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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.

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13 thoughts on “montessori is a brand

  1. I’m going to say two things here. First, is my response from my competitive parenting side, which is to say that I have had my kid in full time daycare since she was 4 months old (now 2 1/2 years old) and when we went to a party last week, she was apparently so awesome that my friend’s aunt, who has been a preschool teacher for years, found us when we were leaving and complimented us on how she was “so comfortable in her skin” and self-assured that she wanted to see who her parents were. Take THAT, attachment parenting people!

    The other side, which is my compassionate and more thoughtful side, thinks it must be really hard to be that woman. It frankly sounds just exhausting to be in her head. I mean, when you are anxious over a gingerbread house and your very small kiddo, what is college application season going to do to you OR your child????!!!

    Anyways, why must you live on the opposite side of the country? Clearly we should be hanging out and talking about non-Montessori preschools.

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    • I totally believe you have a really calm, cool kid because, like a friend of mine said recently, the coolest parents (meaning not neurotic) have the most relaxed, comfortable kids.

      And re daycare/preschool, I keep coming back to the feeling that, all else being equal, these factors don’t make that much difference on the long term. I think people feel like they have way more control over their kids’ future than they do and these decisions become life or death.

      Yeah…it really must be miserable living with that amount of anxiety and neuroticism and I can see her struggling with it. Her need to control her daughter’s future (or belief that she even can) seems to come from insecurities about her own background and feeling that she herself isn’t “gifted” enough, and attributing that to concrete things like watching too much TV as a kid. So, controllable factors as opposed to, say, genetic lottery.

      I feel bad about writing these posts because, if social media didn’t exist, she and I would probably be better friends. In person, it’s really not as intense and I like hanging out with her. Part of the issue might be that she’s trying to brand herself and her blog and the attempt to convey success and get people to take her seriously as an advice-giver might just be backfiring and coming off as competitive and braggy.

      I worry about her kid, too. Can you imagine the disappointment she’ll encounter if she turns out, like most people, to be average? Like a 5’6″ state school grad in middle management who has a gym membership but goes about twice a month?

      There’s obviously nothing wrong with that, but the predictions her mother has made, publicly and on the permanent record, will haunt her for life if they don’t stop.

      Yes, it would be awesome to talk about this stuff in person. I just wrote the longest response ever but feel like I had to cut it short. So nice to know a level-headed, reasonable parent and stepmom even!

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      • Yes, making public predictions about one’s child and his/her future performance in any arena is a terrible, terrible way to go. I think it’s also really evident that she’s never really contemplated having a serious issue with her child. Having taught middle school for years and then having a friend who has a child who has had bulimia for 3 years, it makes you realize that as long as your child is healthy (physically and emotionally) and able to interact reasonable well with the world around him/her, that’s the really important stuff. I predict tough times ahead for that mother/child pairing, unless she gets some intense therapy.

        I think that generally speaking, yes, we have much less control over how our kids turn out than we would like to believe. I think that once you get over the threshold of Winnicott’s “good enough” parenting, all the other stuff (montessori, attachment parenting, sleep training, no sleep training, co-sleeping, no co-sleeping) is pretty much a wash in terms of its long-term impact on your child. So let’s all have another cocktail and recognize these battles are just really about ego and not about the child in question.

        (I also have a longer response about the genetic lottery thing, but as you pointed out, it’s hard to have a nuanced conversation in a blog comment.)

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      • You had me at Winnicott and then sealed the deal with this: “So let’s all have another cocktail and recognize these battles are just really about ego and not about the child in question.”

        Yes.

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  2. Funny, I think of Montessori and AP as mutually exclusive! Montessori is about fostering independence, AP is…….not. IMO. Montessori might be a way to label products (like for a search on Ebay) but Montessori is an educational philosophy 107 years old, with practitioners all over the world who feel that it is a lot more (or less) than “a brand”. Witty title, tho. You got me to read it.

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    • Hi and thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      Whether they are mutually exclusive or not – and I agree, they are not related – my point was that the way the practitioners of these two methods talk about them is similar.

      The word “brand” was chosen to be intentionally reductive, an exaggeration. I like Montessori ideas quite a bit. The point there was that the name “Montessori” (like the name “Miu Miu,” which I also like quite a bit) adds significant cost to the materials and experiences containing it and you don’t necessarily have to buy it to practice it. Nor do you necessarily have to practice it to give a quality education. Sometimes a cleaning station is just some mops and a broom.

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    • I think it’s less about the wood in particular and more about banning plastic or electronic bleepy bloop toys from the home. It seems like one of those ridiculous rules someone makes before the child is actually born and before they realize that 1) it’s almost impossible to keep them out of the house and 2) as soon as kids start wanting specific toys, those are the ones they want. And then, amid so many battles, is that one really worth it?

      As for the connection to Montessori, I don’t think there’s a rule that all toys must be made out of wood, but they all pretty much are. I think it’s probably an effort to encourage children to get more creative in their play and learn and use their imagination as opposed to doing whatever typical plastic, electronic toys guide children to do without much thought.

      Like playing with blocks instead of ipads or something. It makes sense and we have a lot of simple, wooden toys, but it’s the religiousness of it that bothers me about all of this stuff. Doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

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      • Montessori said that young children like beautiful things. I guess there is a bias for natural materials, similar to Waldorf in this way. Of course, in America we know that children also love plastic crap. Children also are really influenced by what we (adults) value.

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      • Thanks for filling me in. Yeah I guess that makes sense. But the religiousness of all this parenting stuff really irks me too, wooden toys or whatever. But people are like that about that stuff, kids or not. Do you think it intensifies as people become parents or is it just my perception being not from this world?

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      • I think probably anything intensifies once emotion comes into play. I think people like to pretend that these issues are not emotional, that they’re all research-driven or based on some kind of accepted theory, but in the end, we’re talking about our kids and that’s like talking about your heart walking around outside your body. There’s no way to divorce the emotion from it. There’s a lot of guilt and fear involved. So people pick something and go with it because it’s less scary than making it up as you go along. It’s less scary than admitting that none of us knows what we’re talking about.

        Same thing with diet/exercise. People are religious about it, whether they’re aware of it or not, because it’s basically rooted in health/mortality and vanity. Emotional things. But of course it’s all about like cross fit and coconut oil or whatever other things people latch on to in order to beat the system.

        And a bunch of other reasons, etc. I realize none of this might be even slightly coherent at this point and not nearly complete. haha.

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      • All Joy and No Fun (observations on parenting) is a good book for discussing why you young parents are even crazier than we were: You have great lives before you have kids (travel, great food, great jobs) and you GIVE THAT UP to have these little, messy, boring people around, whom you love more than life. Very confusing. So much of parenting is just NOT amazing. Our great grandmothers may not even have had a choice of when/whether to get pregnant, so the idea of “parenting as life fulfillment” would have been silly. It was just what you did, and you were certainly not trying to do it “right”, “perfectly” or better than anyone else. Especially if 3 of them died before age 5.

        Also, remember, you love these little people with a completely irrrational love. Also, that most of us/you did not grow up seeing parents with young children, unless we have lots of sibs, so this is all new from that perspective. In America, we segregate people by age.

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