Parenting: Live And Let Live


Early this morning, while I was sipping my first coffee of the day and browsing through my Facebook feed, I came across a thread that made me feel incredibly sad. It was a post about co-sleeping, and one of the first comments was from a woman saying that she believed co-sleeping was fine as long as it was done safely, that she had co-slept with her first child and that she would co-sleep with any future children.

The thing that made me sad was how other moms lambasted this woman, told her that she was uneducated, and said that if she lost a baby, it would be her own fault.

I have no interest in starting another debate about co-sleeping. Quite frankly, I don’t have a strong position about the subject one way or the other. One of my babies slept in a crib, the other co-slept with me. I did what I felt was best for each child, and in both cases, I made safety the paramount concern.

What I do have a strong position about is the idea that the vast majority of parents do what they think is best for their children, most of them research their choices, and most of them do everything they can to keep their kids safe. Unless a mother is being deliberately and blatantly abusive or negligent, she should be allowed to make those choices for her children without worrying about what other people think.

It always fascinates me that a species as diverse as the human race tends to think in such absolute terms, and parents are no exception to this. Many of them tend to believe that there is only one right way of doing things, and it’s their way, and anyone who does things differently is a <insert insulting adjective> parent.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. When will parents just accept that what’s right for them is – well, right for them? The fact that some moms breastfeed their kids until Kindergarten does not give them the right to criticize moms who are unable to breastfeed or who simply choose not to do so. Parents who limit their kids’ screen time should not be accused of being unreasonable, and those who do not should not be branded as lazy. If you let your baby “cry it out”, you are not heartless and mean, and if you pick up your baby whenever he cries, you are not spoiling your child.

Your own personal experience – no matter how tragic – does not entitle you to judge other people. Your child’s autism diagnosis may have come shortly after a vaccination, but you don’t get to accuse pro-vaxers of being uninformed and ignorant. Maybe your formula-fed child developed life-threatening food allergies, but that doesn’t give you the right to tell other formula-feeding moms that breastfeeding would be possible if only they would try harder. If your baby died while co-sleeping, I am truly sorry for your loss, but please don’t go around telling parents who choose to co-sleep that they are potential child-killers.

I’m not suggesting that we all shut up about our beliefs and opinions, or that we stop sharing our experiences. On the contrary – parents who speak out about what they go through can be valuable resources to other parents who are struggling with their choices or looking for information about their options. It’s even OK to be passionate about something that you have a strong opinion about.

Just be respectful about it, that’s all. No blame, no finger-pointing, no judging.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: mariana f. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


Vaccines and Autism: Where Do I Stand?

In yesterday’s blog post, I made a remark about the fact that I do not believe there is a link between vaccines and autism. One of my readers took me to task (very nicely and respectfully, it has to be said) for making blanket statements that could potentially alienate part of the autism community that I try so hard to reach.

I did clarify what I meant with the person concerned, and it all ended on a good note, but the incident made me think that this is a topic I should cover here on my blog.

The subject of vaccines is a very touchy one for autism parents on both sides of the debate, and it’s one that can create a lot of division. Each camp accuses people in the other camp of being disrespectful toward them and their views, and of trying to shove their opinions down everyone else’s throat. It’s really kind of sad, because at the end of day all of us are autism parents who are doing the best we can for our kids. Instead of being a united community working together, we sometimes find ourselves divided into these factions that argue with each other.

This debate is like any other. There are those who are almost fanatical about their opinions and won’t even consider any other possibilities. And there are those – like the person who contacted me yesterday – who want their opinions to be respected but can peacefully coexist and have meaningful dialogue with those who think otherwise.

Until now, I have avoided being too vocal about my own stance on this whole issue. I am an introvert by nature, and I dislike rocking the boat. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make people mad at me. So when it comes to controversial topics, my usual approach is to be as quiet as possible.

As an advocate for my child, though, I sometimes have to go well beyond my comfort zone. So I will step out of my zone for a moment to make the following statement: I do not believe that vaccines are responsible for the autism epidemic.

I am not trying to say that it is not possible for vaccines to cause damage to a child. I’m not suggesting it would never happen, and I would never presume to tell another parent what did and did not cause their child’s autism. I’m also not saying that vaccines don’t come with their risks.

I am simply saying that I don’t think the dramatic rise in autism over the last 20 years can be blamed on vaccines.

Proponents of both arguments could produce pages and pages of research in support of their views. To me, the salient information can be summed up as follows:

* The research that sparked this whole debate, done by one Andrew Wakefield of the United Kingdom, has been widely discredited for a number of reasons – two of which are that the research was inherently flawed and that there were issues relating to conflict of interest.

* After Wakefield’s paper was published, areas in several countries reported a dramatic drop in the use of the MMR vaccine. All of these places saw a sharp rise in measles and mumps, but there was no change to the rate at which kids were being diagnosed with autism.

* When the rate of vaccinations in these areas started to increase again, there was no change to the rate at which kids were being diagnosed with autism.

* The leaps made in the sequencing of the human genome have opened all kinds of doors to genetics research, and there an increasing body of evidence linking autism to genetics.

Having said all of this, I want to state the following:

* I believe (and bear with me here – I am not a scientist) that in some children, vaccines can interact with genetics or with other environmental factors to result in an outcome of autism.

* Whether or not you believe in the vaccine-autism link, vaccines are a form of medical treatment, and it’s up to everyone to do their homework, just as they would for anything else, and then decide whether vaccines are the right choice for their kids.

I am not trying to change anyone’s mind with this post. I am simply stating my views that are naturally tinted with my own experience (namely, that my child came out of the womb with autism), and I fully respect that other people have had different experiences that lead to them having different opinions.

(Photo credit: Steven de Polo. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)