Radical Parenting

Tonight I took some time to watch a special on Discovery Health called “Radical Parenting”.  I found out about the special through my Twitter feed because someone I follow, FeministBreeder, was featured on the show.  I have followed her blog for a while and was excited to see what she would have to share.  The special was interesting and I was glad to see many of the parenting styles that we have chosen being highlighted and shown to the world.  And I chuckled to think that any of the items were really considered “Radical”.  I learned some things from the show too.  The main styles of parenting that were highlighted were “unschooling”, attachment parenting, full-term breastfeeding, elimination communication, and gender neutral parenting.  Personally, Aaron and I have experience with attachment parenting including co-sleeping and baby wearing, full-term breastfeeding, and gender neutral parenting somewhat.

The first segment on unschooling followed a family with two children who do not attend any form of school.  Their learning is solely based on life experience.  Personally, what I found to be the most radical part of this family’s approach would be their non-discipline cooperative style of living.  They go far beyond not sending their kids to school to allowing their children to make almost all of their own choices (when to go to bed, when and what to eat, what to learn and how, etc).  They have a household with no rules or discipline.  There are safety guidelines, but that is about it.  I have to say, their kids seemed well adjusted, well behaved, and very bright, but this would never work for me or our son.  I think that some kids can thrive in this environment, but that some need boundaries and structure.  I agree with respecting the needs and voice of the child.  I agree with working with, instead of against, them.  I agree with avoiding power struggles.  The thing for me is that this seems like it is a major swing in the opposite direction of the “helicopter parent” and both seem to have some pitfalls because they are both an extreme.  What it really boils down to is the need to parent the child you have.  Each one is different and has different needs.

The second family was focused on attachment parenting.  I was so pleased to see them discuss full term breastfeeding and its importance and relevance.  I also loved to hear her talk about not using commercial baby food.  I was so disappointed in the “expert” who tried to say that her experience shows that children that nursed for years and years felt different from their peers.  Every ounce of evidence I have seen has supported completely opposite findings.  I have to say that this female expert definitely seemed to be the most biased against the various “radical” styles of parenting.  She made a statement about attachment parenting being “demanding on the parent”.  This really didn’t sit well with me.  So should we instead demand things of our children that are not developmentally natural?  I think that is a very bad way of looking at it.  Yes, we do have to be aware of our own needs and limits, but to use that as an excuse to not be an attached parent is a cop-out to me.  I love when the father said this: “They’re telling us when they are done being breastfed, done being carried, ready to move in their own bed.”  That really is what sums up attachment parenting to me.  It is about having that dialogue and raising your children in an environment where they know you are there to be the one to meet their needs while they have them.  So many parents spend their kid’s childhood battling with them to get them to move on to new things and new stages before they are ready.

Finally, Gina’s segment was on gender neutral parenting.  I honestly hadn’t heard this term much prior to this show.  Little did I know that this is something that we already kind of do.  A and I have agreed early on that we should not impose things on M.  We should support his interests no matter what.  Now, yes A will joke about not letting him have dolls or other “girly” things, but the reality is that he is pretty supportive.  He does have a comfort zone, but does recognize the importance of not making M feel negative about any of his interests.  M has walked around in my heels for as long as he could walk.  He loves ponies and to cook in his kitchen and ours.  He also loves to use tools and play football.  He sees both mommy and daddy use tools around the house, do the dishes, and cook.  We recognize that he will be a better partner and father if he is comfortable in many roles and comfortable in his own skin.

Overall the show was pretty good.  I was disappointed with the one “expert” and her consistent negativity and ‘Debbie downer’ role.  And of course I was annoyed with the formula commercials aired during the show.  But any time these parenting styles are shown and talked about the parents on these paths gain validation and a greater chance of support.  The reality is that none of these parents were really radical.  They all looked pretty normal.  And the real triumph… it was great to see so many happy, healthy, and well adjusted kids and families on TV for once!!!


  1. March 4, 2010 at 12:34 AM

    Thank you for your thoughts. I agree – all the kids looked happy and healthy. Somebody asked on Twitter “Well, what would SuperNanny say?” All I could think while watching the show was “SuperNanny wouldn’t need to come over because these kids aren’t brats – they’re good kids!”

    That was my thought.

    • March 4, 2010 at 12:38 AM

      That is so true!! That is really what I walked away with. No matter if any of the styles were for you or not, you couldn’t help but see that the parents were attentive, the kids were thriving, and everyone seemed happy. What more could we ask for? I wish more families were shown like this on TV! Thanks for putting yourself out there. I think you did a great job and you looked hot! 😉

  2. March 4, 2010 at 1:18 AM

    “What it really boils down to is the need to parent the child you have. Each one is different and has different needs.”

    Exactly! That’s part of radical unschooling. Discovery Health missed a lot of important points and this is one of them. Unschooling is about meeting the needs of *your* child. More research will bring a lot more of the philosophy to light. 🙂

  3. March 4, 2010 at 1:54 AM

    Never thought of myself as a gender neutral parent but I guess we are too. Our oldest son wears fairy skirts and frilly hats daily around the house and his favorite toys are dolls. My husband isn’t thrilled about it but we know that it would be detrimental to him to try to tell him to stop and to put the label on it that it was for ‘girls’ only. Now that I have 3 small children, I am so much more understanding of other parents and how they raise their kids. Each family is different and no one has the right to judge unless there is abuse occurring.

  4. March 4, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    Someone said something very useful to me once and I’ve never forgotten it: Be the parent your child needs your to be. Some kids will do well in a talk it out environment; some need more limits. Some get really hungry at 6 months and want to eat solid food. Some can continue to breast feed. My kid sleeps in a crib and he loves it. We tried sleeping together and it didn’t work for any of us. We spend lots of time together outside of night time bed time. Anyway, always good food for thought.

  5. March 4, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    I was also quite annoyed with the experts. Especially the woman. I wonder if she even has kids.

    “So many parents spend their kid’s childhood battling with them to get them to move on to new things and new stages before they are ready.”

    This also falls in line with unschooling 🙂

  6. March 6, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    I agree that it is about parenting the child you have and not trying to rush them through the stages they are going through. There is a reason they are doing and learning during that stage.

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