As parents, many of us have been on the receiving end of well-meaning parenting advice at some point and often from people who don’t have children of their own.
Before I had my son, I certainly had my own idea of the kind of mum I would be; and now that I am one, the reality couldn’t be further away.
I was going to be the parent with the well-behaved child, who ate everything on his plate, had impeccable manners and never a hair out-of-place. I was NEVER going to give him a dummy (I lasted 3-weeks), he was only going to eat fresh, locally sourced, organic food (pizza is our friend) and I would remain calm, patient and never raise my voice to him, EVER (hahahahahaha).
None of us are perfect, but we are all doing the best we can with what we know. It is for the parent and child to work out such details as potty training methods, ways to discipline and breast or bottle feeding, together. There is more than one way to raise a child and what works for one, may not work for another. Just ask my sister-in-law, mother to twin boys who could not be more opposite in terms of looks, temperament or behaviour.
I know my son is happy, adored and well looked after. So, when someone who does not have kids feels the need to make ‘suggestions’ on the way I am raising my child, I tend to take a deep breath, smile and let it go.
But should parents who judge other parents know better?
As parents, surely we can all agree that we want the same thing – the best for our kids. And, that we all have our own style of doing things and children with very different personalities and needs.
Does someone else’s way make your way wrong, or just different?
I often feel insecure about making parenting decisions. I want to trust my instincts, but my mind is overloaded with information from books, magazines, blogs, friends, family and random strangers on the street. Maybe this has led me to feel a bit sensitive when I feel I am being judged for one.
Do we really need to be critical of other people’s choices to feel better about our own?
When I tell you that I did not breastfeed my son, I can tell by the way that you flinch that you have an opinion on this. ‘That’s a shame’ you say.
I agree that it is. I do not tell you that I tried. Nor of the specialists who tried to help. I do not go into the details of my breast surgery, elevated levels of thyroid antibodies and low levels of prolactin because, well, I don’t know you very well and also it’s not really any of your business.
When you ask what my plans are for the day and I tell you I have a blog post to write and then I am off to a Pilates class, I can see you rolling your eyes. You do not know that I returned to full-time employment for 3-years after my son was born. I do not tell you that on the nights I did not make it home in time to kiss him goodnight, read him a bedtime story or tuck him in, I cried myself to sleep. Leaving my job was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but I do not regret it for a moment. There are many reasons why it was the best decision for my family, but I am not about to go into them with you on the school run.
And, when you ask me for the fifth time in as many weeks when I am going to produce a sibling for my ‘poor’ son, I laugh it off. I nod away while you explain how good it will be for him to be a big brother, and I pretend to listen intently as you tell me how important is it for children to have other children to play with. I let you think that I am taking everything you say on board so that you will stop trying to convince me further. I do not tell you that we started trying to build a bigger family when our son was 18-months old. I do not tell you that our journey to have another child was one filled with heartbreak. I do not mention the failed pregnancy tests, or the failed pregnancies. I do not tell you that we are at peace with it now and our family is complete.
When he trips in the playground, I do not always leap over. This is not because I do not care, but because I do not want him to see me panic over a tiny scrape. When he has a meltdown in public, I do not drag him home. In my experience this only makes things worse – I find us a quiet corner to calm down instead. We did not co-sleep, although we sometimes do now, and I fed him chocolate buttons on the potty.
Some days I have it all together and other days I am falling apart, but everything I do for him comes from a place of love and surely that is what matters most. Or, are we all so stuck on our way being the only way that we have to prove ourselves right at every opportunity?
My son will not always behave perfectly because, like me, he is not perfect. He has days when he will refuse to eat anything other than a ham sandwich. This does not mean that the baby-led weaning method I followed was a waste of time, or that it turned him into a fussy eater, it just means that he really really wants a ham sandwich. Tomorrow, it might be chill squid – who knows?!
He also does not always listen to me and this is not because there are no boundaries at home, but because he is 5 and occasionally 5-year olds will act their age.
Isn’t it time us parents did too?