroom and an official Montessori-trained teacher. The “specialized Montessori educational materials” they refer to just contain a selection of toys that excludes anything that could have been made after 1950.
That’s it. It’s great, but you don’t need the Montessori label for that. The Montessori preschool near us charges four times as much as the non-Montessori preschool we are sending our kid to because all of their toys are made out of wood.
I do realize there’s more to it than that. I do. And if we were rich, we might send our kid to a Montessori school because why not? But my point is that a big portion of what you’re buying is the label and if you’re a good parent, you’re probably making up the difference on your own anyway.
Yet it is frustrating and makes me very anxious to keep reading posts about how much better her kid is because she “does Montessori.”
Attachment parenting, which, unsurprisingly, she also buys into, is the same thing. It’s a brand that contains a lot of good basic ideas (sensitivity to a child’s needs, providing security, being available, etc.), but takes them unnecessarily far and creates exclusivity by making rules that are difficult to follow. Like, in order to parent a good kid, which you can only do by attachment-parenting, a mother must breastfeed past toddlerhood, share a bed with her child, never put her child in a stroller, and whatever else. Who can do this other than the stay-at-home mother who puts everything in her life aside for this one ideal? It’s impossibly exclusive and guilt-based rather than truth-based. If you have any background in childhood development and attachment theory, on which attachment parenting is supposed to be based, you know that nowhere does it state that the only way to ensure proper attachment is to breastfeed until age four, or share a bed with all three of your kids at the same time, or follow any such specific set of rules. These things are never mentioned. It’s more general, less rule-based. But that’s not going to make the big bucks.
These parenting philosophies, particularly the ones with business models behind them (ahem, Dr. Sears, the Dr. Oz of kids), rely on planting guilt and then offering to relieve you of this guilt by creating rule-based cause-and-effect and exclusivity. And it’s just not the whole picture.
But I can’t stop thinking about it.
Image credit: How We Montessori. A really good example of putting the label “Montessori” on a totally normal, everyday thing.