Labels. We label all day, every day. We use them to describe ourselves. We use them to describe others. We use them as a means of compartmentalizing, judging, describing, and making assumptions. We use them as a means of measuring ourselves against how we think we should be, and how we think others should be.
Labels are everywhere. Particularly, in my life currently, I am finding them to exist in articles and discussions around parenting. This is, of course, because I spend so much of my time at home with my children, and so much of my brain real estate revolves around my kids and how they're being raised. If you're a parent, then I think you get what I mean, right? This blog post might strike a nerve, it may make you a little uncomfortable... but please stay with me! If anything, all I ever ask is consideration. An open mind.
What kind of parent would you consider yourself to be? Are you in a "camp" of sorts? How would you describe your parenting philosophy or approach? Do you practice "Attachment Parenting"? Where do you stand on health-related issues? Are you an "Anti-Vaxxer"? How do you approach sleep? Are you "Co-sleeper"? A "Ferberizer," in the camp of "crying-it-out"? Are you a "helicopter," "free-range," or "Tiger" parent?
Before I go further, listen, I am no stranger to the allure of labelling and neatly boxing up my philosophies and lifestyle. I would consider myself to be a "hippie-natural-mama" who generally endeavours to practice "gentle-parenting-methods". I've described myself as a "baby-wearering-extended-breastfeeding-co-sleeping-mama" who abhors the thought of giving my kids antibiotics or Tylenol. On more than one occasion I've jokingly (and simultaneously seriously) referred to myself as a "witchy-mama" who brews up her own herbal medicine for her family.
Why not, right? Labelling is an easy way to bond with like-minded individuals. And I can't tell you how many times I've used quick labels to give Emergency Room doctors the low-down on my family's lifestyle.
I'm proud of who I am. I think my partner and I are doing pretty okay when it comes to raising our kids. I stand by my principles and philosophies. And so, it stands to reason that describing myself in particular ways might feel good, and I might like others to know that that's who I am.
But is it who I am?
Labelling isn't in and of itself negative, wrong, or bad. But I do think it might be beneficial to stop every so often, and take note of when, how, and why we place ourselves (and others) under such descriptions.
There is nothing inherently wrong with being proud of, and identifying with, a particular label. There's also nothing inherently wrong with bonding with like-minded individuals who share the same affinity for a certain way of being.
What if, though, your labelling is standing in the way of really getting to know someone else? What if it's hindering an opportunity to open your mind to another perspective? What if using such compartmentalized ways of thinking is leading you to make assumptions about other people-- both those who prescribe to your lifestyle, and those who don't?
What if you're holding onto undue guilt and self-loathing because you can't fully cram yourself into one specifically labelled box? What if you like the sound of a label, but you can't check off all of the requirements for labelling yourself in such a way?
Do you know who you are without the use of such familiar descriptions?
I've got news for you: It's. Okay. Labels are quick. They're easy. But they're also limiting. Human beings are many things, but we're certainly not limited. At our core, we're limitless, and hence is the downfall of labels.
You can't compartmentalize who you are.
Can I be honest? I love co-sleeping with my babies. But at some point, I want it to just be an intimate space for my partner and I. I also love breastfeeding, and I'm okay with letting my two-and-a-half year old nurse in tandem with her baby sister. I didn't, however, nurse my son past two months of age, and I was no less an incredible mama to him, no less a gentle mama, parenting as naturally as I knew how to back then. Our attachment, our bond, was as flawless as was possible. We also didn't co-sleep because at the time, it didn't feel necessary as he slept wonderfully on his own at such an early stage. For a very long time, I beat myself up over all of this. I read article after article, and I interpreted them all as saying that I failed by not fighting harder to breastfeed, and I should have co-slept for as long as possible.
I like to call myself an Attachment Parent. But I struggled a LOT with my middle child's sleep habits. I felt very much alone at that point in my parenting- I was severely sleep-deprived, depressed, anxious, and generally losing a grasp on who I was. We had tried every trick in the attachment parenting book, and it just was not working for us. My kiddo and I were very much a mess. At one point, I endeavoured to (gasp!) sleep-train her. But I suffered through this in silence, too, because I was too proud to let go of my "AP" identity, and I felt too ashamed to admit to my fellow "AP" community that I was going against "the rules."
If I could sit face to face with that emotionally distraught, guilt-wracked, exhausted, desperate version of myself now, I'd say this:
You are limitless, label-less, and powerful. You are an incredible source of Light and Love for all of your children, for all of the people whose lives you touch. You are always doing the best that you can with your given circumstances. You are Love incarnate, in so many of the forms it comes in. Your brilliance can't be described, and the only rule is Let Yourself Be.
It's okay to be proud of your philosophies, to identify with a way of being in this world. But don't identify with it so much that you lose sight of your complex, gorgeous, unique, and intricate Soul. Don't cram yourself so hard into that box that it hurts. Don't be afraid to flaunt that perfectly imperfect authentic voice of yours, because you might just learn something new about yourself or someone else.