Friday, March 8, 2013

On reason, research, and natural parenting

serious boy on carousel horse
A serious subject calls for a very serious boy on a carousel.

The Taboo Carnival
Welcome to the Taboo Carnival. Our topic this Spring is RESPONDING TO THE NATURAL PARENTING COMMUNITY!

This post was written for inclusion in the quarterly Taboo Carnival hosted by Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama. This month our participants reflect on criticism of the natural parenting community both from those parents outside of its perceived borders as well as those inside the community itself. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I'm a very logical person. One thing I like to do in my free time is play logic puzzles, for aside from being logical, I am also a nerd.

I don't think I'm quite at Vulcan levels, but I have of late become much less spiritual and much more pragmatic in my thinking. When I choose my parenting course — whether it's related to pregnancy, birth, feeding, sleeping, discipline, health — I choose what seems most reasonable to me.

Now, I'm reasonable enough to know there are limits to reason. I know that as humans we often post-justify our actions without ever acknowledging that's what we're doing. I know that sometimes I choose a less logical path simply because that's what I want to do. I don't even think that's always wrong.


But. I want to retain my integrity as a reasonable person. If I espouse a view of parenting, I want to make sure it's backed up by common sense or research or both. Which is why I sometimes get irritated by the lack of sense and misunderstanding of science that permeates the natural parenting community.

Don't get me wrong — the conventional parenting culture has its own failings when it comes to believing research or following common sense. I call them on it all the time, but now I want to speak to my own community, because it's been making me uncomfortable.

The problem is, I don't even want to name specific things that bother me, because when I've tried to debate certain topics with fellow crunchies, it's felt like kicking puppies. Suffice it to say that I am highly skeptical of a lot of alternative health therapies, which, when researched, have shown no efficacy beyond a placebo effect. But if I tell that to the NP community, I get a resounding chorus of "It worked for me!" (um…placebo! see above) and "I just feel like it works" (that's not science) and "It worked for my sister and my friend and for me" (anecdotal evidence does not an adequate sample size make).

This phenomenon in turn makes me wary of believing natural parenting bloggers and activists about anything, and that's where it's really unfortunate — particularly when you think of how the mainstream culture views us. If they think X and Y that we believe are completely ridiculous, then how will they believe us when we talk about breastfeeding or gentle discipline or circumcision or something else that really (in my opinion) matters?

When I want feedback on a controversial topic like, say, vaccines, it's a dilemma. I know for sure that the mainstream sources are unreasonably fear-mongering in themselves. They exaggerate the risks of catching vaccine-preventable illnesses as well as the risks of having those diseases, which damages their own credibility. But, I've said that before. What's bothersome is that the NP community does entirely the same thing, but in the opposite direction, by exaggerating the risks of vaccines and downplaying the risks and discomforts of the illnesses. It makes it so I know I can't believe anyone to be unbiased and reasonable, and that's unfortunate. When I know from experience that various NP folk don't believe in the scientific method, don't understand causation and correlation, don't know what an adequate sample size is or why anecdotal evidence is useless … then how can I trust their reading of research and the conclusions they've drawn?

Take fluoride for an example — a hopefully not too horribly controversial one (she says naively). For awhile, I believed the commonplace NP hype that it was harmful and switched my family to fluoride-free toothpaste (actually tooth soap for me) and seriously considered a reverse osmosis water filtering system. Then Mikko went to the dentist and we found out he had a mouthful of decay; the dentist recommended switching immediately to fluoride toothpaste, so I researched it — really researched it. I found out that there's evidence that fluoridated toothpaste is good for teeth. My findings on fluoride in water were less clear-cut; the problems with it seemed to be when it was in excess amounts, which our city's supply is not. You can do your own research and draw your own conclusions, but don't do what I did at first — which was believe all the blogs that drew their "proof" that fluoride was bad from the exact same website. I could tell because everything I found was copying/pasting the same language.

boy covering his face in car seat
Don't exasperate Mikko.
I wish I knew I could trust what I read, but when I hear people's thought processes and they don't make any sense, I know I need to be a critical thinker myself whenever I listen to them.

In case this sounds like a rah-rah-me sort of post or a bashing of some particular bloggers, it's not. It's a general discontent, and it includes myself. I've done a lot of faulty research myself (the fluoride thing was a good example), and I've changed my own mind on topics as I've learned more. For instance, after reading the Safe Co-Sleeping Carnival hosted by Monkey Butt Junction and linked resources in various posts from that carnival, I'm no longer confident in recommending bed-sharing with an infant under six months of age. Here's where it gets tricky, because I probably still will do so in my own life (more on that in a separate post, perhaps?), but I now believe, based on the evidence accumulated so far, that it likely is more dangerous for young babies in Western adult beds than in cribs, even when safe bed-sharing practices are followed. I don't want to think that, believe me. It's made me feel physically sick at times. But I have to go where the evidence points me. That's what being logical means.

I sometimes feel that logic doesn't help me out much — it's made me question so many things I'd rather just embrace in a hippy love-fest sort of way. I wish I didn't have to be so conscious all the dang time. But it is what it is, and I can't turn it off.

It's not that I disregard everyone who claims instinct or a mama gut as the basis for doing something. Sometimes I think of instinct, gut feeling, and common sense as being names for the same thing. And I don't discount something that's been reinforced down through hundreds of generations, as many of our attachment ways have been — obviously, that can lend weight toward its being an evolutionary advantage. But I still like such claims to be backed up by evidence, if possible.

I'm also not derisive toward individual people I know who believe in elements of natural family living that I don't hold true — but I am skeptical toward other claims they make.

When we're in our little world, it doesn't matter. We can believe in pixie dust and magical unicorn rainbows and whatever makes us happy. But when we're trying — and many of us are — to reach the outside world with our messages of respectful and attached parenting, then I want them to know we're people they can trust.

That we're people who have a heart … and a brain.

Visit Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Taboo Carnival!

Enjoy the posts from this month's Carnival participants!

  • Stop Bashing Each Other Already! — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama muses on why for her, “natural parenting" involves more work and why it would be more supportive to all parents if there wasn’t such a great divide based on parenting styles.

  • Politically Correct Natural Parenting — Jorje of Momma Jorje doesn't want parents practicing Natural Parenting to walk on eggshells with other parents.

  • Just bought some! — Lindsay at The Life of Lulu Belle just bought some of Kelapo's coconut oil but hasn't had a chance to try it yet.

  • Keep Your Labels — ANonyMous at Radical Ramblings discusses why she isn't comfortable with the label "natural parent" and urges us all to be a little more respectful and accepting.

  • Finding a Happy Parent Place — A "circumstantial loner," Mercedes at Project Procrastinot enjoys her forays in to the Natural Parenting community while learning the ropes of mothering twins.

  • On reason, research, and natural parenting — Lauren at Hobo Mama wishes reason and logic were valued more than gut feelings and instinct.

  • Is there a No Sleep Solution? — Hannah at Hannahandhorn wonders when she will sleep again.


Unknown said...

OHHHHHH! REALLY GOOD POST! And I wholeheartedly agree. We humans get so meshed in our egos and we cannot let go of our ideals and philosophies. I think that those who speak up the loudest are sometimes those who know the least and are afraid to admit their shortcoming.

I take everything I read as "inspiration" to do further research. And then I post my findings on my blog so other people can do even more research until one day, someone comes up with the right answer...for THEIR OWN SELF!

Awesome, honest post that puts the truth right on out there! Thanks!

Unknown said...

I think it's good that you can keep your mind open enough to question your own beliefs when the research doesn't back it up, even when it's something you *really* want to believe in! My default setting is to read read read and research and it's hard to turn your back on the facts. But it's also easy for a newbie like myself to take the anecdotal evidence or act on a feeling or just do what you want. Kudos to you for wanting to represent an informed stance on your philosophies!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Agreed. I, too, am wary when it comes to certain natural health things. One thing I've gone back and forth on (and chosen not to use) is colloidal silver. Vaccines are another biggie. I call us a delayed-for-now family ;)

Meegs said...

YES! Thank you! I've become rather disenfranchised with the natural parenting community lately and this is a huge reason. I get equally annoyed with people who dismiss all modern science as with those who dismiss all natural remedies! There is a happy medium, in medicine and in every other aspect of natural living. And don't even get me started on the sancti-mommies. Great post.

Prof. Hannah said...

I understand what you are saying completely, especially if you disagree with a "natural" idea. Even if you say that you have researched and decided what is appropriate for your family, then often times you are told you are still uniformed and are making dangerous choices...Ahhh

melissa said...

Thank you for saying this, Lauren! I definitely try to be as "natural" as is reasonable when it comes to health-related issues, but some of the persistent, unsubstantiated I see when I'm looking for information are really disconcerting.

Anonymous said...

YES - GOOD POST! I wonder if maybe you're talking about teething necklaces among other things. I like them because they're so damn cute but there is no way I'm going to skip giving my crying child Tylenol in lieu of a freaking piece of jewelry.

I had the same issues with flouride, and eventually decided it's worth the risks. I believe in a lot of conventional medicine, especially when it comes to pain treatments, and I shake my head when I hear some crunchy person talk about ibuprofen as if it's morphine. (That said, I think it's good to be wary of some vaccines and of overusing antibiotics, that sort of thing. You have to weigh risk versus reward!)

I'm curious about your bedsharing findings. We used a co-sleeper bassinet until 6 months but I've been thinking my new baby (due in 2 months) will be in our bed more. I do find that it's hard to separate what works well for us (and what I find ideal) versus what is actually a safe recommendation. (I love co-sleeping, but sometimes worry that formula feeding moms will misunderstand or pick and choose from my info, for instance. And because formula is the norm here, that's a legit concern.)

This is one of the best posts I've seen in awhile, and I'm not surprised that so many people can also relate!

Momma Jorje said...

First, I love logic puzzles, too, but haven't done any in a long time.

Second, (and I know you weren't attacking anyone, much less anyone in particular, but...) I tend to not post about vaccinations. Everyone is SO passionate one way or the other. For me, I contacted the manufacturers of the vaccines and asked them to send me the inserts for each one. (The doctor is supposed to give these to you anyway, but I was studying in advance.) Every single one of them had ingredients that I didn't want to put into my little human child (namely formaldehyde and mercury). And so, I decided against vaccinating... for anything.

Momma Jorje said...

I guess, as logical as I like to be, I still rely more on my intuition when it comes to parenting. Co-sleeping FEELS right to me. I think the numbers can be skewed by anyone with an agenda, so wish some things it just doesn't seem to help to research it.

I use fluoride-free toothpaste for Sasha and I. I have BAD teeth. I have had for a long time. Her father also has major tooth health issues. She, however, hasn't had a SINGLE cavity. The idea that our city forces us to ingest fluoride makes me ill. It stresses me out every time I think about it. It drives me nuts to know that there are filters out there that I can't afford. But... I don't like the idea of the city forcing us to ingest ANYthing. Perhaps its more of an authority issue.

Oh, and I do let the dentist paint my kids' teeth with fluoride because I just... well, without doing a crapton of research on it myself, I just can not imagine it being such a hugely accepted practice and for such a long time if it didn't help somehow. But what do I know? It might cause cancer.

Great post! I feel like you really bared yourself here, which I always appreciate. ;-)

Sheila said...

Thanks for this. I read Mark's Daily Apple for alternative health stuff (highly recommend, by the way) and when he came out and said that homeopathy sounded like a load of hogwash to him, I about stood up and cheered!

See, I've read blogs saying, "Oh, NO! Don't give evil Tylenol for teething. Give homeopathic Belladonna!"

Um. Belladonna is a hallucinogen. There are only two possibilities here. Either you are giving your kid some really strong mind-altering drugs ... or the dose is too small to actually contain any significant amount of belladonna. Turns out homeopathic medications are so diluted that you may or may not get a single molecule of the drug in each BOTTLE.

My apologies to any homeopathic fans out there. If it works for you, use whatever you like. Not for us.

You really must write a post on cosleeping now, though. When you've been the one to turn a lot of people onto it, if you've changed your mind I really think you owe it to us to say why.

I didn't cosleep with my first son, until he was a little older. I did with my second, mainly because his whole first night I couldn't get him to unlatch AT ALL. But it felt very safe to me, because I slept so lightly. My advice to everyone is to know your sleep style. Can you sleep with your cat, dog, mate without rolling on them or kicking them? Do you wake up where you were when you fell asleep? These are things that aren't going to be included in any study, but they sure as heck are important. Not that we can have a real, randomized, placebo-controlled study about cosleeping. We don't even know what percentage of parents are going to be doing it tonight.

Anyway, thanks for this post and I totally agree with you about maybe challenging a few of our assumptions with actual facts.

Megan said...

THIS is why you're my favorite blogger.
I always want (emotionally) to to do the crunchy, NP thing... but sometimes there's evidence against it that I consider pretty conclusive. Co-sleeping is one of those tricky ones for me, too - we're doing a Montessori-style floor bed but it's likely I'll spend some time down there with him or her because I'll be exclusively breastfeeding.
I'm actually really excited about a new app for chrome (and other browsers soon) called rbuttr - people use it to link rebuttals to an article, and then other people can up-vote or down-vote it based on quality. I think once it really gets going it's going to be super useful for doing research about controversial topics!

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