A few months ago a mother posted a question on the NPN Facebook page asking for advice on how to navigate unwanted questions/criticism from other parents and avoid potential clashes over parenting practices. This is my response:
Recently, I was standing in a school corridor, waiting for my six year old. My baby was snoozing in his carrier as I chatted with another mother.
A familiar woman passed us and turned around. Recognizing her from my four year old daughter’s preschool, I smiled and waved. “I haven’t seen you in a long time!” she said. “The baby’s getting so big! Is he sleeping better for you?”
I was confused. I didn’t remember talking to her about the Bear’s sleeping. “Well, you know, he sleeps like a six month old!” I said jokingly.
“Oh, I understand!” she said, intoning that she had been in the same boat. ”You know the magic trick, right? Just pop him in the crib and let him cry. It may take a few nights, but he will figure out that it’s time for bed and eventually go to sleep.” I nodded politely while mentally filing the advice away under, Things That Won’t Work For Us.
When I arrived home that night, I told the story to my husband. He smiled, amused at the assumption that every parent is game for “Cry-it-out.”
While is clear that “alternative” parenting ideals are becoming more mainstream, they are still far from the norm. Like anything that is perceived as being new or different, these practices tend to stir up a hot bed of emotions. Moms, especially new mothers, often find themselves at the mercy of unsolicited parenting advice. While it is a sad state of affairs, no one seems to be more critical of an individuals parenting ideals than other parents.
I have developed some strategies to help parents effectively navigate conversations about these “real world” hotbed topics without reverting to judgments or disrespect.
- Keep conversation light and neutral. Typically, I don’t open the doors for controversial topics so they aren’t normally brought up. I tend to ask other mothers about their children. As a new mother, I didn’t want the third degree on when I was going to start solids. I wanted to hear how sweet my boy looked in his puppy outfit!
- If someone does ask me about a topic where emotions run high, such as breastfeeding, I try to offer a non-confrontational/ non-judgmental response. Such as, “Yes, I really enjoy breastfeeding and it works well for us. I know it isn’t always easy.” Most often people will nod and agree with me. If they care to elaborate about why breastfeeding didn’t work for them, I try to validate their feelings without passing judgment: “Wow, that sounds really difficult. It must have been very hard for you.” I find that if I don’t attack their choices, they are unlikely to attack mine.
- When a conversation heads south, play “pass the bean dip.” Changing the topic is the best way to cut a potential heated debate off at the head.
- New moms, take heart, It gets easier with older children. I have found that the “divide” between mainstream and natural parents lessens over time. While the early years can be ripe with controversial topics, the school years tend to less about parenting and more about the child. Conversations at t-ball now revolve around how to make time for school work and family life or how hard it is to keep on top of the laundry.
- Sometimes, questions are asked for good reasons. Last year, a woman stopped me to ask if I cloth diapered. I immediately became defensive. After I was able to let my guard down and listen, I found that she wanted more information about the process and diaper products.
- Try to remember that we are all in this together. All parents have one thing in common: we love our children. We all have funny stories about the things our toddlers do and say. It’s those shared, common experiences that can bond us all together beyond our opinions on any given topic.
- Looking for support? Find some like-minded mamas. Check out some local playgroups, search for natural parenting groups online. Here are a couple of web sites for local meeting times and places:
Photo Credit: Stephanie Mcleod