From home birth to homemade baby food to homeschooling, raising kids is a way for parents to express their individuality.
We've heard all about attachment parenting—the baby slings, the anti-daycare attitudes, the preschooler breastfeeding on the cover of Time magazine. We've read about the rapidly expanding homebirth movement, with its midwives and doulas and inflatable birthing pools set up in Brooklyn living rooms. We know about the homeschoolers, the unschoolers, the children "learning by doing" while their moms bake homemade bread.
A lot has been written about whether or not these methods of parenting are good or bad, nurturing or smothering, sexist or empowering. But here's a different question: WHY is this happening? How, when and why did parenting become the ultimate DIY project for progressive, educated Americans?
The first part of the answer has to do with historical parenting trends. For the past hundred or so years, American parenting philosophies have been slowly swinging away from the rigid "scientific" advice of early-to-mid 20th century childrearing experts. In the 1920s, the psychologist John Watson suggested a hands-off routine that would certainly warrant a suspicion-of-neglect call to DSS today ("If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.") Midcentury mothers were cautioned against being too overprotective and cuddly, lest they create "sissies." But by the postwar period, Dr. Spock was warming things up by telling women to "trust yourself. You know more than you think you do."
By the 1970s, women began rebelling against the childcare experts and the paternalistic medical establishment in general, which routinely dosed women with "twilight sleep" to forget childbirth, dismissed breastfeeding, and offered parents little say in their children's medical care. The so-called women's health movement (think Our Bodies, Ourselves) empowered women to make health and childrearing decisions for themselves and their families.