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!