Gray Area Parenting


Parenting is weird, sometimes. I have changed my mind about so many things in the last 15 years, I can never imagine trying to actually put my parenting technique into rules. Sometimes I’ve done things differently between kids, because they are so different. Sometimes I change my mind within the same week with the same kid because I realized the previous stance was NOT WORKING. Even if it worked before. Sometimes I switch up techniques 10 times in one day because NOTHING is working. I don’t think I could ever say anything as basic as, “I practice attachment parenting.” Or, “I do Cry It Out.” While both of those might have been true at certain points with one or more of my children, I know – in MY world – parenting is dynamic. Ever changing. Nothing is static. No decision I make today (Save the majors like: Don’t do drugs. Don’t torture small animals. Don’t vote against Gay Marriage.) regarding rules for my children or styles for my parenting, will stand the test of time. If there’s anything I’ve learned in 15 years and three children? For me? Nothing lasts forever.


(There’s always a but…)

Sometimes I get frustrated when other parents do it. Or maybe, I get my feelings hurt with how other parents do it. Because, somehow some people think things are black and white. You can’t do THIS without condoning THIS. If you do THIS then you must ALSO mean to approve of THIS. If you let your kids eat cookies and chicken nuggets they’ll never like vegetables! Or, another variation: If you DON’T let your kids ever eat nuggets they’ll never know they like them! Like somehow decision making as a parent is that easy. Cosleep or your child won’t know you’ll always be there for them! And the reverse argument? Let them cry it out or your baby will never learn how to soothe themselves. I disagree with both of these statements. Sometimes I can cosleep AND teach my child how to soothe themself. DID YOU KNOW IT WAS POSSIBLE? Or sometimes I can let my child cry for me, ignore them, and somehow still manage to raise them trusting I’ll be there when they need me. Since when did we, as parents, start believing everything was so black and white? Do people think that the ONLY factor in whether or not your child (a) Trusts you’ll be there for them or (b) Can soothe themselves when they’re upset – that the ONLY factor relating to those stances for your child is HOW THEY SLEEP? There’s so much more to it.

If you want to cosleep but worry your child won’t be able to soothe themselves? Then I’m sure you’ll find other ways to teach them down the road. And maybe they’ll still never learn. But they also might not have learned if you let them Cry It Out either. Because we can only do so much. Make the best decision you can in THAT moment, taking everything you know and everything you hope for and do the best you can. But it is NOT a science. There is no guarantee that anything will produce a respectable well-rounded loving and kind and successful adult. If there WAS a guarantee? Parenting experts would not exist to remind us all of the different ways we may or may not be screwing up our child.

For example: This fantastic article discussing the value of being affectionate towards children was referenced a few times by people who used it as support for why you shouldn’t do things like ignore tantrums or spank your kids. And while I thought the studies in the article were fascinating, I didn’t like using those studies to say things like, “This is why we can’t spank our kids! They’ll grow up being aggressive to me!” Because I have (a) Ignored tantrums and (b) Spanked before. And you know what? I also kiss my kids ninety million times a day. I carry my kids whenever they ask, even if they’re four. I give backrubs and headrubs to ease them to sleep. I hug. A LOT. I pat shoulders and backs. Just because a parent chooses to spank (which I stopped doing a decade ago because it just didn’t work for me) or to ignore tantrums, doesn’t mean they are not affectionate. Or not using touch to soothe. And sometimes, it just means for that one tantrum they made the decision: Ok. My kid is pitching a fit for no good reason and I’m not apt to deal with it right now. So I’m ignoring them. But the next day? The same parent may hug and soothe that child.

My Dad, on the rare occasion, yelled and threw things across the room. But afterwards? He apologized and offered his love. Yes…I would have preferred he not lose his temper. But what stood with me? Was the LOVE he showed afterwards.

Maybe this is why I don’t read strictly Parenting Advice type blogs or magazines. Even ones that try to be well-rounded. Because whenever someone is trying to make a point as to WHY they don’t do something, a correlation is always drawn to something else. For example: I don’t let my child watch TV because I like to encourage more creative activities and I want my kid to enjoy the outdoors.. And while I stand by a No TV stance in some areas and have written about it in regards to MY child, I do still let my kids watch TV. Some days a lot…some days none at all. Because some days we do crafts and go to the park! And the next day we may enjoy a Dora marathon. The two are NOT mutually exclusive.

It’s not the stances that bother me, we all take stances with our kids. It’s the platform that usually gets me riled up. I Don’t Do This ______ Because I Don’t Want This Bad Trait ______ In My Child. If it were that easy, 90% of parents would not do _______. And it makes those of us who do things differently get defensive because suddenly, because I let my child eat McDonald’s nuggets sometimes, I feel like I’m condoning a lifetime of poor fitness and obesity. I prefer to say it this way: I Don’t Do This _______ Because Right Now It Seems Like A Good Decision For This Child. We could all nurse, cosleep, never spank, and keep our kids from TV until they’re 15 but we still may have little sociopaths on our hands. I just feel like the second we present ourselves like, “I do this because the opposing stance IS AN AWFUL STANCE THAT WILL RUIN YOUR CHILDREN!” – then we are dividing ourselves up on teams as parents. It’s not like that. We are all on the SAME team: trying to do what is best for our children.

What is my point? I don’t know. I just am constantly feeling the need to defend myself in the comments sections of blog entries that make correlations between A and B that I don’t think are that black and white. I am always doing something in the gray area and whenever someone writes about They Do This Because ________ – I end up feeling like I need to pipe up and say, “Hey! I let my kids watch TV and play outside!” or on the other end “I don’t let my kids watch iCarly but I’m not sheltering them because sometimes we also watch CSI together!” (What? Okay. So that only happened once. I’m sorry.) Or my favorite, “My kid eats overly processed foods AND fresh vegetables!” (Obviously we’re talking about my boys, my daughter never eats anything. Cake or vegetables.)

But I know these entries are always meant well so I don’t want to be all defensive in the comments. There’s no need for me to pipe up and get upset saying “Just because my kid gets an allowance doesn’t mean they won’t be good with money!” because as a blogger? I always get stressed about those and I don’t want to stress anyone out. But it is an issue I think about often and since I have my own blog? I thought I’d write about it here:


Maybe Gray Area Parenting will turn my kids into unstable adults. If it does? I’m sure this entry will be linked to in years to come as proof as to why you should PICK A STANCE AND STICK WITH IT! Until then? I’m going to just keep making the best decision I have in the moment and believe that nothing I do in that moment will destroy my child as long as I always show them love and kindness surrounding as many moments as possible. I have faith in that. Because on paper? My Dad wasn’t the best in the world. But surrounding his not-so-great moments? He showed me as much love as possible. And that, in the end, is what truly mattered.

29 thoughts on “Gray Area Parenting”

  1. WOW! I so want to be you when I grow up. You said everything I would want to say only so much better. I am a Gray Area Parent too.

    Can we start a club?

  2. I’m a gray area parent too! I think this is the best kind of parenting, to be informed, take what makes sense for your child and ignore the rest. What works for my kid today may be ancient history tomorrow. It keeps me on my toes.

  3. I think I’m a gray area parent too. Whatever works best for that point in time is how I go. Kids change so much that sometimes the rules have to change with them. I definitely have a few absolutes that are for safety and teaching respect, but otherwise I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants. I think that’s what makes a good parent, anyway. I know my parents were like that and I think my siblings and I turned out just fine.

  4. I think your Grey Area Parenting will teach your kids to be flexible, aware of the needs of other people, and be resourceful. The real world is all shades of grey, so why should parents be any other way? I’m a big believer that parenting is simply to teach my children to be happy, healthy adults (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.), and this sounds like a great philosophy for doing that.

    You clearly provide a solid framework of consistency for your children, while filling it in with a variety of activities, emotions, and interactions. What could be better?

  5. Love it! I think all parents should probably adopt a little gray area parenting. It’s not like our adult lives are full of black and white decisions. Why should parenting be any different?

  6. Thanks for reinforcing the gray! I find myself to be a pretty gray person in all aspects of my life. That’s not to say I don’t have strong opinions—-I just think things are rarely black and white (apart from basic rights). Gray is a beautiful color after all.

  7. I agree completely. I don’t think most thinks in life, let alone parenting, are black and white.

  8. I think our parents had it easier when raising us. They didn’t read parenting advice blogs or even mommy blogs. There was no 24-hour news cycle with tidbits in health stories about how spanking=aggressive behavior. For advice, they called their parents. And, maybe I should do that more often.

    My stepmom recently listened to me rant about daycare food for 10 minutes on the phone before she gave me her response — a giggle. Then she told me I was funny and that she was sure I was doing a great job.

    Ah, to have parented in a simpler time … the ’80s : )

  9. I am trying very hard to think of the rules, methods and advice as just ideas and strategies. When did we stop trusting our instincts on parenting? My child is 5 weeks old (yes, weeks) and we’ve already gotten so much advice for problems we are not having. Or opinions about how the baby is feeling and needs something different, even though she’s contently resting in my arms. (No, she is not cold and does not need a sweater. Its August in Florida, and you’re wearing shorts and a tank top. What makes you think the weather is any different for her?) Aargh. Its so hard to filter all that out.

  10. My goodness I just love you to bits… You describe exactly what makes mommy and parenting blogs/sites the absolute bane of the internet. The “defense” disguised as “discussion”.

    That being said, I fall into the black and white parenting thing. BUT.. it’s because it works in MY HOUSE and with MY CHILD. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to work in anyone else s house or with any other child. Nor does it mean that I’m a better or worse parent that the person standing next to me.

    There are no guarantees in child rearing. As parents, we do the best that we know how to do at the time. Our kids will grow up and appreciate that or they’ll grow up and blame us for all their problems, but either way, they’re going to grow up…

    If my parenting style is “wrong”? Well, my daughter is 4 and I’m 44… I’ll be dead by the time the intensive therapy kicks in…

  11. Now, I don’t have kids, but this is the Internet, a comments section no less, so I’m basically an expert on everything.

    That said, I think that “grey area” parenting is a lot more reasonable than even the most well-researched of hardline stances of some parenting styles. They seem impossible to sustain, long term, without wavering. Circumstances and individual children change by the second, and while there are certain biological and psychological theories and commonalities, every kid and family is different, even WITHIN the same family, which makes it hard to believe that one strict type of parenting (not strict as in rules, permissiveness, but strict as in sticking to the theory) would be the one and only way.

    It seems like understanding a few different kinds of parenting styles (even if only on a basic level) would arm you with the tools to have several different approaches to try in different situations, as well as knowing why people do them and why they might work. Combine that with basic gut feeling and knowing your own kid, and it seems like grey area parenting is much more “natural” than some of the supposedly totally natural strict parenting theories.

    Of course, as I said, I have no children. When I do, I may swear up and down that placing them in a hammock each night and hauling it up to the ceiling, only to retrieve them twice a day for 15 minutes at a time, until they learn to swing around the room like their monkey ancestors, is TOTALLY the way to go.

  12. those parenting advice bloggers would be horrified by how much tv I let my little one watch.

    that’s also one of the reasons I like Dr. Sears so much. he’s very into attachment parenting but he also says you have to do what works for your family. I pick and choose what I want to do with my family and sometimes those go right out the window.

    I think the biggest “ah ha” moment in parenting came to me when another, more experienced mom told me that every child is different, so what works with one, may not work with another.

    great post!

  13. I agree. I get pretty upset when I read anything that sets it up as Good Parents Do It My Way, Bad Parents Do The Opposite. Sometimes I think people don’t even realize they’re doing it: they give a reason, without ever thinking to themselves, “Hey, what am I SAYING when I say that?” And they really NEED to think about what they’re saying, because what they’re saying sounds really icky.

  14. Yes! We actually changed pediatricians because she was so black-and-white about parenting decisions (as you can guess, I was doing it wrong wrong wrong) – if anyone should know that every kid/mom/moment is different, I would think it would be a ped.!

  15. I love you, period. This is exactly how I feel.

    My husband and I ascribe to a simple parenting theory: “Whatever works.” πŸ™‚

  16. This is amazing and I to am a gray parent and I found myself remove some friends that thought and tried to teach me the best way for my child. I was always taught that every parent and child is different and unless the child is in harms way never to interfere or judge another parents action!!!

  17. I love this entry! You described my parenting skills better than I could ever do. You have to modify your parenting depending on the situation and child. What worked with child A may not work with child B.

  18. I am not one for labels but “gray area parent” seems to fit me pretty well. Trying to live in a black and white world is too stressful because let’s face it – most of the time it just doesn’t fit the situation.

  19. My friend is very much in the cry it out camp – when I babysit I leave her kids for about half an hour – if they’ve not cried it out then I go check on them to make sure they’re not stuck in the bars on the cot or they’ve not fallen out or something like that.

    I think my Mum was in the cry it out camp too but I’ve known that she’s always been there for me – she was the one who would get up in the middle of the night and hold my hair out my face while I was sick or she’d be there to fed me toast when I was getting better. She picked me and my brother up from school each day and on the rare occasion it was my Dad on pick up it was a treat and a half.

    I think each parent does parenting their own way. Admittedly there are some parents out there who don’t do a good job for one or another reason – I’m not a parent so I have no right to lecture other people on how to care for their kids. I’m just a babysitter lol.

  20. LOVE this post. And the Harry Potter one. But this one especially. There are no magic formulas, only things that work or don’t work for one kid at one time on one day. My sister called the other day asking for advice helping her 8 month old to sleep. She doesn’t nap and won’t go down at night and both are tired. My daughter? Has always taken 2 two hour naps, slept well (though interrupted) at night, and at age three, still takes a two hour nap every afternoon. And I can’t take any credit for it at all. She sleeps well because she is a good sleeper. I can only hope my next child will love sleep so much. (and I did cosleeping, attachment parenting, cry-it-out, and ferber methods with her at different times in different situations, so there.)
    Anyway, LOVE.

  21. I feel your pain. Sometimes it seems like a kind of peer pressure thing…to have to defend your choices that YOU’RE making for YOUR family. I hate it. It starts with drug free births and breastfeeding and ends…I don’t know…does it end ever?

    Sometimes I’d feel guilty when my kids had had two happy meals in a week. But, then, is that extra helping of trans fats going to stick with them forever or is the idea that their mom ran half marathons?

    I too feel like a Gray Area parent. And you know what? It means that we’re flexible human beings which is a great trait. Our kids will grow up to be flexible and be able to handle uncertainty as well.

  22. Zoot, I have changed my tactics about 30 times this week. We had the flu, the weather was one way, then another. I’ve been sitting by the phone waiting to hear on my job. There are the lessons to get to, the meals to cook, the laundry and more laundry, all that. Thanks for putting it into words, because it gets so frustrating sometimes. It’s never black and white over here, always shades of gray πŸ˜‰

  23. I’m a teacher and in a seminar recently, the presenter said, “What is fair is not always equal.” SO TRUE! I remind myself of that every day when I deal with my own children at home. Every child needs different things at different times, even if they are in the same home/situation/moment!

    I’m a gray area parent too! And proud of it!
    That makes it sound a little like a 12-step program, but… πŸ˜‰

  24. Hanging Out in the Gray is way better than Standing in the Black and White! I am sure you get lots of positive feedback about your children which counts for way more than you just saying they are great. A parent is allowed to change their mind to fit the situation. My children know this for a fact that what we allowed one child to do, another might not get to because we realized we’d made a mistake. Ask them about cars someday when they are old and grown…….. I guess my point is that children raised with love and discipline benefit more than those only raised with acknowledgement.

  25. Of all the parenting advice I’ve read and heard along the way, this is hands down the point of view I can most adhere to and feel comfortable taking out into the world. Parenting is dynamic! Yes! The way every other relationship we have is! And even though we may secretly feel we each have the secret to the perfect relationship between husband+wife/boyfriend+girlfriend/parent+child, only in the latter do I find people taking the liberty to preach to you, the new parent, how to do it best, without any consideration of how that could make you feel. And believe me, 9 out of 10 times, it makes me feel more inadequate than I already do as a first-time parent of a newborn. So, somebody tell me, how is that helpful?! Sometimes I just want to say, “Short of you’re witnessing me abusing my child, you worry about your child and we’ll worry about ours.” And yes, by the way, aren’t we all on the same team? So how about just some plain general support for someone who’s just doing their best?! I know that’s what I need the most and not a concerned glance or comment that I’m on my way to raising a spoiled child just because I’ve chosen to co-sleep with him.
    Anyway, thank you for voicing what I’m sure many of us feel in our own quiet frustrated way. I’m going to go snuggle with my baby now for no other reason than it makes me happy to do so. Cheers.

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