Go Knock Yourself Out With Unconventional Parenting, but Please Stop Talking About It

CC BY 2.0. Rennett Stowe

"Most people are already operating ‘off-grid’ in different ways to varying degrees, but the vast majority don’t feel the need to make a big lifestyle song and dance about it."

Last week a couple named Adele and Matt Allen appeared on British TV with their two young children, 5-year-old Ulysses and 1-year-old Ostara. The interview was a disaster. Ulysses crawled all over the couch, making animal sounds while the adults tried to talk, and Ostara eventually wandered to the corner of the room and peed on the floor before returning to climb on the couch.

Matt and Adele were hoping to promote their ‘off-grid’ parenting style, but, unfortunately for them, their kids’ behavior did a poor job of convincing viewers, who were apparently enraged by the Allens’ parenting philosophy. The son doesn’t go to school. The family does not vaccinate, nor do they believe in modern medicine; Ulysses was left to sweat out his chickenpox and scarlet fever. He still breastfeeds. Both children were born at home, unassisted by midwives, and the placentas were left to rot off, in true lotus birth fashion, treated with salt and rose petals.

The couple, who currently lives in Brighton, is also trying to raise £100,000 to fund an off-grid lifestyle in Costa Rica. The money would be used to buy plane tickets and a plot of land on which to “grow food and have access to wildlife and nature in its natural state.” Not surprisingly, the Allens’ Fund My Travel page (which isn't doing too well) has received a great number of attacks since the TV interview, most of which follow this theme:

“It doesn't seem particularly self-sufficient if you're asking other people to pay for it and then relying on the income from an unrepresentatively large property in a developing economy. I think the word you are looking for is self-indulgent.”

Something about the Allens really rubbed people the wrong way, and I think it’s the fact that we’re sick to death of hearing about so-called unconventional parenting. It’s gotten to the point where unconventional has become so trendy that it has become conventional. The beliefs shared earnestly by the Allens are not unusual; they’re a bit clichéd and thoroughly established. (If you wanted to be truly unconventional, be a parent who adheres to rules. You’ll really stand out.)

The difference between the Allens and most other parents these days is that they’re an extreme example. They’ve embraced everything that falls within the ‘unconventional’ definition, rather than carefully choosing what works for them and what doesn’t. While they are absolutely entitled to do this, one can’t help but wonder how much of their philosophy is about them upholding an ideal, rather than their children. They risk looking like ‘parent narcissists,’ in the words of Guardian columnist Barbara Ellen:

“What Parent Narcissists seem to find too unbearable to acknowledge is that most people are already operating ‘off grid’ in different ways to varying degrees, but the vast majority don’t feel the need to make a big lifestyle song and dance about it. I’ve known people who have done prolonged breastfeeding/family beds/home-schooling or whatever, but they didn’t feel the need to relentlessly harp on about their choices as though they were ancient seers gifted with special wisdom from the organic tie-dye parenting angels.”

When I think of my own childhood – raised in the forest of northern Ontario, home-schooled in a cabin with a wood stove that I had to light each morning, no Internet connection or television – I don’t think my mom and dad ever used the word ‘philosophy’ or ‘parenting style.’ They certainly never spoke or wrote publicly about how unique their approach to raising kids was. They did it because they liked living in a beautiful, rural setting, were able to earn a living, and were not satisfied by the local school.

We are tired of hearing about people like the Allens insisting they’ve got something really fabulous going on. Good for them, I say, but it wouldn’t work for me – not in a million years. Parenting is a deeply personal thing, and no amount of self-promotion will make me adopt practices that don’t feel authentic. Rather than generating all kinds of hostility, I think the Allens would do better to put their heads down, work hard for a few years to pay off their own plot of land, and quietly head off to Costa Rica. Or maybe Wales instead. It's closer.