***WARNING, STRONG LANGUAGE***
Parents are bombarded on the daily with opinions, advice, direction, and judgment.
We are judged for just about every aspect of child-rearing: For having a natural birth or planning a C-section, extended breastfeeding, or not breastfeeding, for bottle-feeding or exclusive breastfeeding, for co-sleeping or independent sleeping, for vaccinating on schedule or taking an alternative path, for yelling, spanking, using time-outs, what we let our kids play with, what we read to them, or if we don’t….gosh I could go on and on.
It’s all bullshit. There. I said it.
It took me a while to figure it out. In my early days as a parent advisor and preschool teacher, doula, nanny…I had read the books and I learned the *right* ways to raise a child. Even after getting my Masters degree, learning about what is best for optimal brain development, healthy emotional regulation, while parenting my daughter, I was pretty arrogant about the right way.
I was young.
When I began practicing as a counselor I learned a few things very quickly:
1. That I cared deeply about people who cared about different things than I did.
2. There was no ONE *right* way.
3. Even doing my very best, I made mistakes and “messed up” my kid. (In quotes because she wasn’t really messed up, but yeah, we had to process and heal through some less than optimal choices I made along the way.)
I had to wrestle with a lot of parental guilt over that last one.
But you all helped with that. I witnessed all the various ways that mamas felt was the right way for THEM to raise their kids and I got to be a part of helping them do that! What an exhilarating honor!
So I have the privilege to help you with this whole guilt thing.
It’s connected to the “mommy wars” and if you know me even a little you know how much I dislike the mommy wars – when mothers pit against each other arguing what’s the best way, and shaming and putting each other down for making choices that they each would never make. Makes my blood boil, it does.
What it comes down to is this:
We are not confident in our own choices. Doing the best we can, but trying desperately to be validated in our culture and by our own children in the way they behave, how healthy they are, etc. It’s hard to be confident when everywhere you turn other people feel they have the right to tell you what you’re doing wrong.
So we turn around and judge those doing it differently. We do this as a way to validate OURSELVES. “If they are wrong, and I can convince others and myself of that, I’m more likely to feel good about my own choices.”
Yeah! But it doesn’t work.
Because when we undermine someone else’s best efforts raising a human being in this world, we undermine all parents.
Even when abuse is happening. Especially when.
Working at the crisis center I hear from parents who are struggling to get out of a domestic violence situation, or trying to find balance after learning their child was sexually assaulted by a family member, and they are just keeping their heads above water. And you’ll never hear me tell someone what they are doing wrong, unless they ask for suggestions or reassurance about something specific. At that point, they need solid support, unconditional positive regard. Validation.
Instead, I ask questions. Which is what we can all do. Not with a tone of challenging them and laced with snark, but with sincere compassion, “How is that working for you?” “What do YOU need?” Because if someone is struggling, they aren’t going to be able clarify what they want and need. “How did you come to that decision?” The answer helps me to understand their thinking, what’s happening for them, where they feel desperate, where their personal values and convictions lie. This helps me truly support their decisions even if I disagree with them because guess what? Their decisions aren’t about me.
The other thing that happens in our culture is that so often we get told over and over what NOT to do. But it’s hard to find anyone that can offer any good solid advice on what to do instead.
“Don’t spank” turns into “But now I just yell all the time!” becomes “Don’t yell” which leads to, “Well, what then? Just let my kinds run amok?” Which unfortunately is what happens so often.
I have some suggestions on what to do instead in my ebook you can get when you sign up for my newsletter.
Ending the mommy wars goes hand in hand with ending parental guilt. Let’s learn to ask questions and listen, find out the thought process of someone else’s decisions, or even simply accept that there IS one, so we don’t have to know it to trust it is the right one for them. And at the same time, let’s begin to trust our own decisions, so we don’t need to attack someone else’s to feel more confident about it.
And to do this, we need a village. A community of supportive, caring parents, with diverse parenting styles and decisions.
I’m honored to be leading the way in my community, and hopefully the world by the ripple effect.
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