A Patchwork Parenting Manifesto


29 December 2012 by thaliakr


Join in our patchwork quilt of parenting ideas | Sacraparental.com | Indian Summer quilt by Bernadette MayrTake a deep breath, parents. This is a manifesto of cooperative parenting, and I’m pretty pumped about it.

As AHLondon and Angela said the other day, it can be so hard to have an open-minded, open-hearted conversation with other parents about How To Be A Parent. There is so much sensitivity and  defensiveness in each of us it seems, that we can hear criticism where there isn’t any and be tempted to deny any shortcomings of our chosen mode of parenting.

But as Angela also pointed out, most of our schools did nothing to help us figure out how to parent. Too busy with the periodic table (handy only for quiz nights in my case) and French verbs (undeniably useful, but not as helpful or important as parenting skills for most of us).

Patchwork quilt: 1992 Kentucky State Winner.

Wind Rose of Time, Kathy Ramsay, 1992 Kentucky State Winner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We have to put our own patchwork parenting quilt together, with some bits salvaged from our childhood family memories, a few squares traded over the internet, some bought in a bookshop and lots supplied by close friends whose own patchwork parenting we admire.

Quilting has traditionally been a communal activity, done in a circle, all of us working together to make something beautiful and warm and useful. And more than the sum of our parts.

For those of us who value conversation and the exchange of ideas, let’s clear the decks so we can quilt together happily, trading ideas about how to raise thriving kids in thriving households.

English: Detail of a vintage patchwork quilt s...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

For starters, why is it so hard to talk helpfully with each other about this stuff?

Most of us have ditched a culturally traditional model of parenting and family life. In the West the industrial revolution changed things for many, and feminism took care of the remaining relics. None of us is raising a family like our great-great-great-grandparents did. They would find our households utterly unrecognisable.

But we have no new consensus to replace old traditions, and hardly any robust research to fill the knowledge gaps.

What’s the most effective way to deal with a toddler’s tantrums or a teenager’s risky behaviour? Our ancestors could probably have agreed, but science is not (yet?) able to tell us one big answer we can all adopt.

For each of those fairly basic parenting questions, a dozen different experts will give a dozen different, carefully reasoned answers, all of which have their merits and their champions.

English: Ralli is a Sindhi Pakistani quilt wor...

Ralli, a Sindhi Pakistani quilt style (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that’s the thing. In a society that has become diverse to the point of fragmentation, what works for my family simply cannot be assumed to work for my neighbours, even if it’s wise, sensible and as well-supported by evidence as anything can be in this field.

What works for me might work for you. Or it might not. Heck, what works for your eldest might not work for your youngest. And that’s ok.

That’s pretty hard to believe and internalise, though, in the face of all we know about abuse, neglect, the effects of disrupted attachment and the alarming rate at which kids seem to find themselves in danger of one sort or another.

In this media environment, parents are hyper-aware of the effects of bad parenting. We live in a swiftly-changing world where some of the challenges and risks our kids will face in ten years’ time are unknown to us now. The stakes are high and we can feel ill-equipped.

So when someone at playgroup or school or church tells us how important it is to discipline children or breastfeed or read bedtime stories in German or feed the kids salmon or turn off the tv, it’s only natural we should go into fight or flight mode.

How dare she criticise my parenting?

He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!

I’d hate to be their children.

Have I completely stuffed my kids up?


Photo credit: weesquirt

Parenting is (awesome and) flipping hard work. It’s non-stop and exhausting and we invest so very much in it. Being wrong about any of it hardly bears thinking about.

But here’s what I think.

  1. There’s very little* that is demonstrably right or wrong in the realm of parenting. What there is is what works for us.
    [*But not nothing, of course. Research clearly shows that some things are reliably harmful to children: smoking around kids, regularly feeding children lots of sugary drinks, living with violence that kids experience or witness, for example. I’m not suggesting that anything we feel like doing is ok for our kids.]
  2. Most parenting choices are trade-offs. If we devote more energy to extra-curricular activities, there’ll be less time for free play. We can pour our energy into no-tv parenting (even in the witching hour while trying to cook tea, eek!) or we can give ourselves regular sanity breaks with Spongebob Squarepants: both choices have costs and benefits.
    We can’t do everything, so there’s plenty of room for feeling bad about basically all of our choices. Or we could choose to celebrate the great parts of each one instead and toss the downsides over our shoulders without a backward glance.
  3. Learning a new parenting skill, a new phrase to use, a new way of looking at our children doesn’t mean that we’ve had it wrong up till now. The child creates the parent; as the child grows and changes, so must the parent.
    We need new skills for new seasons.
    And if you’ve got time to waste on regretting you weren’t already a perfect parent in the maternity ward, you need to take up bento box lunches or start learning the sousaphone.
  4. We’re all doing our best. Some days. Most days we’re doing what we can manage. Which is actually ok, as long as we’re in the range of normal parenting that isn’t teetering into neglect or abuse.
    Listen up: Never before in history have children been raised by perfect parents with plentiful resources and infinite wisdom. There’s no reason to expect our kids will be the first. We’re doing what we can, and that will almost certainly be quite enough.

I talk about my own parenting on this blog, and ask you about yours, because this is how I learn how to be a better parent. Or how I survive. Depending on the day.

I rely on us. So here’s the invitation: If you are interested in sweeping away the criticism, defensiveness and anxiety that so often characterises gatherings of parents, read on.

We’re going to clear the decks by affirming what we like in our parenting, voicing our questions and acknowledging our successes and idiosyncrasies.

We’re going to share our best ideas, explicitly rejecting any hint of superiority, inferiority, true or false modesty, apology, excuse, defensiveness or despair. You hear me? I’ll be watching like a hawk! We are Brilliant and Amazing, and we can each offer good things.

Patchwork quilt made during the Irish Famine

Patchwork quilt made during the Irish Famine (Photo credit: nz_willowherb)

I know I’ve said this already, but I think it’s the key: What works for me and my family may or may not work for yours. It might help you think through why you do what you do, and why that’s actually better for you. It might get you thinking about something new.

Enough of the rant. Below is the template. If you’re up for it, copy and paste these eight sentence openings and complete them. Write as much as you like – I’m really looking forward to reading them. I’m keen to hear people’s stories in enough detail to be inspired to ask you more or steal an idea or keep thinking about what you share.

I’ll start, but in a comment, rather than here, to get the ball rolling. Looking forward to reading your confessions.

A Patchwork Parenting Confession

  1. I am a Brilliant and Amazing mother/father/grandparent/stepdad/auntie and I am doing what I can.
  2. What works for me/us is…
  3. Some important things for us/me are…
  4. I’m learning…
  5. I’d love to learn…
  6. Some resources I’ve found helpful include…
  7. What I really enjoy about parenthood is…
  8. The weirdest things about my parenting are… and They Work For Us.

What parenting ideas can you contribute to our patchwork quilt? | Sacraparental.com | Indian Summer quilt by Bernadette Mayr


15 thoughts on “A Patchwork Parenting Manifesto

  1. • I am a Brilliant and Amazing mother and I am doing what I can.

    • What works for us is a combination of half-pie attachment parenting (not that that was actually in the plan or done ideologically) in these early months, and probably something a bit like ‘peaceful parenting’ as SBJ gets older.

    Some attachment parenting stuff that works for us is: having SBJ sleep in our bed full-time since he was about five months old (we don’t have the risk factors that can make bed-sharing dangerous), which means that all three of us get much more sleep; breastfeeding on demand, which we are lucky to have found pretty straightforward – and this is much easier with having him in bed with us; having a parent with him at pretty much all times, which has just been how it has worked out with our accidental sabbatical year, but I do really like.

    • Some important things for us are: learning to communicate with a pre-verbal baby and toddler; teaching him to understand, express and accept his feelings; letting him take risks, especially physically; observing what he’s interested in and extending that, trying to follow his lead; taking the world and our daily activities at his pace, as far as is practicable, and making the most of each routine thing (the supermarket is a big challenge on this score); limiting tv and passive entertainment; limiting junk food; following good science where it exists.

    • I’m learning to: balance following his lead and meeting other needs like getting the dishes done; say things I mean and not just things I’ve always said or heard; anticipate the next potentially disastrous developmental milestone (like learning to undo his nappies, open the recycling bin, press buttons on the washing machine)

    • I’d love to learn how to: strike a balance between helping him to develop internal self-mastery (rather than strict obedience) and being able to rely on him obeying me in an emergency; get more time alone with my husband; get more time to myself; sew; transition to a less parent-dependent sleep routine without using a cot or leaving him crying; figure out the difference, if there is one, between healthy self-confidence and strong will and unhealthy stubbornness, and what to do if I ever figure it out. In him or me!

    • Some resources I’ve found helpful include the blogs listed on the sidebar, especially blue milk, Lulastic and Attachment Parenting International. Books include Kiss Me, Parenting with Love and Logic, Of Course I Love You Now Go To Your Room, Welcome To Your Child’s Brain.

    • What I really enjoy about parenthood is what good company SBJ is, and how fascinating it is watching him grow and learn. He also makes me laugh a lot.

    And I love how (like being a pastor was for me) parenting him integrates a lot of different skillsets, some of which I’m strong in, some not so much. I get to think, to cuddle, to communicate, to do practical things like cooking and home stuff, get out and about, explore the city more than I would otherwise, and blog, among other things.

    • The weirdest things about my parenting are either bed-sharing (though apparently 42 per cent of parents co-sleep at least a bit!) or the shift-work-and-sabbatical-shared-parenting lifestyle we have or the extent to which we have learned to let SBJ test his physical limits – he’s an intrepid explorer (and a complete liability!). Or the number of strangers he meets most days as we wander the streets and cafes of Wellington with his sociable self. And They Work For Us.

  2. Pippa says:

    Brilliant blog Thalia.

    Being just 8 weeks (tomorrow!) into this parenting journey I don’t really feel I can respond to all, but I’ll chuck my hat into the ring with the resources I/we have used and found useful so far and will be interested to read other responses.

    Birth: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Effective-Birth-Preparation-Practical-Better/dp/1905220596/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1356784229&sr=8-2

    We didn’t completely go down the hypno birthing route, but I really enjoyed this book, used some of the ideas and think that it helped our really positive birth experience.

    I love this book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/BabyCalm-Calmer-Babies-Happier-Parents/dp/0749958286/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356786107&sr=1-1 I (we) read it whilst pregnant and have probably read most of it again since Toby was born. It has helped us follow our instincts to co-sleep amongst other things. I think you would enjoy her blog too, Thalia. We read Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson, but I haven’t returned to that since Toby was born which suggests it wasn’t as useful, but I think at the time it cemented my desire to co-sleep.

    And http://thewonderweeks.com/ we’ve got the book for this and I think it is great too.

    We’ve had challenges breastfeeding – recurrent mastitis, including a stay in hospital, tongue tie etc etc. I’ve found the support through the La Leche League invaluable, but the support is so ‘pro’ breastfeeding that it almost makes the doubts and difficulties with it harder to bare, if that makes sense.

    • Pippa says:

      I need to learn how to add links…sorry

    • Thanks, Pippa, and congratulations on eight weeks of parenting-on-the-outside! Well done, you guys.

      Sorry to hear breastfeeding has been so challenging. You deserve a medal for persisting through each of those. Breastfeeding can be such hard work, as well as wonderful (etc!). Remember you are Brilliant and Amazing!

      I’m glad LLL have been helpful, but I think I know what you mean about the ‘pro’ thing.

      I think breastfeeding (and maybe mothers in paid work) will probably continue to be the most sensitive (battle)ground. In both areas people commonly speak as if it’s impossible to have a nuanced opinion. Actually, people aren’t betraying the sisterhood if they give a more complex message about how we can best look after children and ourselves.

      I’ve been thinking for a while that it’s really about public policy versus personal relationships. The Ministers of Health, Finance, etc need to be very clear about the importance of breastfeeding, in order to support it systemicallly throughout society. But the parents of a child unable to breastfeed should probably be given good, encouraging positive information about formula!

      Anyway, that’s a topic for another day’s rant :)

      All the very best for the next eight weeks. Keep up the wonderful work!

  3. Daina says:

    Sorry, a little off topic and I don’t have time to fill out the whole questionnaire right now – but I would love to know how others approach pocket money & chores. Our oldest is coming up to 5 and while they are all expected to help tidy up etc as their abilities allow, we want to introduce pocket money soon. So I’m curious to know, how much pocket money do they get (if they get it at all), and is this tied to doing specific chores, are there basic things that they are expected to do for ‘free’, how do you teach the value of saving, the value of giving, the concept of earning & paying interest, how hands on/off are you about what they spend their pocket money on, do they have a piggy bank or a bank account etc. I ask as I was never given pocket money as a child, and seeing the level of financial literacy out there I would like to give my kids a good education in that area. I have an interesting book on the subject called “Gold Start” (which I have to finish reading…) but am very interested to know what others find works in the real world :)

  4. […] can’t resist a request. Daina owes me a Manifesto Confession for this post! (I also work for […]

  5. Daina says:

    1. I am a Brilliant and Amazing mother and I am doing what I can.
    2. What works for me/us is… Well I’m really not sure on this, I don’t feel as if I have much wisdom to contribute as I am just muddling along day-to-day at the moment in ‘survival’ mode much of the time. The single most important thing for my kids is that they get enough sleep as they are extremely unpleasant to be around when they are tired, which makes me extremely unpleasant to be around – meaning the whole household turns into a grumpy awful place to be.
    3. Some important things for me are to look after myself with a couple of good supplements (even though I have pooh-poohed them in the past) and trying to get some reasonable sleep and a bit of downtime on occasion when hubby can take one or two of them to work with him for a couple of hours.
    4. I’m learning about patience and my lack of it! Also my resistance to messy-play (boys love mud but I do not love muddy footprints through the house)
    5. I’d love to learn how others are doing pocket money & chores (as discussed in the next blog entry thanks Thalia) and also discipline methods – my 3 & 4 year old boys can be a handful at times and at times are the sweetest boys in the whole world.
    6. Some resources I’ve found helpful include this blog of course! Other than that I am reading lots of books (a work in progress as I don’t get much reading time with three preschool-aged boys), and I ask other Mums lots of questions too.
    7. What I really enjoy about parenthood is getting to play with toys, I can build a pretty cool train track :) Cuddles and kissy monsters are pretty awesome too.
    8. The weirdest things about my parenting are my crazy songs at all times of the day (and They Work For Us)

  6. Caroline says:

    I have to admit that I had a more coherent parenting strategy before the children came along and decided they had other ideas. Now I mostly just muddle through and make it up as i go along – so patchwork parenting is probably a great way to describe it! Here goes with a few thoughts anyway:

    I am a Brilliant and Amazing mother and I am doing what I can.

    What works for me is;
    – getting the girls to bed early in the evening (about 7pm) so that we have time to talk, relax and do some of the jobs that never get done during the day. It keeps me sane and means I have more time to spend with them during the day.
    – being organised – as much as possible anyway – it often drives my husband mad, but I like to plan in advance what we’re eating and what we’re doing over the next week – I often plan trips and playdates weeks in advance.
    – having a toddler back-carrier – I love my carrier – it means I no longer have to fight to get E into the buggy and I have both hands free so I can let H go by scooter without worrying about chasing her with the buggy

    Some important things for me are:
    – trying to say “yes” as much as possible. Their lives are full of “no” as it is, so I try to make a conscious effort to say yes where I can – usually to requests to play particular games or to go outside – have to admit I’m still working on this one though

    I’m learning:
    – to be more patient
    – to go with the flow (contrasts with my organisational tedencies mentioned above)

    I’d love to learn:
    – to instill an ability to learn independently and to enjoy learning for its own sake
    – to instill self-respect and self-confidence (within reasonable limits obviously)

    Some resources I’ve found helpful include:
    http://www.babyledweaning.com/forum/ – I don’t read it so much these days, but I found this forum to be the most useful resource and a great source of support.
    – watching how others interact with kids and their own & picking the bits of their parenting that I like

    What I really enjoy about parenthood is;
    – having an excuse to play with Lego again – can’t wait until they are old enough for “little” Lego instead of Duplo
    – answering all of the random questions my 3 year old comes up with – how does tinsel work? what happens to the sun when it is night time? (it goes to visit T, M & SBJ, obviously!)
    – seeing my girls begin to interact and play together
    – seeing how much all of their grandparents really enjoy spending time with them

    The weirdest things about my parenting are…
    I think I’m so entrenched in my weird ways that I can’t see what they are any more! Possibly doing baby-led weaning (which I would highly recommend) although that’s becoming pretty mainstream these days. Or maybe extended breastfeeding.
    They Work For Us!

  7. Alex says:

    Brilliant post, and brilliant comments. Somewhat belatedly, here’s my contribution:

    I am a Brilliant and Amazing mother and I am doing what I can.

    What works for me/us is making it up as we go along. I know others have said this or similar before me, but I really don’t have a very coherent parenting strategy worked out, and never have had one. There are very few parenting topics on which my husband and I have had considered discussions about either. I have honestly done far more conscious thinking about my parenting since you started this blog, T, than in the nearly 4 years prior to that… I read and rejected the Gina Ford strict timetable approach in the early days, though I know people for whom that has worked very well, and have read various bits and pieces of other books and blogs at other times, but have generally suffered massively from the sort of knee-jerk response outlined in your post of feeling criticised, lacking or somehow inadequate by the advice offered, so I have tended to take a bit of an ostrich approach to it all.

    Some important things for us/me are:
    a) to not to go to bed grumpy. Even on the shouty days – and there are more of those than I would like – I make sure we have made friends again before bedtime. At times easier said than done, as my daughter in particular tends to be at her grumpiest just before bedtime, and I’m not always brilliant at remaining calm, but the theory’s there.
    b) Inspired by friends (Caroline, in particular) I am making a conscious effort to say yes more than I say no, while acknowledging my previously admitted low-risk threshold. I need more practice at this. It’s too easy to slip into a default “no” setting when the children want to do things that I hadn’t planned for (although when it involves what I consider to be excessive amounts of telly watching, I do still pull rank!)
    c) to try hard to answer questions honestly and informatively, and to indulge/encourage interests and preferences as far as we can. This one also needs more work on my part, particularly as M(4) is getting ever more curious about the workings of the world… It’s tempting to reply “I don’t know” or variations on “it just is/does”, but I am trying not to do it too often.

    I’m learning to be more patient (both in a day-to-day sense and in a not always longing for the next phase/development/milestone sense), to play (it doesn’t always come easily), particularly to see the appeal of fancy dress (definitely not a natural preference of mine!), to comfort and to mediate.

    I’d love to learn how to be better at all those things! I’d particularly like to learn to be more creative and be able to get stuck into some crafty projects with my children, but that really will take a stretch, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s learnable; to be honest, it’s the crafty blogs etc that make me feel the most inadequate somehow.

    Some resources I’ve found helpful include this blog, friends and family, and http://www.babycentre.co.uk (for basic, factual stuff, mostly). Also the staff at M’s nursery for the two and a bit years that he went were brilliant at helping me through his early idiosyncracies, and particularly the weaning process. I’m now also appreciating the feedback – and helpful suggestions – from his pre-school teachers.

    What I really enjoy about parenthood is watching my two grow and develop their different personalities, and seeing them become friends and playmates. Hearing them sing and joke and laugh together is just about the best thing ever. Long may it continue!

    The weirdest things about my parenting are utterly invisible to me and – whatever they are – they Work For Us. (Maybe others might be better placed to point these out for me!)

  8. […] to tell us why your approach Works For You without implying that other ways will lead children straight to jail, though, right? It’s all […]

  9. […] through the Sacraparental back-catalogue of posts on perfectionism and doing What We Can (rather than doing ‘our […]

  10. […] no new posts to catch up on, you’ll have a bit of time, if you’re a parent, to write a patchwork parenting manifesto, and tell us what works for your […]

  11. […] it might be useful to outline what we do and why. Of course, this is very much in the spirit of It Works For Us, rather than saying or even passive-aggressively hinting that everyone must do […]

  12. […] very little out there that is robust enough to tell me how to parent. I have to put together my patchwork parenting quilt based on what I see in friends, family, books and studies. As I become more confident in my ability […]

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