Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Away We Go" and how to NOT be a caricature of crunch.

There was so much to love in the recent film "Away We Go", about two parents-to-be traversing the country in search of a home base for their family, both literally and figuratively; an actual physical location as well as a parenting philosophy. And yet, anyone who places themselves on the crunchy, attachment parenting end of the spectrum no doubt found themselves cringing a bit. Maggie Gyllenhall's character is the embodiment of every AP party line item (not that there really is any such thing), voluptuously and enthusiastically babywearing, 'extended' & tandem-nursing, family-bed-sharing, midwife-extolling, birth-orgasm-having, and stroller-eschewing, not to mention cross-nursing a (former) friend's baby without permission. Here's a clip:

Hey, I can laugh at it, and did. There are plenty within our community who CAN be over the top, and even intolerant. (And the other parenting styles were skewered JUST as mercilessly, to be fair, they really were.) But yes, also, I winced. And if we're honest with ourselves, there have probably been moments where, however unintentionally, we might have come off this way to others. My friend Justine beautifully summarizes her reaction to the film over at State of The Heart, articulating just what my own reservations were about the movie (especially since a good friend first told me about the film by saying that Gyllenhall’s character reminded her and her husband of me: um . . . ouch?), and then does a beautiful job of dissecting the lesson therein:

Whoa. I start warming my fingers up to draft a strongly worded letter to the writers:

How dare you! Babywearing this! Family bed that! Baby-led breastfeeding this! Don’t you know that studies have shown that AP…

Wait a minute. THIS is what the writers of the film were making fun of! The passionately snobby caricature of AP parents. They were showing how non-AP parents are meant to feel when smug-AP parents berate them or humiliate them or shame them for not being superior enough to make the choice to AP immediately and instinctively. And maybe we don’t do it on purpose…but whenever we proclaim that our way is the best way– the ONLY way– if you want healthy kids, happy kids, gentle kids, smart kids, compassionate kids, then we have not turned someone on to AP…we have chased them away. They are fleeing the house just like the couple in the movie did.

Similar to my choice in clothes, my hairstyle, and my favorite music or wine— I think that my parenting preferences are the best ones. Dare I say– the correct ones. I see the benefits of my choices and have become quite comfortable with them. However, it is all too easy to become smug and (just a little more than) a tad self-satisfied with my choices when I allow myself to forget that it has taken me 21 years of parenting to get to this place . . . These are things that I am perfectly comfy with now, but might have raised an eyebrow at even a decade ago. Parenting is a lifelong process and we continue to learn along the entire journey. You are not the same parent today that you will be in 20 years. [And]I can attest that exactly zero of my positive parenting choices were made because someone bullied me into making them.

Let’s make sure that we are not the AP family in the film, folks! Be generous, kind, and genuine when you discuss AP. Respond with sensitivity to everyone you talk to about parenting. Remember that they are not at the same place on their parenting journey, but that does not mean one of you is further along while the other one is behind.
Forgive me for lifting that so liberally, but when it's spot-on, it's spot-on. I especially appreciate her honesty in expressing that she does feel that her choices are the best ones for her - because honestly, why else would she/we make them? Point being, this is surely the case with most if not ALL parents. We're all doing the best we can with the information we have at the time.

Birthing Beautiful Ideas shares her response to the movie here, specifically taking on how babywearing is portrayed:

Even though MG’s performance was even downright hilarious (as was the moment where John Krasinski’s character put one of her kids in a stroller and pushed him around the dining room, much to the kid’s enjoyment), I wish that the film had portrayed her decision to “baby-wear” (among other things) as not so…well, crazy.


And you don’t have to make the decision to do so because of a new-agey philosophy about parenting and the bond between children and their caregivers.

You don’t have to fit any particular type (or stereotype) of parenthood to enjoy a sling or a wrap.

I would even go so far as to say that you shouldn’t make the decision to use a sling or a wrap because you like to exoticize other cultures who use slings and/or wraps.

(And I think it should be clear to everyone that the choice to “baby-wear” does not rule out the choice to also use a stroller. HA!)

But there are some practical reasons for using slings and wraps–reasons that have nothing to do with “NOT WANTING TO PUSH YOUR CHILDREN AWAY FROM YOU” and nothing to do with embodying the utter silliness of the character in "Away We Go".

And she goes on to itemize a host of those practical reasons.

If some of us get evangelical about spreading the information that we feel is beneficial (for both children AND their parents, by the way), it's because we want to make sure people are making informed choices, whether or not their final decisions resemble ours or not - but the lesson of manner of delivery is vital, crucial, critical.

Think of how different the scenarios in the film would have been if the Crunchola Family had simply accepted their visiting couple and gone about their lives, showing through their actions how their choices work for them, how content their kids are, demonstrating how convenient their carriers made their daily routine, and maybe even accepting the gift of a stroller graciously, without drama. If they had waited for the couple to ask questions about the reasons for their practices and then simply responded with facts and evidence, or even personal opinion, but delivered without judgment. Think about what Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski would have taken away from their visit instead.

(Well, then, yes, we wouldn't have had an entertaining Hollywood Movie, duh.)

This topic splits into two segues here, one of them a post I've been simmering and seasoning for a while (check back in a day or two for this one), and another related footnote of a tangent I'll dig into right now.

Navelgazing Midwife recently posted about similar impressions of Natural Birth Advocates from two perspectives: First, she mentioned another blog where a newly pregnant mother is talking with her homebirthing friend about childbirth and watches as her friend transforms into the equivalent of an Amway salesperson making a pitch. Then, a mother who, for multiple reasons, had to have a repeat cesarean after planning and hoping for a VBAC, is talking with another mother who, of course knows exactly why her attempt failed - if she had only done X, Y, and Z, she wouldn't have "failed". Infuriating, eh? Unbelievably arrogant and presumptuous, eh? Do read both posts for yourself, as the former is blunt, important and vivid, and NGM does a fabulous job of vivisecting the latter.

I'm pretty sure I've never done the latter kind of Monday morning quarterbacking to another mom, but I do know that I HAVE been that Amway salesperson in the past, I'm sorry to say, and I have made a conscious effort to not be that person in the present or future. Perhaps I should remind myself by watching this once a week or so:


  1. I can't see the videos (videos aren't working for me somehow). I try so hard not to be the Amway salesperson or the Monday morning quarterback. I know both are completely obnoxious. At the same time, if someone hadn't been the "you know, if you try this, then maybe you'll get the result you want" person, then I wouldn't be where I am today. When I hear birth stories from moms have had emergency csections after announcing prior that they were getting epidurals "in the parking lot" because they couldn't handle pain, I don't say anything, but I do often think that I could have predicted the outcome. Smug perhaps, but not usually off-base.

  2. I enjoyed this post immensely!! I too strive NOT to be the Amway salesperson or Monday Morning quarter back. I find it extremely annoying, and arrogant to offered unyielding advice, especially when it's not truly solicited.

    I haven't had the pleasure of seeing the movie yet, but it is in my netflix que, waiting patiently for it's turn in the rotation. ;-)

  3. Aw, Keith worked on that! He was 1st AD on the second unit. I'd like to see it... great post!

  4. So true! Anyone who has been on the mom boards (Babycenter, MDC, Cafemom) knows that it gets UGLY, and for folks who are all about gentleness in parenting, AP parents can sometimes be pretty quick to be rough with other parents, even going so far as to say xyz practice is tantamount to child abuse. Yikes! I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that parents (moms particularly) are judged so harshly for everything that there's a hope that if they can follow the instructions *just so*, they won't mess the kids up. This, unfortunately, translates into sometimes acting like what they've come upon is the One True Way.

    The NGM post made me get all weepy -- I try really hard to be there for my friends transitioning into motherhood, and I sincerely hope I do a good job of meeting them where they're at. It's a hard balance to find, between giving them all the information that I wish I had had, and letting them come to it themselves.

  5. This film looks fabulous! And fabulously funny! I can't wait to see it when it comes out on video. Thanks for the review!

  6. OMG I totally snarfed. "Why would I want to push my babies AWAY from me??" "The pain is ENLIGHTENING!" I felt like I was back on MDC for a minute there. HAHAHAHHA!!!

    I also love how exceedingly high class they are, too. Expensively decorated home, sitting around in their elegant clothing drinking champagne/wine/whatever. And that stroller looks like an upper-end brand too. Really reinforces the whole "natural birth is for rich white people" stereotype.

    Seriously though. I agree with you. I don't proselytize. I don't quarterback. If someone asks me about somethign I will answer their questions succintly and honestly, but I don't use every conversation about _____ as an opportunity to expound on my beliefs. People know what I do, and if they're curious, I will tell them. Otherwise I let my actions do the talking. Be the change you want to see and yadda yadda.

  7. Courtroom Mama - that's exactly right, the "meeting them where they're at." SO TRUE. We used to talk about this in yoga teacher training, and then among teaching peers. You don't take someone who's never done s single intentional posture in his life and start forcing him into Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana. You meet them where they're at. And it goes without saying that you're teaching those who come to you, not going to the gym and hovering over the weight machines: "You know, there's really a more healthy and natural way to strengthen your body." EVEN IF WE FEEL IT TO BE TRUE IN OUR DEEPEST HEARTS AND SOULS. You give information when solicited, you also generally make information available in a non-invasive way, and when someone approaches you, you take it from there.

    Perhaps I'll post that, hmm.

    Melodie, I think it IS out, as of last week! Go for it! It's really worth a watch for sure.

  8. Jill, VERY VERY good point on the matter of class. I'm sure that was intentional.

  9. "..... I don't say anything, but I do often think that I could have predicted the outcome."

    Fun Mama, I think this a lot about breastfeeding. When I hear/read a woman saying she "just couldn't" or "my milk never came in" I want to go all Kellymom.com on them, but I usually bite my tongue because I don't want to upset her.

  10. I haven't seen this movie, but I definitely want to now.

    Thanks for the links too - I will definitely check those out!