Raising children in a world full of accessible opinion is a funny thing. Everyone seems to have an idea about how to do this right. Stay home, work full time, work part time, return to work, cry to sleep, not cry to sleep, pacifier, no pacifier…the recipe for each of us is different, of course. Often we’re all right in what we’re doing from picking out baby food to enrolling our child in preschool. But it doesn’t always feel that way when a barrage of comments and advice from relatives, friends, and people in the supermarket hit us in the shins. What people say about how we care for our children hurts far more than salt in a wound. Editorials on our parenting can seriously linger.
Recently I talked with Liz Szabo at USA Today about this issue. She wrote a popular article called, Why do mothers judge one another and their parenting? where she quoted me and a number of other moms & doctors about our experiences.
Most people who read it tell me it makes them feel better.
I’m half way through the book Instinctive Parenting by Ada Calhoun. The introduction and first few chapters are mesmerizing. I found myself nodding, laughing, gasping out loud– it seemed she and I were so aligned. She made me feel like we really all can do this perfectly. Armed with instincts, we really can help our children thrive. But then about 10 chapters in it started to feel like even in a book about trusting yourself, not the voices in the news/baby books/neighborhood/playground, she had a story to tell. And something about it felt as if it was instructive, too. Not steeped in judgment, but instructive. As if in parenting, to steel ourselves into trusting our own instincts we may have to believe in the demonization of the other side or opinion. Maybe it’s simply instinctual to feel righteous about how you do it. Maybe it inspires the confidence we all need?
Here’s how I see it:
- Competitive parenting abounds. We all know what it feels like to be judged or evaluated in what we do. Yet, we become righteous towards others when we’re successful in a task/method and feel everyone else should do the same. This makes sense and is how we “get through.” But often there is far more than one “right” way to do things.
- As a pediatrician I see parents for checkups every day I’m in clinic. Every parent has some concern about how to care for, protect, and raise their child. Don’t let other parents fool you; we all have questions about how to do this well.
- Besides a few important safety measures (back to sleep for infant sleep, using car seats properly) most parenting issues have multiple right answers. That is, there are many ways to all of this right. I agree with Ada, trusting your own instincts, not the instincts of others, is the best way to proceed.
- Listening to our friends and family who are raising children may be far more important than telling. Employing a virtual muzzle to stifle opinions might help all of us! As my mother in law said yesterday, “If someone isn’t asking for advice, whatever advice you provide will be perceived as criticism.”
- Often when we become judgmental of other parents, it’s because we’re evaluating our own choices.
- A big debate and source of sour feelings come around the decision to stay home versus work while raising families. This decision and tension is usually more challenging for women. From the time you return to work (or don’t) from maternity leave, there will be people telling how to do it right. Only you will know the perfect balance of work and time at home for yourself. Your recipe for balance will likely not be the same of even those you respect or emulate. Often you won’t know what is perfect straight away. Have patience with your decisions; you can always change your mind.