We all have opinions. Some strong, some weak, some conforming, and others that are just way out there. When we become parents, we have even more opinions. Stronger opinions. Soap boxes to stand on and lectures to preach. Sleep deprivation and fear of the unknown create a perfect storm of rationally irrational thought. As parents, we recognize that our children are our world. It seems like everything we do, say, think, and feel has our children at the very heart. And that’s totally okay, because they are our children, and they are our world.
We need to recognize, however, that while our children are OUR world, they are not the world to everyone else.
I just ran a quick search of Amazon books with the keyword “parenting”, and this is the result:
204,636 results for Books: “parenting”
Over 200,000 books on parenting. Those are 200,000 differing opinions on how to parent a child: parenting with love and logic, parenting from the inside out, how we hurt our children, positive parenting, scream-free parenting, parenting without power struggles, parenting with grace, parenting with scripture, parenting as partners, imperfect parenting, peaceful parenting… the list goes on. Despite what some authors might hope for you to believe, there is no user manual for raising a child. What works for one family may not work for another. When we hear opinions contrary to our own (and I am just as guilty of this as anyone is), our first instinct always seems to be a defensive one – attack any opinion that is different.
Since we know what is best for our child and our family, we somehow translate that into knowing what is best for every child and every family.
We are so incredibly wrong to do that.
So many parenting issues are simplified into dichotomies. Parenting through a “black and white” lens is appealing. Choosing between two extremes can be so much easier than trying to understand the multi-faceted gray areas that actually exist. Unfortunately, those dichotomies can limit understanding and breed judgment. Those dichotomies limit our ability to form connections and learn from one another. They trap us in a mindset where our own beliefs are the only correct beliefs.
This is something I have struggled with over the course of the six years that I have been a mother. I am still attempting to expand my understanding and become more accepting of opinions that differ from my own. Understanding my biases and the issues that cause a knee-jerk reaction in me has helped me tremendously. When I come across an opinion that I do not agree with, where my first instinct is to disagree, I consciously force myself to step back, breathe, and reflect on what specifically is making me feel the way I do.
I try to understand the other person’s point of view – the life circumstances and experiences that brought them to hold their beliefs or opinions.
This isn’t always easy in the world of the internet. The ability to ask questions and have an open dialogue is incredibly limited when you do not personally know the other individual. Sometimes you can’t read between the lines or notice the subtle nuances of the other person’s writing style. At times, important ideas are inadvertently left out in writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something where I thought that my ideas were clearly articulated and easy to understand, only to find that I completely failed to connect to my readers. It is in these situations that I hope those who are reacting to my opinion give me the benefit of the doubt and attempt to clarify my intentions before jumping to any conclusion or judgment. I hope I can offer the same courtesy to others in return.
When we become parents, we join this amazing club. It’s a club of late nights, worries, no sleep, stress, messes, fear, smiles, hugs, joy, happiness, accomplishment, frustration, and unconditional love. We are in this together. We are all navigating through a sea of decision-making: breast vs. formula, co-sleeping vs. crib, in-home childcare vs. daycare center, crying it out vs. attachment parenting, disposable vs. cloth, stay at home vs. work outside the home, organic vs. conventional food, public school vs. private or homeschool, screen time vs. lean time, structure vs. free play…
These issues represent two ends of a continuum, and any number of parenting possibilities exist between the two extremes. I have my own views on these issues, and my views help determine how I raise my daughter.
But it is not my place to tell anyone else how to raise their child.
We are all a part of this amazing, special club where our greatest reward is the love of another human being. We need to support each other, because we need each other. Listening to, learning from, and empathizing with one another is imperative. Parenting is not “one size fits all.” We are all trying to do the very best we can for our own families. Instead of immediately putting down the parent whose opinions differ from our own, let’s instead try to engage in meaningful conversation. Ask them why they hold those specific opinions or beliefs. I bet they have a good reason.
And I bet we learn something new.