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Perfect Parenting

Imagine you have made a mistake.  I’m sure everyone of us has made a mistake at some point, right? We can’t all be perfect paragons of parenting, so I’m sure we all have at least one or two regrets.

Anyway- so imagine you have made a horrible, uncorrectable mistake.

And now you know better, are horrified by what you have done, and you tell people about it because you don’t want them to make the same choices.  And no matter what you do or say, you are judged for that mistake.

This morning I was scrolling through my facebook feed and saw a post on an intactivist page that caught my eye.

“I live with the deep regret of circing my son, almost 3yr old now. I didn’t want to but felt pressured. I had done some research but not enough. If I knew then what I know now he would be whole. I’m a very strong intactivist now and am always informing when I can. I get so sad when I read stories of moms who studied and changed their minds and fought for their baby (sad for my baby that I didn’t). I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and if he will forgive me and still love me. He will see me fighting so hard for other babies–he may resent me for not keeping him safe. My question is to the cut guys here. If your mom was truely heartbroken over what she did to you and she had spent much of her life fighting this, how would you feel toward her?”

I totally understand how this mom feels, because I’m wondering the same thing.  So I scrolled through the responses.  Most were kind, telling the OP to forgive herself, her son will know she loves him, etc.  But the second one down questioned why if she was so “AP” she would cut her son.  And that rankled.  The poster went on to correct her statement in a later status, and the rest of the thread is supportive, but it got me thinking.

I have mentioned before that I don’t like to talk about intactivism on my blog.  I don’t talk about it because 1.) I don’t really care to discuss the state of my children’s penises with the world at large.  2.) I am deeply ashamed that I wasn’t better informed and my poor babies suffered for it.  And 3.) I am a coward and afraid to stir up the judgy pot.  I never brought this subject up until this past spring (when I was accused of being a hypocrite by someone who knew someone that met me) because I felt like I would be condemned and labeled unqualified to support or write about attachment parenting with sons that have been cut.  I felt that I was unworthy to support the cause, or that my support would be unpalatable to the intactivists.  Which sort of happened.  I was called out publicly and privately for it.  Whether or not I am “AP” enough was put into question.

Sometimes I read the comments on intactivist pages and the pure nastiness takes my breath away.   I am amazed at how harshly mothers are judged when they freely admit it WAS a mistake that they would never make again.  I mean, if someone were to waltz on to one of those pages and stomp all over the place posting pro-circ shit then I could understand it.  But to be labeled as a child abuser, a molester, a horrible person, a bad mother, evil, uncaring, etc…  When obviously you DO care and suffer immensely for it…  I don’t understand that at all.

We all make bad decisions.

Thankfully, not every stupid choice we make has such long lasting repercussions.  But everyone of us, no matter how good our intentions, makes mistakes.  And no matter how “crunchy” or “AP” we are (or strive to be) it is impossible for every single person to embark on this parenting journey fully informed and educated.  I wish that there was more compassion to pass around for those of us who stumble.


My two sons.  I should have known that they were perfect from the moment they were born.

19 Responses to Perfect Parenting

  1. What is so sad to me is that as women, as mothers, we should be supporting each, encouraging each other, helping each other along the way. Instead, nastiness wins over. I no longer read anything on the intactivist pages or mothering pages in general simply because of the hatred radiating from some of the users.

    • Me too. I don’t understand why there is so much hate. I mean, I wish every mother was a breastfeeder, but even on my most pro-breastfeeding posts I *try* to be kind to those who choose not to.

      Sigh. People suck.

      • There is so much hate because our society demands it.

        Everything about our society polarizes. There is nothing going on that does not create segregation, and all segregation leads to the “us versus them” mentality. You can’t fight an opponent you sympathize with – or at least that is what society wants us to believe.

        So, let me clearly say it – THERE IS NO “them”. It’s all “us”. Also, just because you are 100% in agreement with someone on ONE issue, that does not mean even 10% of their whole life is like you, so we ALL need to learn to tolerate those things others do that we disagree with.

  2. I’ve never really understood why it’s anyone else’s business other then the parents on whether or not they decided to clip their sons penis or not. I think it’s great that people try to educate on the different options and why they did what they did but it is WRONG to try and make a mother feel bad for a decision they made ESPECIALLY if they now have a change of heart. Let me just go ahead and say it…I had my son circumcised and I don’t regret it nor do I judge anyone that opted to NOT have it done. It’s not up to anyone else to judge a mother on decisions they made for their child unless it is a life threatening situation (which this is not). There are worse people out there that we should be worried about. If somebody wants to look down on me because of MY choice then that’s just sad and they probably live a pretty crappy life if that’s what they feel they need to take the time out to focus on. My son’s genitals are nobody else’s business but mine and his. I especially feel for the mother’s that made the decision because they felt pressure then changed their minds and are now being judged or ridiculed because of it.

  3. You are an awesome, amazing, wonderful mother. The phrase I see getting passed around a lot lately is, “Know better, do better,” and I think that applies 100% here – we can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time. When medical professionals insist on relying on information that isn’t true, or pressure us, or withhold information, and when information (like on the truths of circumcision) just isn’t mainstream yet, we do what we can. I regret a lot about my breastfeeding relationships with my children; while I know it isn’t on the same level, I still wonder – how would they have been different if I had been supported better, given better information, not been “booby trapped”? Would they have been healthier (although they’ve been frighteningly healthy all things considered), would they still have allergies? It’s stuff I can beat myself up about all I want, but it won’t change things – the problem becomes when other moms tell me I cannot possibly consider myself an AP if I did not exclusively breastfeed both children from day one. I’ve stopped rehashing my situations, and have gotten to the point where my response is a simple (and relatively ineffective) commentary on the poster’s parentage, but what it comes down to is exactly what I said: when you know better, you do better. You love your sons, and yes, someday you may well have that incredibly difficult and painful discussion with them, and unfortunately it will be their choice to decide how they feel about the situation and toward you. But rest assured that you have done all you can, and as long as you spend your life loving and supporting them and being transparent and truthful, you will continue to be the amazing mom you are.


    • (Thank you, by the way, for recognizing the importance of intactivism, Joni. <3 With any luck in ten more years the circumcision rate will drop below the "about half" we're at now. :D)

    • KAS, I was going to mention this exact thing. I’ve had a lot of AP people tell me that I’m not a “real” AP mother because I couldn’t breastfeed, and it’s the same sort of exclusivist nonsense. We do the best we can. None of us are perfect, and there’s no time-travel machine to go back and fix things.

  4. Joni-Rae, you have outdone yourself with this post. Such courage and humility and compassion! I have struggles with some of the “choices” I have made because I didn’t know any better too. And know this, if David hadn’t been such an intactivist and thus pushed me to research it, and always wonder and learn, my two boys would have been cut too! I was quite pro-circ and didn’t know that everything I had been told about it was wrong.

    Actually, I take that back, my family doctor would have stopped me. I just learned while I was pregnant with Tadhg that she became an intactivist while caring for Ethiopian women who were victims of genital mutilation. And she will not perform the procedure and either talks her patients out of it or drops them as patients if they ask for it (Here in Canada you have to ask for it and pay cash, it is not considered health care so it is not covered)

    But the point is this, how can you beat yourself up, when the people who SHOULD be guarding your children’s health, FAIL in their duty to do so by recommending such procedures? Don’t beat yourself up, RAGE at the doctors who pushed it!! and that you aren’t lucky to have the kind of doctor I have who truly DOES care about her patients! (she is also one of the big reasons for my success with breastfeeding:) and I think those few rare intactivists that just love to torture Moms really need to examine their own internalised misogyny!!

  5. I made the decision against circumcision for my boys. I feel though that I had it easy because my husband was uncircumcised and so was his father. It sort of felt like it was a family tradition to not do it. When the doctor asked if I wanted it done in hospital and I said I did not want it done at all he thanked me! He said he hated having to do it. When my family tried to put in their two cents I told them I felt that babies go through enough during birth and cited stores of family members babies who had a botched circ and had to have it redone! Also if they were not meant to have foreskin then why on earth were they born with it? If my boys grow up and decide they want it done that is their decision.

    I am sad for you that you are having regrets. It is in the past and cannot be undone. You need to forgive yourself. It will be okay! Your son will grow up to be a well informed man.

  6. I just stumbled on this site on a friend’s page. I am NOT “crunchy” AP or any other label. We homeschool our 8 kids (3 grads, 5 still home) I breast fed them all any where from 5 months to 3+years. What gets me on these sites is the overwhelming judgement of moms who are “doing the right” thing against anyone and everyone who does something different from them. I guess going counter culture can really put you on the defensive and there is a feeling that they might feel judged themselves, but, seriously, I have to say that 95% of my parenting choices that I now realize are way outside the social norm were made after befriending someone who had no agenda on me. She was secure in her choices and supportive of my curiosity and questions. She calmly discussed her reasons when I asked, but pushed nothing on me. I never felt judged when any of my friends talked about their way, because we were all just sharing ideas that were working for us and wanting to help others! Just a thought to anyone on here, kindness goes so much farther than crusading. I am NOT accusing anyone here of crusading, just responding to the point that the writer was being accused of being a hypocrite for deciding she had made a mistake and then trying to make some sort of Karmic amends…

  7. I have to say in my 44 years of life I have always felt more judged by non-mainstream people for my mainstream choices than by mainstream people for my non-mainstream choices. I got “oh, you did that instead, whatevs” from the mainstreamers when I mentioned co sleeping & baby wearing and “YOU DID THAT!! HOW COULD YOU?? DON’T YOU KNOW *insert ‘fact’/fact here* I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!” from the non-mainstreamers when I mention I only breastfed DS1 for 4 months & even then he was supplemented for those (I had my appendix out 11 days after my c-section, my body chose healing over milk production).

    I don’t understand the rush to judgement when someone chooses differently. It makes me think they are insecure in their choice & have to push everyone else to go along with it to reinforce that it is correct. We all make choices for a variety of reasons, often later we wish we had don things differently. Making someone feel bad about that does not win hearts & minds to their cause. It just gives ammo to the naysayers. We need to support people, especially if they have a change of heart over something that cannot be undone.

  8. This, like all your posts, is outstanding. You are so right. I can’t stand how judgy and unforgiving people can be. It’s that whole “Let (s)he who is without sin cast the first stone” thing. YES! I’m a pagan who quotes Jesus. He was right. This whole jusdgement thing doesn’t do anyone a damn bit of good.

    You don’t deserve to suffer for what you now see as a mistake. I think that when people attack others for mistakes they feel true remorse for, it says a heck of a lot about the petty, insecure nature of the attackers.

  9. I put myself in the ‘intactivist’ category, but I really don’t like some of the company I keep…We had plans to circ our first son (didn’t even know I had a choice NOT to) but when he was born, he had (well, still has) a cosmetic defect that prevented it from being done at that time. I spent so much time over the following weeks looking up his defect, that I ended up finding resources like The WHOLE Network. The only thing it was good for was reinforcing my plans to leave him the way he is, and then he can choose to circ later if he wants to. I find lots of intactivist websites/facebook feeds to be littered with judgmental comments and ideas.

    But please, please be kind to yourself. I find *my*self wondering, Are my boys (yes, they BOTH have the same cosmetic defect!) gonna be pissed that I didn’t put them under for a 20 minute surgery to correct that gnarly looking thing? Now they have to worry about it at 18?

    We all worry and wonder, mama.

  10. I’m pretty much a hippie AP type parent, a breast fed for as long as I could, mourning when I stopped, I baby wear, I co-sleep but …. I have a secret.

    I gave my son a circ’d and have never once regretted it, and if I have another son, I will circ him too.

    It’s a personal choice, every parent needs to make for their son, whether to circ or not. I don’t force the issue, or make others feel weird for not circ’ing. I understand the reasons for doing it, and the reasons for not doing it.

    Never feel less than an AP parent than you are, just for not following all the AP “rules”.

  11. Yeah, I pretty much stopped hanging out with all my AP ‘friends’ & group because of all the judgement & the ‘I’m better than you attitude because I _____” It was suppose to be a group to support families learning to AP & I should of known when I first heard “Oh, I (emphasis) would never___” I think a lot of the moms there tried to feel better about themselves instead of helping the new moms feel better about the job they were doing. It’s disappointing & sad really, we teach our kids that they are to learn from their mistakes & it’s okay to make mistakes but when a parent makes a mistake all hell breaks loose. It didn’t help that as my oldest got older I went back to my instincts & what I saw growing up (my mom spanked me daily, if not more). When I would admit I swatted him the tsks& oh no’s & how could yous? I heard made me feel even worse.
    I wish the American society as a whole supported families better, you hear it takes a village to raise a child but it’s hard to have the village & support with everyone being so judgmental.

  12. Life has challenges enough without us making more for each other. You sound to me like a thoughtful person doing the best she can. We, each of us, make choices. Some good, some bad. We cannot ever know the truth of whether something was good or bad. There is an old story from China that I am very fond of, I think it applies here:

    There was an old man and his son who had a small farm. They had one horse and a plow and together they would work to make the yields they needed to live and pay their taxes. Life was hard but they survived. One day the horse broke free of the plow and ran off into the mountains.

    The son was convinced they were going to starve to death. He was shattered. Soon enough word spread around the small village nearby and many folk came out to offer condolences and help. Each one spoke in more dejected tones, convincing the son further that this was a horrible situation. How would they ever get the fields planted? Oh, the taxes would take all their food.

    Eventually they noted the old man simply sat, nodding and sipping his tea. When they asked him if he was disturbed about it, he replied. “The horse ran to the mountains; good, bad, who can say?”

    A week passed while the two did the best they could to plant the field without a horse to plow it. Suddenly in the distance they heard a lot of hooves and then came into view a goodly sized herd of horses being led by their horse. These wild horses were fairly easily corralled into a makeshift pen and the son was elated. He was convinced they were now rich beyond their wildest expectations. Soon word spread to the village and once again they were host to a myriad of visitors. This time each one convinced the son more about their great fortune.

    Once again they noted the old man sat calmly sipping his tea. When asked if he was excited, he replied. “We now seem to be in possession of a herd of horses; Good, bad, who can say?”

    A few days later, after all was settled and a more permanent corral was underway, the son decided to break one of the horses so he could have his own riding horse. Well, sure enough he was thrown and broke his leg in three places as well as his hip. He was going to be a long time in recovery and now they would have to sell a number of the horses just to pay for the doctor to come all the way out and see to him. They would also have to sell more so that he could get the care he would need and lastly the old man would have to hire help for the fields and so they would really likely only be slightly better off than before.

    Well the son was crestfallen and of course felt responsible for such hardship he had put on his father. Soon enough villagers began to come by and offer both condolences but also chide the son for his foolishness. People being what they are and taking great opportunity to place themselves above someone in misery.

    Again it was noted the old man sat calmly, sipping his tea and looking at his son with care and understanding.

    When asked if he were either upset or worried, the old man replied. “My son has injured himself. But I think he will recover in time. I am glad for this. The other? Good, bad, who can say?”

    A week later the military marched into town and conscripted all the able bodied young man and marched them off to war. The son, injured as he was, stayed at home. Good, bad; who can say?

    I tell you this as a man who has been circumcised as a baby; I am certain your sons will love you no less, especially since you clearly care so deeply for them. I know I don’t hold it against my mom for doing what she thought was best based upon what she knew.

    Just keep doing what you are; loving them as best you know how.

  13. Circumcision is not a big topic in Germany, and I will freely admit that I do not know much about the topic. But I would say that everybody makes mistakes, and that as long as they were trying to do the best they could, their mistakes should be forgiven.

    Next, ask yourself one question. Or actually, ask yourself two questions. (Or a few more, who knows what this may lead to.)
    Have your parents made mistakes?
    Do you still love them?

    (And if you don’t, which is not a crime, what were the mistakes you could not forgive them? I am pretty certain that making a medically questionable decision for you at a time when you were not able to make the decision yourself was not the reason.)

  14. I felt nearly the exact same way as you for a long time. I was afraid to open to door to drama and my guilt kept me from saying anything. However, I finally wrote a blog post about my son’s circumcision and I was surprised about the support I got from intactivism supporters. I got a lot of really sweet comments on the post and on twitter. It really helped. I feel awful for that mom that she got reamed after making what was probably a really painful confession. I hope she listens to the people who were supportive and dismissed the jerk.

    (If you want to read my circumcision post, it’s here: http://mommys-monster.blogspot.com/2011/01/mom-guilt.html)

  15. I worry about this often, not because I made a similar mistake, but because I’m currently pregnant with baby #2, and I know my husband is going to want the baby circumcised. (We don’t yet know the sex.) I’m worried that I’m going to have to go into a lengthy explanation and really fight with many people about this. Why is circumcision so popular still? I don’t know. I also don’t want my son to someday want to get the procedure done himself, and resent me for not getting it done for him at birth. I had an ex-boyfriend who got it done at 13 because he felt ‘different’. Sad that outside pressures really made that big of an impression.

    I hope you’ve found peace, and I know that at the time, you did what you felt was right. You are a good momma.

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