It’s a tricky thing, parenting. We’re often our own worst critics, berating ourselves for our mistakes, and second-guessing our choices. Add to that the near constant barrage of opinions from society at large, and we have a recipe for confusion, self-doubt, and self-flagellation. In this current era of blogs, social media, and instant information, we have the unique opportunity to be able to connect with and support other parents like never before. We can help each other explore new ideas. re-examine old ones, and make healthier choices for our children and families.
But we’re sabotaging the conversation, in a big way… and it might not be the way you think. The following are things I hear on my Facebook page on a regular basis, comments that are not only not helping, but are actively hurting (and in some cases, outright stopping) the dialogue on parenting, and preventing others from hearing new perspectives.
1. Mommy Wars – You guys. We really need to retire this phrase. “Mommy Wars” just don’t exist. There is only a war if you choose to engage in one. Motherhood is a journey, not a competition, and every mother you meet is going to be in a different place in her journey. If you come across a person or an article or a blog post with a different opinion than your own (which, by the way, is not the same thing as a “war”), and it makes you angry, you have a CHOICE. Every time. Remember, you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to. You can walk away. You can realize that one person’s perspective is not the same thing as a personal attack on you. You can take an honest look at yourself and try to determine why your feelings and reactions were so strong in the first place. You can open yourself up to learning something new. You can use it to further your own dialogue on good parenting. Oftentimes the best, most productive discussions arise from people who disagree and can do so kindly…. people who can put aside their own egos, discuss the issue at hand, and learn from it. But that can only happen if you stop crying, “Mommy wars!” every time someone has a contrary opinion to your own. We are not in a war, and continuing to insist that we are only stops you from being able to move forward.
2. “Sanctimommy” – This ridiculous word is like “Mommy Wars”‘s modern day cousin. A mom shares an opinion or a perspective or a counter to some popular bit of advice, and toes get stepped on. A nerve is struck, and someone inevitably says it: “Stop being such a SANCTIMOMMY!” It is silly and juvenile. No good ever comes from name-calling. Let’s just start there. It’s pretty much just good manners 101. Beyond that though is this pervasive belief that the sharing of an opinion that may make you uncomfortable is the same thing as being sanctimonious, or judgmental, or out to prove that “my way is better than your way.” This is not a competition. (See number one) Just a couple of nights ago, I shared a popular parenting article about a “creative” way to ground your kids, along with my reasons for choosing to do things differently. A respectful conversation followed, until it was abruptly interrupted with, “You need to butt the hell out of other people’s lives. Stop being so judgmental, and making others feel inferior.” Clearly, I struck a chord. But here’s the thing: I can’t make someone feel inferior. Can’t do it. No one can. The only person who’s in charge of how she feels is the person who owns said feelings. If you’re feeling judged or uncomfortable from something you’ve read, those are your feelings to have and to examine. Sharing opinions does not equate to being sanctimonious and judgmental, and frankly, if it did, the accuser in this scenario would be just as guilty as the accused (actually, moreso, because she was rude on top of it.) Do people ever share things in an inflammatory way? Sure. And if and when it happens, we can choose to walk away. Let’s stop this. Let’s choose to stop taking everything as a personal attack. Let’s choose to assume positive intent. Let’s choose to help one another. Let’s choose to actually dialogue. Let’s choose to stop throwing around words like “Sanctimommy” and “judgmental.” The reason I continue to write about parenting issues (quite honestly, sometimes the only reason) is that I want to help new and/or questioning parents to find healthy ways to have closer, more joyful, more connected relationships with their kids. The only way any of us can do that is through conversation…. conversations that peel apart ideas, question the status quo, and really dig into why we do and do not make certain parenting decisions. Effective conversations simply cannot be had with people who come out of the gate calling names and making inflammatory accusations, and such behavior does nothing to help other parents.
3. To each his own. I completely understand why people say this. I do. It’s important to respect individual decisions when those decisions aren’t infringing on anyone else. And there are many, many areas in which it could apply…. what a family chooses for education; where they live; whether or not they choose to practice a religion; what kind of jobs they have, and whether or not they choose to have both parents working or one of them staying home. Etc. But “to each his own” can be a remarkably unhelpful comment when it comes to parenting, and this is why: it encourages complacency, a shrugging of the shoulders, and an attitude of “Eh, whatever works for them.” And when kids are being treated in disrespectful ways, we should never be satisfied with complacency. Children unfortunately aren’t often given a voice. We have to be that voice on their behalf. A lot of times parents aren’t aware of alternatives. A lot of times they haven’t received the support or the resources to realize that they have other options. A lot of times they just haven’t stepped outside themselves long enough to really see what it is they’re doing, why they’re doing it, or what kind of effect it’s having on their relationship with their children. The way – the only way – we can help each other with solutions is by talking about it. And that can’t happen if the conversation is summarily dismissed with a flippant “to each his own.”
4. Different methods work for different kids. I understand why people say this too. I have four very different children, which is what I imagine parents are referring to when they say things like this. But while they all have different personalities, different ways of relating with myself and others, and different learning styles, my core value of aspiring to parent gently and with respect remains unchanged among the four of them. Much like “to each his own,” falling back on a “different methods work for different kids” as a reason to spank for instance, can lead to a failure to investigate other options. People will tell you that some kids need to be spanked, but that is not the case when you’re aware of alternatives. And while lots of things may “work” in the moment, it doesn’t mean they are the healthiest, most respectful choices. As an aside, my one child who conventional parenting would have dictated “needed” to be spanked is now the most gentle, laid-back teenager you could ever hope to meet. Our kids are not ours to experiment with. They are human beings, and our “method” of relating to them should be treated with the same care, attention, and respect as it would with any other loved one. Our efforts are best put towards partnering with them and helping them come up with solutions, not in trying out new ways to punish them.
5. I was _________ and I turned out fine.
Oh how this one frustrates me. Often used in defense of spanking, it rings as a very strange and stubborn refusal to learn something new. First, I would argue that if you’re advocating for something like using physical force against a small human being who is 1/4 of your size, you’re probably not as fine as you believe. Secondly, don’t we want better than “fine” for our own kids? I know I do! Previous generations have done all kinds of things that we now know to do differently. Babies used to be held on their parents laps in cars, not secured in car seats. We now know that car seats save lives. I used to drive my bike all over creation without a helmet. We now know that helmets save lives, too. My mother in law tells a story of how she remembers being in the hospital after giving birth to my husband (in the 70’s)…. her new baby in one arm, and a lit cigarette in the other. Of course, that’s no longer allowed, because we know that it’s not exactly good for the baby. And I say this not to fault our parents…. not at all! I have great parents. My husband has great parents. Like the rest of us, they loved their kids and did their best with the information that they had at the time. But one of the wonderful things about life is that there are always new things to learn, always new information to be absorbed. And when we know better, we should do better. To refuse to do so in an effort to cling to old ways is categorically unfair… unfair to ourselves, unfair to our kids, and unfair to the generation that’s coming up behind them. We can do better. We can always do better.
Despite the naysayers who continually try to get me to feel otherwise, I have faith in my fellow moms. I do. I believe that everyone reading this is smart, and strong, and willing to cut through the BS, drop the ego, and ask the hard questions. I believe that we can put our focus on parenting, and parenting well; and that we can do away with the unhelpful words and comments up above, which, at the end of the day, are nothing more than noise.