The Gentle Parenting Industrial Complex Robbed Me of My Maternal Instincts. Here’s How I Got Them Back.


I bought my diaper bag when I was barely five months pregnant. It was the one everyone seemed to have, and it was on sale. I kept it in a closet with all its packing tissue untouched until the baby came. There would be times in my pregnancy when I would need some sort of large vessel to ferry goods from my Brooklyn apartment across the East River and several New York City blocks toward the Hudson, but the diaper bag never crossed my mind. It was a diaper bag. Not a computer bag. Not a sack lunch bag. In a sense, the bag didn’t even belong to me. It belonged to diapers.

When the baby came, I was deeply in love but also deeply in shock. The hospital was really going to let us take her home? Did they not understand that we, like, didn’t know how to do anything? We drove 18 miles per hour the entire way back to our apartment.

Those first two weeks, I didn’t leave the house. While my family was concerned about me getting some fresh air, I was concerned about my diaper bag. Would it ever get a chance to do its thing and shine bright? I wasn’t ready to leave the house for a diaper-bag-worthy excursion, but as I sat on the couch watching countless episodes of Below Deck with no sense of up or down, day or night, Captain Lee or Captain Sandy, I could feel the diaper bagpulse like a tell-tale heart beneath the floorboards. Use me, it bellowed.

I took it out from its place in the closet, unpacked the tissue and explored its every nook and cranny: a neoprene slip for a bottle. A bungee clip here, a bungee clip there. Several mesh pockets. A secret zipper.  It had been designed with such specificity for diapering, all of which went over my head. Not only did I have a baby I didn’t understand how to work, but the internal organs of this diaper bag further complicated my understanding of parenting. I called my friend in a panic.

“Would it be…crazy to put, like, my pump in the diaper bag?” I braced myself for humiliation: “A BREAST PUMP? It’s a diaper bag, dummy!!! But instead, my friend laughed and said, “It’s for whatever the fuck you want.”

Two years later, I have since left the house with said diaper bag and baby and have still never figured out how to keep my stuff organized in all its many storage options. But I share that story because as trite as it seems, it is what I continuously need to refer back to when I don’t trust myself as a parent…which is often. Sure, I can mute the influx of gentle parenting accounts on Instagram, but the lingo has infiltrated the airwaves. Everyone seems to know better than you when it comes to sharing, feeding, tantrums, manners, Montessori, screen time, etc. There’s a script for every type of interaction you can possibly have with a toddler. “Oh, Dr. Becky said to click your heels together three times and say ‘there’s no place like home,’ next time your 2-year-old spits and yells ‘I POOPING’ at the checkout clerk.” I nod, “Oh yeah, I have to try that! I don’t know what I’m doing!” And I mean that. I feel that: I don’t know what I’m doing.

Parenting a toddler in public is like trying to figure out what those damn bungee clips are for as the time bomb ticks down to 0:00. At pickup, my child refuses to get in the stroller, yells “No Mama!” and proceeds to run (OK, waddle) toward the street as I chase her like I’m a really bad kidnapper. “Do you follow Peace and Parenting? She has a really good tip for when you clearly have lost control over your child and they’re running into the street,” a fellow parent asks after me. “Oh, I need to! Thank you!” I yell as I scoop my kid up a few inches before the curb. My child is maniacally laughing, “Again! Again!” The other parents stare as I performatively spew some Instagram parenting wordage: “I EMPATHIZE WITH YOUR NEED FOR SPEED BUT MOMMY NEEDS TO KEEP YOU SAFE.” I quietly bribe her with cookies to get her in the stroller. “Y'all have a good night!” I say as we stroll off. WTF I’ve never said “y’all” in my life.

That night, I can’t sleep. Do I have to incorporate “y’all” into my speech every time I see these parents? What if we become life-long friends? I think up a Texas backstory. 

The next morning, my toddler goes ballistic. She sleeps in, but she just seems off. She’s not running a fever, but she’s scream-crying at every move I make. I mentally page through the parenting scripts in my brain. Filed under: #connectiveparenting #cooperation #empathy  BOOM: “You know what, sweetie?” I ask as she flails on the ground. “I’ve been wondering, how do you think I’m doing as your parent?” She pauses for a millisecond as if she’s actually considering the question, and then “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” I nod. “I’m really glad you’re sharing that with me. I’m gonna think on that.” I pull up another script: “I completely understand that you’re upset because…because you just are. I love that you are always you.” Thank god she’s too deregulated to even try to piece together the nonsense coming out of my mouth. I take a step back and remember: I can put whatever I want in the diaper bag.

I look at my daughter, all red and blotchy from crying and clearly uncomfortable. I scoop her into my arms in a big bear hug and rock her back and forth and side to side. She calms down. Her eyes flutter. She almost immediately falls asleep on my chest and stays there for the next hour. When she wakes, she smiles sweetly and says, “Hi Mama.”

I may never know what those bungee clips are for. But I do know that I’m her mama. There are social media accounts for every type of parenting stage and style. You can find a script or hack for whatever issue you’re dealing with. These are great resources. But as someone who let the pockets in a diaper bag make me question my own intuition, I have to remember that the parent industrial complex wants me to push down my gut feelings and buy this book, that toy, this philosophy. Maybe it’s time to use a gentle parenting script on myself: I know you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and other parents judge you, but trust yourself to know your own child and her needs.

The only thing I have to pack in my diaper bag? My maternal instincts. OK, and cookies to bribe my kid with.


Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...