In which she admits she didn’t know it all

by DaniGirl on November 15, 2007 · 31 comments

in Mothering without a licence

I think it’s a rite of passage as a mom (or dad) blogger to write at least a couple of posts about how the realities of actually parenting a child have chipped away at whatever moral resolve you might have had when you were childless, leaving your previously lofty standards in a tarnished heap on the floor. You know the ones, where you started out believing that TV was the devil, and by the time the child was nine months old you had him propped up in front of Baby Einstein for three hours a day. Or the time you swore on your soul that you would NOT be that parent who catered her entire day to her daughter’s nap schedule — until you actually had a daughter. A daughter who turned into babyzilla when you messed with her sleep routine. Not to mention the fact that you now consider two Twinkies and a cup of orange Kool-Aid an acceptable breakfast. (Or, maybe that’s just me.)

What I haven’t written, though, is about the stuff that I didn’t think I’d care so much about, but I do. Here are four topics about which I was ambivalent when childless, but about which I have become surprisingly opinionated during my parenting experience.

1. Circumcision

Before I had boys of my own, I always imagined – in the abstract way I had previously considered such things – that they would be circumcised. It was just “what you did.” And while I had a few friends who had had baby boys and chosen not circumcise them, I remember thinking at the time, “Hmm, that’s kind of weird, but whatever.” But when I was pregnant with Tristan, I started reading up on it and really thinking about it, and the more I read, the more fiercely convinced I became that circumcision is nothing more than cosmetic surgery for babies – and the idea horrified me. (Insert the standard caveat about circumcision for religious reasons here. I’m not Jewish, so I won’t comment on that. I suspect if I were, I’d still have a hard time with the idea of circumcision, but to each his own foreskin.)

Circumcision for non-religious reasons is one of the few areas I allow myself to be just a little bit judgemental about other people’s parenting practices. Yes, there are occasional health-related reasons that may require a circumcision later in life — but we don’t automatically remove a baby’s appendix at birth, and I’m sure there are a lot more appendectomies done than adult circumcisions. And the whole “he should look like his daddy” or “what about in the locker room at school” argument? Bullshit, pure and simple. Has any guy really ever been traumatized by this specious argument? I honestly can’t imagine why anybody would subject their precious newborn to something that is not only traumatic (and, if I may hyperbolize, even barbaric) but completely unnecessary. But that’s just my humble opinion.

2. Spanking

My mom swatted us on the behind, and while it was a relatively effective deterrent, what was much more successful was the threat of a spanking. “Do not make me take you into the bathroom!” she would challenge us when we misbehaved in public. I’m not sure it was ever clear what consequence awaited us in the bathroom, but to my mother’s credit we never misbehaved enough to find out.

My father only spanked me once. I was maybe eight or nine years old, and had purposefully defied my parents – and put myself at considerable risk as well. I got sent to my room, and fifteen or twenty minutes later, my dad came in and put me over his knee in the only formal spanking I ever got in my life, and I remember it to this day.

All that to say, spanking was used judiciously and effectively as a punishment when I was growing up, and I always imagined it would be a part of my parenting arsenal as well – within reason. It is not. I haven’t ever spanked the boys, and don’t imagine at this point that I ever will. It’s not something I feel particularly judgemental about, and yet I feel a strange sort of satisfaction in never having had to resort to corporal punishment. And I can say to the boys with confidence every time the issue comes up between them that “We do not hit each other in this house. Hitting is not allowed.”

3. Surnames

When Beloved and I got married, I kept my maiden name. I’d felt terrible about changing it for the “practice marriage” and couldn’t wait to have it back again when we split, so couldn’t bear the idea of losing it again. When we talked about kids, I was always fine with the idea that any children would have Beloved’s surname, and my surname as a second middle name. Beloved even looked into officially taking on my surname as HIS second middle name, too.

But the more pregnant I got with Tristan, the more anxious I became about him not having my last name. It was so bad (bear with me, I know I’ve told this story before) that we could not leave the hospital after his birth until we filled out his health insurance application – which of course required a surname – and we couldn’t agree on what it would be. After a prolonged Mexican standoff, Beloved finally relented to a hypenated surname, and I’m sure that application was smudged with the tears of relief I cried as I filled it out. Beloved’s surname is common, and while mine is unusual enough that my folks and I are the only ones in our city, there are hundreds if not thousands of us out in the world. And yet, the boys delight in the fact that they are the only ones in the whole world who have their particular combination of names. Which almost makes up for the number of times I’ve sighed in frustration re-spelling it for the fourth time for a pharmacist or while registering the boys for camp.

4. Breastfeeding

I can be judgemental about circumcision. I am NOT, however, in any way judgemental about the bottle versus breast debate, and while I think that in an ideal world breastfeeding is the better choice, I don’t think it’s the only choice, and I would never dream of criticizing someone for choosing to bottlefeed. I wrote not that long ago about the arduous task that breastfeeding was when Tristan was born, and that it was through sheer stubbornness and force of will that I perservered at all — and it’s kind of funny that I did, because even as late as when I was pregnant with Tristan, I was more than a little leery on the idea of nursing.

In all honesty, I was pretty freaked out by the idea. I imagine a lot of that had to do with the fact that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to nursing mothers growing up – heck, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to babies, period – and I was nervous about the sensation and the leaking and the horror stories about cracked nipples. Even while I was pregnant, I figured I’d give the breastfeeding thing a try, but suspected I’d bottle feed in the long run.

And I remember, in those dark, dark nights of the first few weeks with Tristan, when he was not gaining weight and I was beside myself with sleep deprivation and hormones and the physical pain of breastfeeding and we had a can of formula sitting in the kitchen that had been ever-so-thoughtfully delivered to our door as a free sample, I absolutely refused to consider trying it because I had firmly decided that was going to breastfeed this baby, dammit! And I did.

A final caveat: please don’t read this as me passing judgement on how any parent chooses to handle these issues. They are immensely personal decisions, and with the exception of circumcision and perhaps spanking, I could easily argue for either side of these debates. I just found it intriguing to consider what started out as a moderate and even ambivalent stance in my pre-parenting years on these issues turned out to be something I felt passionately about — as opposed to the thousand other instances when parenting has knocked me rather resoundingly off my high horse and handed me my opinionated ass.


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Loukia November 15, 2007 at 10:03 am

I agree with you. I am against circumcision. It is absolutely unnecessary and can’t imagine who any parent would put their baby boy through that.

I agree with you about breastfeeding, too. To each her own. When I was pregnant with my first born, I was pretty sure I would never breastfeed – then once baby was born and I tried it, I loved it, and it came easy to me. I hope for the same this time around. However, I stopped breastfeeding when Christos was almost 6 months old, because I had to go back to work – he got used to the bottle early on, as I was also pumping to get him (and I) ready. I imagine I’ll do the same this time around, although I do have a longer mat leave this time. Formula is 100% fine, too. I was never breasfed and my mom and I are closer then best friends!

Also? I’ve never been against some TV watching. My boy is usually too busy to actually watch what’s on, but he does love some Mighty Machines, Blue’s Clue’s, Hi-5 and Max and Ruby sometimes! And there ‘ain’t nothing wrong with that, especially if it makes meal time go smoother! 🙂

2 Veronica Mitchell November 15, 2007 at 10:20 am

We have no sons, and if we did, my husband is adamantly against circumcision. But my father was un- in an era and place where all the other boys were circumcised, and it was traumatic enough for him that he insisted my brother be circumcised. So that does happen, or at least it did fifty years ago.

3 Tony November 15, 2007 at 10:47 am

I agree with you on circumcision, except for the religious exemption. That shouldn’t exist, either. (I’d explain my reasoning, but I don’t think you’re interested in that here.)

Too many people focus on the subjective, maybe-they-will-maybe-they-won’t-happen possibilities regarding circumcision and forget that there’s no medical need. Without a “yes” to medical need, surgery on a child is irrational.

As for teasing, obviously it happens. Kids will tease about anything. Again, obvious. I have red hair and I can assure you I was teased about it more often as a kid than any 10 intact boys were teased about their foreskins. Even now, at 34, I encounter teasing from the occasional immature male.

Should my parents have dyed my hair as a kid? Should I dye my hair now? It would certainly have reduced teasing when I was a kid. Of course, I also might’ve missed the ability to not care what others think if I’d been common-ized to society’s preference. I know which experience serves me better as an adult.

As an aside, through all my years as a kid in boys’ locker rooms, I never once witnessed any teasing over a foreskin.

4 anonymous November 15, 2007 at 11:27 am

I am a bit at a loss for how to comment on this without drawing a ton of hate mail to myself. Which is why I am commenting anonymously (I know Dani you can tell who I am). I guess I just come out and say it. Both my sons are circumcised and we are not Jewish. I know I am not alone, and I am not a bad parent. I know you are not insinuating that and I support you in bringing up this important subject. We all make choices with our kids and this was on my husband and I talked about, debated and chose. Not for the “locker room” reason. But chose non-the-less. I have struggled with this choice. I am not even sure I would do it again if I had another son. But what is done is done. I guess I just thought it wouldn’t hurt to have a comment from someone who has done it. I can totally see why others don’t, and I respect all decisions, from all sides.

5 DaniGirl November 15, 2007 at 12:00 pm

Hey Anonymous – I always welcome dissenting opinions, especially when they are presented as you have presented your comment: with respect and courtesy. I think you are likely in the majority, from what I’ve read, and I would hope that nobody who hangs out around here would slam you for sharing your honest insight and opinion.

Thanks, Tony, for offering a guy’s opinion. I’ve been chastised on this issue before by people who say that without a penis of my own, I’ve really got no right to comment on this… but that hasn’t stopped me so far! I think the red hair comparison is a good one, too.

Veronica, at the risk of offering too much information about my family, my dad was born in Europe in a time when circumcision was only performed for religious reasons, so he was not; and my brother was born in the 1970s, when all baby boys were circ’d as a matter of routine, so he was. That always helped me feel better about the “he ought to look like his father” issue. But, as we’ve all noted, it is an intensely personal issue.

6 Jodi November 15, 2007 at 12:05 pm

i could have written everything you did about circumcision myself – exactly how i feel. thanks for putting it “out there.”

7 bubandpie November 15, 2007 at 12:14 pm

Sleep is one of the issues that I’ve become MORE judgmental about since becoming a parent. Nothing gets me in a judgy mood like seeing small children out way past (what I think should be) their bedtimes. Irrational as that may be when it comes to complete strangers.

8 daysgoby November 15, 2007 at 12:16 pm

I LOVE this post!
We were all set to circumcise Cass – Bear is circumcised, I’m from an area (or an era, take your pick!) where most guys are, yadda yadda, and things were decided – until B realized this was going to HURT Cass, looked at me with a face full of horror, and whispered “He’s so little and new. I can’t tell someone to hurt my boy on purpose.” And so he’s not. (Hilariously, I then had to go tell my doctor that I need penis class, because I’d never seen an uncircumcised one, much less had to care for one) And yes, even here in Nova Scotia (Like much of Canada, I believe) where the norm is becoming to leave the boys uncut, Cass (Grade Primary or Kindergarten) has already had one incident of a boy pointing at his bits and saying they looked funny.

I have written such a long response to the breastfeeding part of your post that I think it’s going to be MY post today.

Thanks for being so honest, Dani!

9 Brian November 15, 2007 at 12:32 pm

In response to anonymous, I can see why even with the best intentions as a parent, you would still circumcise. There is alot of misinformation out there, and it is easy to blow small risks out of proportion.

I am a male who was circumcised at birth, growing up to wish I wasn’t. I don’t blame my parents for circumcising me. I put the blame more on the medical establishment.

Doctors have not done their job to educate parents to be about circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics did not recommend circumcision when I was born, but the first my mother heard of it was when I told her I would not circumcise my son and why. If doctors would just tell prospective parents that there’s no medical indication for circumcision on a newborn, less parents would do it.

Health insurance has not done their job to cut coverage for elective circumcisions. England’s circumcision rates dropped from near 100% to near 0% when they implemented national health insurance in the 1940’s, deciding that circumcision would be completely out of pocket. I’d hope most parents would research circumcision more if it were $500+ instead of free.

DaniGirl, your opinion should carry more weight than a circumcised man’s, because you have the privilege to still have all the genitals you were born with. Most cut men don’t realize the value of what they are missing.

10 patois November 15, 2007 at 12:49 pm

I was going to mention the part about England’s circumcision rate. Brian saved me the trouble. My husband is British. He is not circumcised. My father was not. My brothers were. If asked my opinion by pregnant women pondering what to do, I give it. My older son has mentioned the curiousity of another two boys. I have given him a snarky defense should anyone ever tease him about it. When the younger lad gets there, he’ll be told the snarky retort to use as well. They know that some boys are and some boys aren’t. They know we chose not to because we couldn’t imagine doing it to them.

11 orl November 15, 2007 at 12:49 pm

I (male, circed) concur with you and all those commenting that insurance should not cover, doctors should not offer or perform, and parents should not choose medically unnecessary circumcision for a child.

Thanks for being one more voice speaking up on this important topic. And thanks for explaining how your views changed on it, so people can see it’s not about being a good or bad parent, it’s about being an informed parent. Most parents who choose circumcision aren’t fully informed about the structure and function of the normal male sex organ, and are just doing what they believe to be “normal.”

12 valerie November 15, 2007 at 1:50 pm

Patois, could we hear your snarky reply? Or is it mainly along the lines that you couldn’t imagine doing that to them?

After my daughter’s swim class one day, I took a peek at the line of boys getting dressed. So many different shapes and sizes! Maybe it becomes more obviously circ’d or not when they’re all bigger, but for 4-6 yr olds, the locker room issue seems moot. (okay, I didn’t stare. Maybe on closer inspection it would be more obvious, but I wasn’t THAT interested!).

As for breastfeeding, somehow after reading about and choosing midwives, the bf’ding choice just came naturally (not the act itself, unfortunately, but making the choice to do it). Certainly reading that it may help prevent Crohn’s (which hubby has) was a huge incentive to continue as long as possible. I’m always upset when I hear that someone has quit through lack of support/information. If they make the choice not to bf, fine, but if our health care system has failed them, that’s just wrong.

13 cinnamon gurl November 15, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Ooh, fascinating post. And I’m totally with you on the circumcision discussion. It helped that my husband isn’t circ’d and felt very strongly about not doing it to a baby, especially his son.

14 girl November 15, 2007 at 4:43 pm

I feel the same way about circumcision.
I’m planing on having chirdren someday.
And I have a strange feeling my first will be a boy.
I know that I’ll have to tell him why we didn’t do it.

But I don’t want him to make a bad remark just becaused he was teased. That makes him no batter than the child that did it.

Instead I will educate my child on his foreskin. And he will say something to the kid along these lines, mine looks different because when you were little someone cut part of your off. But I think thats way to tramaic for a child. So I”ll think of something else.

Peace and love for all.
Ps your not a bad parent if you did circ your son. May parents simplely think its the rigt thing.

15 Tony November 15, 2007 at 5:14 pm

DaniGirl,

I’ve encountered too many men who pull the same “you don’t have a penis” non-argument, as if a woman can’t object to medically unnecessary surgery on the mere fact that it’s medically unnecessary.

It bothers me more when a woman abdicates any input because she doesn’t have a penis. If she’s going to permit the possibility of surgery on her son, at least be aware of why she’s allowing it. If that boy comes to her as an adult and asks why he was unnecessarily circumcised, would she really be comfortable saying it wasn’t her place to say “no”?

I wonder how much of that avoidance is a desire not to make waves rather than an indifference to circumcision. I’ve encountered more mothers who are hesitant – even if they end up circumcising – than mothers who are adamant for circumcision. I don’t believe permitting it is explained simply by a belief that the foreskin isn’t a big deal.

16 Laura November 15, 2007 at 5:33 pm

Great post – It sure is interesting the topics that one day seem mundane and then you become a parent and they are of importance. Thanks for sharing. I will have to ponder my list of new perspectives as a parent.

17 nancy November 15, 2007 at 8:10 pm

I LOVE your ass, as opinionated as it is.

Just have to add to the ‘must look like Daddy’ argument : if the Daddy has brown hair and the kid has blond or red hair, will you dye his hair his entire life, just so he looks like Daddy? If Daddy wear glasses, will you make your little boys wear glasses? If Mommy has bigger boobs, do you force your daughter to get implants? By the time baby even remotely looks like Daddy, he is at the age they (a) don’t see each other naked or (b) don’t give a shit.

I’m just sayin…

18 Tricia November 15, 2007 at 8:58 pm

De-lurking to say I loved this post!

I am with you on the sleep issue. In my pre-parent days I thought my friend was catering too much to her child by scheduling her life around naptime. Now, I totally get it and rarely mess with sleep schedules, having learned the hard way with our eldest what a nightmare that can be. Now if only the non parents in our circle of friends understood that…

Totally with you on circ and breast feeding. I also love what you did with the boys’ last names. I wish we’d thought of that because it still saddens me that my uncommon last name ends with me even if our kids have it has a second second name.

19 ali November 15, 2007 at 10:58 pm

“to each is own foreskin” might just have to be my new catchphrase! 🙂

20 Will November 16, 2007 at 5:02 am

Sometimes, Google searching, a certain word, actually brings something far more interesting (or, enlightening)~~admittingly, the word in question: “Spanking.”

**I must say, to each his/her own, in regards to circumcision. My own opinion, (and, I have no fear of saying so) is that un-circumcised is just plain “ugly.” I, of course, (can’t you tell) am circumcised, and believe me when I say I have no memory of ANY TRAUMA caused by this surgery.
**In any enviroment, where bullying is let into the mix, we’re going to see all kinds of abuse and trauma take place, whether a boy is circumcised, or not.
**In African Countries, Female Circumcision is far greater an act of Trauma than the circumcising of boys (in the USA).
**What people decide upon, ultimately, is what a child, boy or girl, will encounter when they reach the age of puberty: Will they have to suffer the “slings and arrows” of selfish bullies, without resorting to violence as a reaction/response.

**If what a penis looks like seems silly, or small beer, after reading my comments above, than I think, we have just jumped ahead in our Evolution as a people.

**Where man/boy is concerned, it doesn’t matter either way; circumcised, or uncircumcised. Any insulting, or teasing, is abuse, period. I may think: “Jesus, that’s ugly!”….but, I would never, ever, dare to say it aloud to someone who is uncircumcised.

**That said, Your post has given me much more to think about than “spanking.”

Thank you,

`x~Will

21 Rebecca November 16, 2007 at 6:55 am

Not many men are circumcised over here except for religious (Jewish and Muslim) reasons. I’ve never seen a circumcised penis, actually. And I agree with you – I don’t see the point of it at all.

22 DaniGirl November 16, 2007 at 7:43 am

Hmmm, why am I not surprised that circumcision was the lightning rod in this post?

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who contributed (and please, continue to do so!) to this post. A lot of new names, which is always nice to see – welcome!

Like Jessica said, even if we had theoretically decided to have Tristan circumcised, the idea of them hurting my gorgeous, perfect, miraculous newborn would have stopped me dead in my tracks when he was actually born. I was upset enough by the heel pricks – no way could I have let them snip him.

I thought I’d add, too, that here in Ontario (and, I suspect, most Canadian provinces) circumcision is no longer covered by public health insurance. It would have been a $200 to $300 fee to have the boys snipped, which is what made me start wondering about the process in the first place, and how I found out that Canadian Paediatric Society recommends AGAINST routine newborn circumcision. Here’s an information leaflet they produce with some good information, if you’re still curious: http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/babies/Circumcision.htm

And this statistic really surprised me. According to this website (http://www.cirp.org/library/statistics/Canada/) less than 10% of newborns in Canada are routinely circumcised now. Wow!

23 Kerry November 16, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Hey Dani – I read a lot in the past two years about circumcision being a key way to prevent the spread of HIV. That alone would give me an incentive to have my boy snipped.

24 DaniGirl November 16, 2007 at 2:58 pm

Hey Kerry,

Yes, I’ve seen those reports, too. While the stats are impressive, what the CDC says is that circumcision “confers only partial protection [against HIV] and should be considered only in conjunction with other proven prevention measures (abstinence, mutual monogamy, reducing number of sex partners, and correct and consistent condom use).” In other words, teach them to use a condom and practice safe sex. Since we’re going to be doing that *anyway* why circumcize them as well. Yanno?

25 Hugh77 November 16, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Your’re all being very kind to anonymous, who never actually gave any reason for cutting off about half the surface area – the most senstive part – of her son’s penis, except that she could – “Because it was there,” you might say.
As for the teasing, better to be teased because you have something they lack, than the reverse. Agreed, the snarky reply (the simple truth, “You’ve had part of your d!ck cut off.”) is too cruel. Kids who tease intact kids probably have no idea what was done to them. Better to teach non-reaction to teasing. See http://www.circumstitions.com/Different.html
HIV? In the US it would take hundreds of circumcisions to prevent one transmission.

26 Tony November 16, 2007 at 8:08 pm

Kerry,

The studies being touted demonstrated an apparent link between circumcision and reduced female-to-male transmission of HIV. Apart from being the least common transmission method involving males, it is not the problem facing industrialized nations. Our problem is male-to-male transmission. Circumcision has not been shown to offer any benefit in that.

The media keep reporting sensational numbers. But a 60% reduction is not impressive when looking at the issue in context. The actual risk of HIV infection through heterosexual sex is tiny, somewhere under 1%. A 60% reduction of less than 1% is not compelling.

The complication rate from circumcision is higher than the risk of HIV, so it doesn’t even pass that test when trying to chase that benefit.

Also, we can’t know what treatment will be available in 2023, roughly the time when today’s infants will become sexually active. We can assume it will be better than today’s. There might even be a cure. And circumcision can always be performed then if he wants it.

27 Andi November 18, 2007 at 3:39 pm

I love this blog and I pretty much agree with everything you said!

28 cinnamon gurl December 20, 2007 at 9:23 am

Thanks for pointing me back here… although I’d checked in, I missed a bunch of comments.

On the circ thing… We were never going to circumcise a son but I remember either reading about or hearing about how it’s normal for a newly circumcised boy to have blood in his diaper and that just about did me in thinking about that poor bloody stump.

Great discussion though!

29 Anonymous December 20, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Like Cinnamon gurl, I had missed a lot of the follow-up to this interesting debate. I am also totally with you, Dani, particularly about the circumsicion. Neither DH nor I would ever, ever agree to having a son circ’d, although so far we don’t have any boys, LOL. And this is despite the fact that DH is cut.

I’m posting anonymously because my DH would kill me if he knew I was talking about his privates in public. This is, he didn’t start out as circ’d. His was done when he was around Grade 1 – never really got the clear reason, but it was a medical issue. He actually remembers the surgery and staying home for a week from home and said that even though he was anesthetized, it was still very painful afterward.

His younger brother is not circ’d, which he likes to brag about. I used to wonder how much of a difference not being circ’d would’ve made for us in the one aspect of our lives where it matters. There have been times where I was just ready to go to sleep, but things were just going on and on and on…!

30 Terry December 20, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Just de-lurking to comment on judging other children’s bedtimes. Bedtime at our house is a continual battle. My husband are I are finally coming to grips with the fact that our 2.5 year old can get by on 8 hours of sleep per night, and is most compliant when she goes to bed at midnight and gets up at 8. Every few days she’ll go to bed early (hallellujiah). So, we’d love to have a civilized bedtime every night, but since that doesn’t work, we don’t deprive ourselves of evening errand runs or the occasional trip to starbucks. Just because a child is out late doesn’t mean that her parents are negligent or thoughtless. Apparently this is common in other countries … I’m sure we’d fit in better in Spain!

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