Don’t Personalize My Parenting
Me & my Godson, living it up.
This is a big phatty reminder to all of us, me first. Don’t personalize each other’s parenting. Remember how I was in Virginia for my Godson’s baptism? With my wonderful family and wonderful in-law family (well, my brother’s in-laws, but we’ve all claimed them for our own we love them so)? I really learned something about myself when we were there, in the land of milk & honey & the Shenandoah River Valley. I realized how personally I take other parents’ decisions.
This personalization looks different than judging. We’ve talked about the difference between being judgmental and making a judgment. We’ve talked about parenting styles that vary. We’ve talked about children driving you insane so you just eat cookies in the dark pantry (and chocolate chips!) while in your 2-day-old PJs and your hair starting to dreadlock–true story, that. Personalization is more elusive than an outright disagreement at parents’ choices; it’s downright disgust at them, or better yet, horror or anger.
Here’s the sitch: I’m chatting one night over a dinner banquet with my beautiful sissie-in-law while she allows me to snuggle my Godson. She’s sharing about life and I’m sharing about life and then it happens. She mentions a friend whose child attends a few hours a week preschool, and how for this stay-at-home mom that time when children are doing structured projects and artwork etc, is needed and valued for the merit of the activities pursued. I find myself reacting strongly. Unstructured free play is more important for developing children’s creativity than art worksheets. Play dates with friends at 3 is better than sitting on the floor of some carpeted rental space listening to an adult read a book at you. I certainly can’t understand how and why families would think this is crucial, helpful, or God forbid, necessary! for their toddler or little child’s development. What books are they reading???
Okay, I didn’t say it all, but I was thinking it. I was thinking it bad with that Mrs. White from Clue flames-on-the-side-of-my-face feeling. My sister-in-law reacted as calmly as she usually does, noting my objections to her friend’s parenting choices. The conversation shifted as someone interrupted, or also wanted to snuggle our little nephew. I went to bed uneasy, feeling robbed. Feeling rude. Feeling unresolved.
The following day, talking with my sister who also has a little girl, just between SuperBoy and SweetPea in age, I slowly realized why I had reacted so ferociously. I was personalizing that parent’s choice. I was imagining my son in that position, reacting how I feel about the strict necessities of preschool (didn’t even know I felt so fiercely!), and then pinning those emotions on that parent. Maybe, too, I felt that I needed to defend why we’re opting out of preschool for SuperBoy. Like these parents’ decision threatened our own. Like if they did it, it was a referendum on what we’re choosing, to not do it.
Moral of my long story: don’t personalize my parenting. My epidural-free labors, my cloth diapers, my organic homemade baby food, my screen-free household, my organic knitting and sewing. My staying at home. I don’t do it to make you feel badly. I don’t do it to prove something, any more than those parents of that toddler were opting for nursery school to make the rest of us look like uncultured cavemen. I do it because this is what works for our family, and what I firmly believe is healthiest, or the most delicious, or the most enjoyable–okay, not the labor part, but the knitting. I do it because it’s working now, but reserve the right to change anytime it’s not!
I promise not to personalize your parenting. Let’s try to make parenting just a smidge easier by supporting each other. And appreciating the beauty of family & taking a village to love a child!
This gives me a lot to chew on this morning…your story reminded me of a time when I saw on FB (<– the dreaded source of way too much parenting comparison and anxiety, sigh) that a relative was looking for friends' input on local preschool choices but she was specifically NOT interested in Montessori. Why did I choose to take that statement as a punch in the gut, a reflection upon our own family's love of Montessori and our celebration of an amazing individualized, caring school environment where we've been astonished to watch our son grow, socially and intellectually? Why didn't I just turn to wonder instead and muse about "I wonder why she feels that why and I wonder why her words provoke such a strong reaction in me?" No, I decided to brood over it and feel defensive for too long that she was reacting against our choice instead of making her own. I'm intrigued and puzzled as to why it seems to be parenting that provokes these strongest reactions in us: I don't feel like any of my friend's professional choices in terms of the career they chose are in any way a reflection of my own; I'd never worry that people in my life are making decisions about relationships and marriage as a judgment on my own marriage. But parenting seems to be full of land mines like this. Probably because it is ripe with insecurity – am I doing this right? – and full of fear-tinged love at its foundation – I love my child more than life and want to do right by him/her. So it's hard. It's daily hard, and we all judge, and we wish we and others did it less. Practice makes perfect? Thanks for a thought-provoking post…
So eloquent, as always, Laura. It must be that concern we all ache with that we’re not giving our child his or her best environment, or best opportunities. Thus, when someone opts for a way different than our own, it IS personal. Or so we think. I went back and apologized to my sister-in-law and explained the next day. We did go on to discuss why parenting feeeeeeels so personal in contrast to other live paths, as you said. Although perhaps for friends & family who aren’t parents, they have a niche in their lives they feel the same about.
What a lovely lovely post. And great picture at the end!!! It is so hard to parent – we just all have to believe our friends, families, and those they care about are trying as best they can to make the right choices for their families. But so hard to recognize that sometimes!!!
Thank you, Tasslyn. It is hard, most especially to remind ourselves that just because a choice is right for us does not give us the right to impose that on others, and then be upset by their choices! I didn’t realize how intensely I must have felt challenged by others’ choices until this instance. Now I can laugh and say, “chill out, Nell! This doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong!”
Umm….you do know that most families HAVE to have both parents working and your parenting choices aren’t ever a choice for them? You’re really lucky to be able to have the freedom to parent as you prefer.
Thanks for commenting, Veronica. I’m sorry, I must have not been clear. I have no beef with dual working households; most of my family and friends are in that boat. I was addressing the personalization I observed in myself regarding other people’s lives and life choices, and realizing how immature and unnecessary that is to personalize their decision for their child’s school environment. And the stay-at-home part referred to my life choices, in addition to other choices that people may feel is a judgment or referendum on them–like the organic baby food or cloth diapers, and I hope they don’t feel that way because it’s not my intention!
[…] The perceived hubris of the unmedicated birth stands the same, always: I’m a tougher, more natural, more loving mother because I embraced terrible suffering to bring you into this world, little one. Hey, not only is that inaccurate but also unfair. As with so many ideals, sometimes things don’t work out. I needed pitocin with SweetPea to jump start things. Many a friend has done natural births a few times and then switched to medicated, ne’er looking back with regret. Some people’s births don’t go the natural way; some people don’t want their births to go the natural way. These are not moral decisions. Parenting styles, not parenting values. […]
One thing I have really noticed a difference in when I compare New Zealand (where I live) with America are the preschools.
I don’t know any preschools in New Zealand that are NOT play based and child led.
Unfortunately that all changes once they get older…
I also know how you mean, I react so strongly when I compare my parenting (much like yours) with my Sister in Laws (CIO from birth, full time daycare etc) that I lose sight of how much we both love our children and each other.
So wise! And a great reminder to focus on our commonalities and love.