Stay-at-home or working mom? Attachment parent or sleep trainer? Breast or bottle? What is it about parenting that divides us into different camps and forces us to defend our choices as the “best” way? Sometimes it feels like parents need utter certainty that we are doing the “right” thing, rather than doing what’s best for us and for our families.
In the business world, the benefits of competition can include lower prices, a higher quality of service, and more innovation. But when it comes to parenting, the results of competitiveness are usually only resentment, guilt, contempt, and judgment. Not exactly the kind of behavior we want to model for our kids.
Instead let’s come together and support each other through the intensely emotional time of becoming a parent. We can brainstorm ways to be good parents, discover how to enjoy the journey, and come up with changes for the times when what we’re doing isn’t working. And because there will be times when our best efforts fail, let’s create a support network to help us bounce back.
If you’re with me, then let’s all pledge to:
Anyone who has had a teething baby scream for three days knows parents will consider any and all tips for ways to make it stop. It’s important for expecting and new parents to be able to consider all their options for everything from feeding and sleep schedules to gear. And that means hearing what worked or didn’t work for other parents. But it doesn’t have to mean labeling someone else’s choice as wrong, even if they’re different from yours.
Be true to ourselves
It’s hard not to be jealous of others’ success when you’re struggling to master a new parenting skill. But just because your neighbor’s son goes to sleep at 7, that doesn’t mean yours should. If one parent comes home later in the evening, bedtime might be pushed back. Or perhaps your child is a night owl. One parent may be a great playmate in the morning, while another needs time to have a cup of coffee first. Who’s to say what’s best for your family? Unless your schedule is causing problems for the kids, each family should honor its own preferences.
If everyone claims to be doing the right thing, how can we learn from each other’s mistakes? At your next mom’s group, try being honest about a struggle you’re having. Your candor may inspire other moms to share their experiences with you. You may be surprised to learn that the woman who advocates exclusive breastfeeding is actually having a hard time with it, or that the parents who co-sleep feel guilty about considering a crib. When everyone finally talks openly about what is working and what isn’t, you can brainstorm solutions together. Or at the very least, you can stop beating yourself up.
If you see a parent doing something that might work for your child, ask about it. You could benefit your family, support another parent’s choice, and demonstrate that it’s ok to ask for input. And if you get a reaction that’s more smug than helpful, remember that people are doing the best they can with what they have. Someone has to set the trend for collaborative, supportive conversations about parenting. Why not you? In time, you will surround yourself with like-minded people who value learning from and lifting up others.
Getting together with other adults doesn’t always have to happen with the kids. Get dressed up, call a friend, and venture out to do something that interests you as a grown up. You have permission to bond with other adults away from your baby. You may find that spending time energizing and refreshing yourself in this way helps you be a better parent. Or you could always bring your baby along if that feels more comfortable. Infants can be very portable, so strap on a carrier and go see that exhibit at the local museum.
Many of us forged our closest friendships in high school and college as we stumbled into our futures, made mistakes, and helped each other through various struggles. Entering parenthood is another period of transition, and it’s a great time to cultivate friendships based on shared experiences and mutual support.
Let’s vow to work toward these goals together. That way, maybe we can get back to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. If we know that we are living in a supportive, friendly environment, we can feel free to make the inevitable mistakes, learn from them, and move on.