After a discussion with a friend last week, I had a moment of clarity. Then I read the article My Choice to Parent Differently Does Not Imply Your Way Is Wrong, and it confirmed my suspicions. Mothers take their roles seriously and want to think they’re making the best decisions possible for their children. The very idea that another mother is doing something completely different can strike fear into our hearts. Not because we think our way is right, per se, but because we fear our way is wrong.
- pinpoint an issue
- draw out how it’s affecting you
- label what you don’t like about it
- determine areas of responsibility
- figure out how it’s showing up
- say what you’d rather happen
- brainstorm solutions
When we are in a conversation with another mother, particularly ones who do things differently than we do, there are usually three things going on: the dialogue and both mothers’ inner monologues. Have you ever spoken with someone about your “way of doing things” only to have them turn around and tell you they do the opposite. And with great success. And now everyone is listening and you feel stupid. And suddenly you felt they were saying your way is wrong, or at best inferior. So you rise up and defend your own parenting style. And on and on.
I don’t think that’s what’s actually happening 99% of the time. You know why?
1. It’s not about you.
Most of the time when people argue with you or disagree with you, well, it isn’t really about you. They don’t care what you do in your own house with your own kids. What does it matter to them if you co-sleep or attachment feed or do cry-it-out or cloth diapering or whatever else. No, they simply don’t care that much. However, they do care if you are doing it right and they are doing it wrong. Not because it’s great to be right, but because no mother wants to be wrong. No mother wants their children to be less, have less or get the shaft because of their own bad choices.
2. No really… it isn’t about you.
Perhaps you skimmed point 1. I’ll say it again. Really, we are far too sensitive. We think parenting is zero-sum, as though there is one right way to do things. No mother wants their children to be the losers. So when others say they spank or don’t spank and it contradicts our way, we begin to talk about our own method – loudly and with gusto – and how well it has worked. Not because we want them to do what we do. Who cares? But because we want to convince ourselves that it’s okay. Our way is okay.
Our children are turning out well. Sure I may tell you that your children’s lack of boundaries will result in self-centered spoiled ungrateful hellions and you’ll be evicted from your own house when they hit teenage years. But really I’m thinking “Oh my goodness, am I so strict that my children are calling me Castro behind my back and planning their escape? I’m not letting them enjoy their own childhood!” I’m not trying to convince you of anything, I’m trying to reassure myself.
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3. You’re so vain, I bet you think…
You say you cloth diaper and another may hear, “Using disposables is so wasteful, what kind of example are you setting for your kids?” Sorry, that’s not what was said. I say, “I put my children down for a nap whether they want to sleep or not because sleep is so important.” Another mother might hear, “If you had control of your kids they would go to sleep when they are supposed to and not refuse to nap or stay up too late.”
Hold your horses, Barbie. I didn’t go there. One says “I’m considering homeschooling so we can spend more time together as a family” and others will hear “You must not like your kids very much if you don’t mind sending them to school everyday.” We hear through a filter of our own fears.
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We all may choose different ways of parenting. Some ways we will be quite sure of. Some will be borderline. Some we do because we don’t know what else to do. When we hear other mothers do things differently, we don’t need to jump in and shove our own method down their throats. Know why? They will think we are telling them they don’t have this motherhood thing figured out. Why will they think this? Because they know they don’t have this motherhood thing figured out. But neither do we.
Wouldn’t conversations go a lot differently if we voiced our fears to each other instead of justifying our own choices? If we want encouragement, we need to stop acting like we’ve got all the answers.