Guest Post: The Delicate Ego of the Modern Parent, Part 1 - Modern Alternative Mama

Guest Post: The Delicate Ego of the Modern Parent, Part 1

admin August 13, 2011


This is a guest post by Emily of Life a Study!

“No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.”—Thomas Carlyle

“I could never do that to my child….”  It cut like a knife and deeply hurt me.  I don’t think my friend meant it like I felt it, but it did make crystal clear how she and many of my other friends were feeling about my and my husband’s choice to not vaccinate our children. My friend was reacting to the idea of exposing our kids to chicken pox on purpose, to get natural immunity.  Hardly a new idea … our grandparents were happy to get chickenpox out of the way in one fell swoop, and most of our parents were exposed  .. to siblings or friends who had this “childhood disease,” if not “on purpose.” then certainly without grave concern.

I have never been someone who followed the crowd or listened to ‘the establishment.’  I was raised to question authority.  I was not raised to be obedient, and that respect is earned.  I was taught that you ‘aren’t living if you aren’t learning’, and to think responsibly. No one narrowed my mind down, and I never felt the need to grow a thick skin. But never once in my life had anything felt as venomous as that one friend’s reaction to a child-rearing choice we made. 

I knew that when we had kids there would be some difficult decisions to make.  But never during all my thought, study and research, did I think that our decisions would be of such concern, cause so much drama, be the root of so many arguments and hurt feelings, cause so many negative reactions, and OFFEND so many other people … people who have little or NOTHING to do with our children.  In fact I always felt that all the thought I put into making those decisions was something to be proud of.  Little did I know that our commitment, combined with my propensity for being vocal, would have such an enormous impact on our social lives.

It started at pregnancy: ”Natural childbirth?! Are you crazy? Labour hurts! Just take the drugs.” Then breastfeeding: “It is sooo much easier to just bottle feed.” And food choices: “Well I just don’t have that extra time to do all that cooking.” It only got worse from there: Snide, rude, condescending and patronizing comments in response to my posts about vaccination on Facebook, awkward moments of silence with long-time friends whenever the topic of children’s health came up and, for a short time, the need to convince our parents that we were doing the right thing when it came to vaccination. So I looked for ‘community’ and support elsewhere.  As I made like-minded contacts, it became evident that parents who take the road less travelled are a small and usually heavily abused community. It seems that we are all getting the same response everywhere we try to find information, share information or find camaraderie.  

Never once have I heard or read an ‘anti-vaxer’ abuse another parent who chose to follow the vaccine schedule.  Never have I said to friends who scheduled c-sections, “Geez you really copped out on that one,” or responded to someone who thinks breastfeeding is ‘gross’ by suggesting that their choice to bottle feed is unnatural. But the vitriolic abuse of those who have the *audacity* to doubt the safe practice of multiple vaccinations, or who truly believe that ‘breast is best’ and that c-sections are for emergency situations, is everywhere. Intelligent, legitimate questions posted on highly respected medical websites are repeatedly met with disdain, condescension, insult, and personal attacks. At a different stage in life, or on any other forum, it would be considered bullying. But in the case of birthing and raising children, to deviate from general medical practice is apparently to sacrifice not only your credibility, but also your right to choose how to think and how to live.

Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food.”—Hippocrates

We chose to choose our food carefully, which apparently merits an on-going debate and even an element of alienation between ourselves and the general population.  This seems to cause the most trouble when it comes to feeding the kids.  Especially on family holidays, when I end up helicoptering around the kids table removing endless cups of milk, chocolate milk, soda pop and countless numbers of prepared ‘kid friendly’ dishes from in front of my kids.  I turn down offers to make plates for them, and I offer to sit at or near the kids table to ‘supervise’.

The kids are older now and have started asking their own questions about what we eat, especially around other kids at mealtime.  This has put me in the bumpy position of explaining to our kids, in front of the other kids and their parents, why we are eating one thing and not another. I have managed to avoid any hurt feelings and have had to stumble through a few awkward moments of trying to explain what we are trying to accomplish nutritionally, but ultimately I end up trivializing the choices we made so thoughtfully, just so they won’t be offended by those choices … and I hate doing that.

So between defending my choices on forums and trying to explain them to friends and family, I wonder:  How are our positive choices threatening everyone so much?  What causes people to take offense to our deviating from the norm? Why can’t I state “this is what I do” without offending someone?  If they want their kids to eat hot dogs, why would they care if I don’t want mine to? If they are so sure of what they are doing, why do they feel any need to even have an opinion about what I do?  While we don’t attack or even comment on their ways of doing things, are our health choices construed to be a judgment of what they are doing?

“The highest order of information is for it to become knowledge, and that knowledge to become wisdom.” – My stepdad when talking to him about this article.

How do you find the fine balance of sticking to choices as a family while still making it possible to have an easy and pleasant social life?  I asked my mom, a single hippy mom, who with the advice of the pediatrician selectively vaccinated me (where are those doctors now?), and fed us as much real food as possible, how she handled it. She said it never really happened and what little she did deal with wasn’t anywhere close to as nasty as what I am currently dealing with. There was a more ‘live and let live’ mentality. So what changed the playing field?  Is it our easy access to information? We now have the opportunity to educate ourselves on subjects without the information being directed through a teacher.   

Or is it our exposure to so many people with so many different ways of doing things? Either through the internet or in our cities full of people from every possible cultural background. We now have so many more ways of doing things, looking at things and feeling about things than when my Mom was raising me. So much more choice and I’d guess, so many more ways for us to think others are doing it wrong.

This road less travelled life isn’t easy on any of us.  None of us would change our minds or make alternate choices, but it doesn’t mean that this isn’t hard.

Thanks, Emily!  Stick around, you’ll see part II coming up soon!


Emily Martin-Johnson is a work at home mom to twins Gabriel and Beatrice, who are three, and wife to Michael.  She has always had a passion for cooking which then became a passion for feeding her family healthy ‘real’ food.  Emily is a MommyBlogger and you can follow what’s happening with the twins and in her kitchen at

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  1. I love this! It's "the things I think but cannot say" all written out for the world to see. I ask these very same questions, and find no answers. The only thing I can liken it to is the debate I saw on television the other day where the liberal debater said to his conservative opponent "you hateful, judgmental, racist…." and ALL I wanted to do was be there in person so I could point out that simply by claiming that someone is hateful or racist, YOU (the liberal debater) are in fact being judgmental. That mantra of "what's right for me is what works for me and what's right for you is what works for you" seems to fit everyone…until someone else does something differently. Then *what works for me* is suddenly "a challenge to all that is good and right and true". I honestly don't get how something that *I* think about, research, consider carefully and weigh heavily before deciding can be so detestable to someone who (very likely) is just following the crowd in their own choice.

    Fantastic post! I'll be off sharing it now. 🙂


  2. I tend toward "healthy living" choices over (what is now) traditional medicine answers, but my husband doesn't. I gave birth naturally with a midwife – in a hospital. I breastfed – but vaccinated (on my own schedule). We eat healthy at home – but not so much so that we can't enjoy Christmas at grandma's.

    My experience has been that friends of mine who follow traditional medicine cannot understand why others question the experts and are sometimes offensive or careless with their words. Other friends of mine who put much effort into making their own (often counter-cultural) choices appear to look down their noses when others do whatever is recommended by their doctor. I'm sure I fall on both sides at times. We ALL have to be careful, I think, to remember that no one makes perfect choices and we're probably all wrong about something.

    I agree with the majority of this post. I wish people would have more grace for others.


  3. We did selective vaccinations for our three-year-old, and that was our first taste of the hostility like what you've encountered. Since then, we've begun using herbs, avoiding doctors except in emergencies, drinking only raw milk and as of December we've been learning about and have switched to "real" foods. I am convinced that my "unexplained infertility" was cured by our real foods and raw milk (our second child is due mid-November), but even friends who have been trying to get pregnant for awhile are either hostile to the idea ("what do you mean you eat real butter?!?! It would make me FAT!!) or they become defensive about their "healthy" low-fat diets. (By the way, we tried to get pregnant for over two years before changing our diet and getting pregnant in less than three months! It took nearly two years to get pregnant with our first daughter.) I've been so excited about the amazing things I've learned, but most people are very hostile about it all. I think that, for many of them, they ALREADY KNOW that they aren't living and eating in a healthy way, so they are reacting defensively. Others feel threatened by people who "know something they don't". Honestly, I'm always thrilled to learn something new, but many people want their comfortable ignorance left alone so they can continue on their merry way without the guilt of knowing they aren't putting in the effort to do what is best, especially when it comes to their children. I believe that health decisions about our own children make people lash out (no matter how we share what we've learned) because they don't want to consider that maybe they haven't done the research they should have before making decisions… or allowing the pediatrician to make decisions for them. Like you said, we would never attack them for the decisions they've made, but I'm afraid that we are fair game because we haven't blindly followed along behind them. So sad.
    Currently, we have everybody in a dither because we are planning a home birth with a mid-wife. 🙂 We do have two excellent back-up doctors, in case of emergency, but the very idea that a home birth can be safer for a low-risk mom is threatening to women who choose the hospital. *sigh*
    To you, Emily, and all the other "road less traveled" moms out there: seek the information you need, and make intelligent decisions according to your own convictions. Let's all encourage each other as much as possible and keep on sharing what we've learned with anybody who seems interested. 🙂


  4. This is why online communities and blogs such as this one are so valuable–they offer such wonderful support and that sense that you are not alone in pursuing an alternative (and better) approach to health for your family. It's sort of a micro-culture of sorts, isn't it? There are concepts that we all take for granted as foundational to our choices that are completely foreign to others. Language that is unique to us. Frustrations and joys (like about the latest lacto-fermented concoction bubbling away on the counter) that most people can't relate to.

    I say that we should set an example in tact for the "mainstream" to follow. I find it goes better for me if I bite my tongue more often than not ("even a fool is thought wise if he doesn't speak"–from Proverbs). But I always offer a glass of iced kombucha to guests and family when they visit, and am usually met with, "Yum, what is this?" And I hope that when they notice that we extremely rarely if ever go to the Dr. for bad colds, but still get better and catch them less often–that somehow I will have an open door to casually share applicable pieces of useful information when they ask about it.

    It is difficult though, and I so understand, when met with skepticism and judgement over choices that were based on the fruits of hours of serious research. Fortunately my kids are old enough now to hold their own with skeptics. My daughter told my mom and step dad a few months back, when they offered to take her in to get the Gardasil vaccination (since I deliberately did not), "Why would I need to be vaccinated against an illness that is caused by behavior that I am not and will not be participating in?" When they responded, "But what about your future husband? What if he is not approaching it like you are?" She answered, "Then he's not the man I'm waiting for." Go girl!


  5. Jill, That is wonderful about your daughter's reply! Good for her and good for you in your parenting success! 🙂


  6. Thank you Emily! You spoke my heart felt feelings. I sometimes have felt as though I have to approach some issues in a very clandestine way (ie vaccinations) because of the back lash we have experienced. But, I cannot be lead by peer pressure to do things that I know are not right for me and my family.

    And, Jill, I am so impressed with your daughter and her response to your parents offering to take her to get the vaccination. You have prepared her well for independent thinking. She will do well! How old is she anyway?

    Glad to know I am not the only one out here. It sure can feel like it sometimes. And, why is it that all of us are so separated? Why can't each of us be a part of the same family rather than each of us having to battle these issues with EVERYONE else in our families? interesting…

    Great post, thank you!


  7. Hi Em. Good post. I am one of the moms who made a hasty remark on Facebook. Not directed at Emily in any way but in response to an article another friend of mine posted. Emily saw this…as one of my friends…and was offended. Fair enough. We have had our exchange about this and all is well. Too be clear, I choose to vaccinate my three children…but not for everything. For example, my husband and I chose not to vaccinate against chicken pox. Some questioned it. We didn't. My oldest son got it and we then encouraged his interaction with our second son. Then he got it. Over and done with. I also have a baby boy who will not be vaccinated for this either.
    But I do question and don't agree with not vaccinating at all. But please do not confuse this with being offended. Did I once make an insensitive comment? Yes I did and I did my due diligence to apologize for that. Em knows this. But being vocal in other ways…about why I choose what I choose to do does not equal slamming anti-vac parents. It is just sharing the other viewpoint. And because it is the majority viewpoint, those on the other side sometimes get their backs up.
    I think modern medicine is a wonderful thing but I also know…through my own education and work directly with the CHFA and Naturopathic professionals across Canada that many natural/homeopathic solutions to a myriad of issues both preventative and remidial are very effective indeed. I have tried many myself. It was an education and learning process that I am glad I had through my work. I still use some natural products over the medicinal alternatives to this day.
    My point is, it is a spectrum and education and communication is key. Do my kids eat at McDonalds? Yes. Do they usually eat healthy, well balanced, nutritious food? Yes. As a mother that is very important to me. I am not extreme about it but if someone chooses not to give their kids crap (which is exactly what fast food is) or packaged **** or even milk or sugar…that is personal choice. I do it purely for convenience and because sometimes I am just not organized enough. Does that make me a bad mom? No. Do I feel guilty about it? Yes. But the 80/20 rule pretty much applies and my kids would pick fresh greens over French fries because that is how they have been raised.
    I enjoy peeking around this blog and Emily's because I respect what you are all about. I am just another mom…doing my best…stumbling along…and learning always. And for me, that's good enough. And I keep telling myself that THAT is good enough for me and my family.
    Hugs to you all and kudos to sharing your stories. I share mine on my blog The Hugging Home at . Actually, you may see Emily there soon too. And look for me at Life: A Study. Peace out. 🙂


  8. @ Lora,
    I think maybe it's your writing style that is causing the problems you referenced… you do sound very defensive about your choices, but I only say that because if I said what you were saying it would be because I was being defensive. Did that convoluted sentence even make sense??? 🙂 I've had a long day, so maybe not. Until I got to your last couple of sentences, though, the "voice" you were using seemed really antagonistic and angry. I've reread what you wrote and it's still hard to see it as being… well, anything other than really upset. Like I said, maybe it's just that the writing style you use comes across differently to most people than the way you mean it. 🙂 Just the perspective of a disinterested third party for you to consider.


  9. P.S. My daughter (who responded so well to my mom and step dad regarding the Gardasil vaccine) just turned 18. She's so wise for her age!


  10. "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do."

    This is a good quote for all the sensitive 'delicate' mamas…Just because we have time to ruminate over every critical word someone said to us or about us for days on end, doesn't mean the other person is doing the same. Most likely, they are NOT. Don't confuse others thoughtlessness with malice.

    Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Lora–Thank you for sharing your side of the story…I didn't see any 'hostility' in your post at all!


  11. This is so well written and exactly what often flows through my mind. Like Emily, I often find my parenting decisions criticized or looked down upon, even though I would never verbally criticize another parent's decision (even if I totally disagree).

    I've actually experienced it both ways…parents who think my ways are too 'out there' and those who think that I'm not 'crunchy' enough. Sometimes on the same issue! When I got one vax for my youngest, the lady at the health food store gave me a hard time for letting him get any and my mom for not getting all of the recommended shots. That helped me come to the realization that I needed to just do what I believed was best regardless of what anyone thinks…because someone is always going to disagree.

    Also, for better or worse I've become very selective as to how much information I disclose about some of our decisions. If another parent is genuinely looking for advice/information, I'm happy to share. But I'm not into answering obvious busybodies or announcing to the world–it's really none of their business. Hopefully that's not too cynical. 🙂


  12. Excellent article Emily. I hope you will write more about your natural childbirth (although i dislike that term…i'm assuming you mean a medication-free, vaginal birth?).

    I too have made decisions that were not "mainstream", but haven't felt judged or that i "offended" anyone. Actually most of my friends or family wouldn't know that i breastfed my son to 2 years, unless they happened to be around at bedtime. I will happily discuss with anyone genuinely intersted, but otherwise it's just not something i feel the need to advertise. People also wouldn't know that i buy organic produce, unless they snoop around my crispers! I think Brittany has a good point. There is really no reason to go around announcing your parenting decisions unless someone is coming to you genuinely asking for your experiences. We all make the decisions we feel are best for our children, and it's no one elses business. There is no need to advertise our parenting decisions on facebook or announce them to every other parent we meet.

    I also very much agree with what Laura wrote – excellent quote! I think you need to be careful not to confuse other people being diagreeing with or being critical of your choices with them being OFFENDED with your choices. You also need to be careful to not assume that the choices you have made are the best choices for everyone. They are the best for you and your family. Just because someone chooses differently, doesn't mean they are uneducated. It may also mean that they have educated themselves, and came to a different conclusion than you. And that is ok too.


  13. Really interesting post! I do get what you're saying. I end up preferring if anonymous people read my blog rather than neighbors, family or friends, set up a facebook page, rather than my personal one, to post what I "really" think about a range of topics, and end up in very awkward conversations with the other parents around me – avoiding any topic related to parenting because it's just easier that way. But it leaves a mama feeling kind of alone, or like I have some alternative online personality. I want to be more real with those around me, but I also know that whenever you believe something strongly is right – like not spanking – it makes the person who is spanking "wrong." So it's better to just not make a statement like that and just avoid offending those around you.

    The other reason I think people can react harshly is guilt. I for one, am really into child development, playful parenting, gentle discipline, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and all that. BUT, I have not come around to the natural food, eating lifestyle (yet)! It's just too hard, I don't know where to start, I'm already overwhelmed just trying to feed this family everyday. So I do feel guilty and somewhat inadequate when I see others who are doing it, and it makes my excuses seem like…. excuses! The reality is, it's a challenge – to do things better, change your lifestyle, do more research, make better informed decisions. There seems to be two possible reactions – either encouraged to learn more, or become defensive and shut down.



  14. It’s like she was reading my mind! I can’t stand the way people react so negatively to those of us who chose to go against the grain and maybe, just maybe use our brains a little bit instead of following like sheep everything we are taught by the mainstream media and medical community.


  15. This is exactly what I am going through. I now tend to keep to myself about my parenting choices because of the hostility. I have done so much research that if I added it all up it would be multiple days worth of research on the choices I have made.


  16. “Never once have I heard or read an ‘anti-vaxer’ abuse another parent who chose to follow the vaccine schedule. Never have I said to friends who scheduled c-sections, “Geez you really copped out on that one,” or responded to someone who thinks breastfeeding is ‘gross’ by suggesting that their choice to bottle feed is unnatural.”
    I am sad to say that I have more than once heard the “anti-vaxer” put down those who choose to vaccinate, and I have heard nursing moms put down those who choose (or have to) bottle feed without asking why. The second situation is super common, actually, and is often discussed in parenting literature. And I live in a very progressive community, a college town with lots of granola-types, and critical comments about food choices are also not uncommon (“well MY kids have NEVER been to McDonalds!”). I am constantly trying to get more parents to bring milk, or even juice, when it is their turn to bring snack for soccer or hockey, but everyone seems to think Gatorade is the gold standard. Still, I do my best to share studies about milk as a post-athletic drink with any mom who sits down next to me, but with a non-judgemental, “Hey, I just read the most interesting thing! Milk is supposed to be better than any other post workout drink, can you believe it?…A study contracted by the USOC…It’s that something?” No matter your position on raw milk versus pasteurized, pretty much any milk is better than Gatorade.
    I think your mom probably fared better because she wasn’t out on the internet sharing this information, and the food problem was less (sure we had kool-aid and such, but the artificial garbage in food seems to be getting worse all the time) so there were fewer conflicts about it. If you surround yourself, and only share with, friends of similar views and understanding, then you are less likely to find yourself in conflict, but by their very nature FB and the blogosphere are not that. Controversial views are such because they do have an impact on society as a whole, and people have a stake in one side of the issue or the other. AND, no matter how polite you are, someone, somewhere, will feel that perhaps they are a lesser parent (or person) because they made a different choice, or worry that you think so, and this will create defensive feelings. However, it is rare that we simply make a choice for ourselves quietly, especially in this world of FB, blogs, and forums. It is one thing to make a choice for your family quietly, but as soon as you begin advocating for others to consider or make the same choice, you start stepping on toes. And nearly all of us have done it at some point. By simply stating publicly that you consider XYZ to be the best for your family, you put yourself in a position to defend that, and others are put in the position of deciding why you are telling them this. Are you passing judgement? Are you advocating? No one spends significant time sharing information publicly JUST TO SHARE, so we all have to wonder, what is the motive?
    For the record, I agree with some of your positions and disagree with others, but I am not the least bit surprised when people react strongly one way or another on your blog, or any of the other blogs I follow that hit on controversial topics. That is human nature. The issue is not your actual beliefs, you’d have the same issue on any controversial topic (and yes, from BOTH sides), but that you are very public with them. No matter which side of the issue you are on, you know there are people who disagree with you, and some of them rather vehemently, so if you don’t care to have those public disagreements, then you had best not share publicly. I come from a big family where we all argue in loud voices about everything from critical issues to the silliest things. I don’t much care about judgements within that group, so I share freely, we all do. And things can get pretty heated within our family group, so most of us have developed reasonably thick skins. But outside that group, I do not care to have those arguments, I find they catch me when I’m not in the best place to have those heated discussion, and so I am very much more careful what I share publicly. These are the pitfalls of blogging.


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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