We often want to reach out to family and friends and share the highs and lows, the discoveries and anxieties of parenthood, but feel concerned about feeling judged or misunderstood.
Often the unsolicited opinions of others can be confusing or frustrating. Reactions may come from places of guilt, regret or sadness; unmet needs which manifest as criticism and blame.
If those close to you are struggling with your approach while you are attempting to form your new parenting identity with confidence, these ideas may be helpful:
- Be positive and confident
- Don’t feel you need to justify your choices
- Your own approval is all you need
- Invite questions; invite specific questions if appropriate
- Listen, validate and remain open
- Look for the question behind the question (motivating factor)
Listen…Listening to other people and giving them space to talk often helps you understand driving motivations for other peoples’ attitudes. Other people often give advice because they really value their own opinion and it’s easy to shut down to that when you know you disagree – remain open as it can sometimes give perspective.
Validate…Validate others concerns – ask them what their concerns are now and in the future for your child. Maybe invite people to discuss their own feelings about how they were raised or when they were new parents themselves.
Agree…Focus on what you do agree on to help relatives or friends feel more comfortable voicing their concerns.
Have compassion…Try to see the point of view of those you love with compassion. Accept that you cannot change people and may need to love them unconditionally too. You can accept they feel a certain way but you don’t have to agree. Having compassion for others does not mean you have to do anything other than follow your own choices.
Forget approval…Don’t let a need for approval or agreement get in the way of your freedom to follow the parenting path you desire. Dependency on the approval of others gets in the way of intuition and creativity.
Be informed…Being informed is really important when being asked if something is safe or healthy for your child. Many AP parents rely on evidence-based research when discussing their approach.
Be prepared… with references to studies and some statistics that can often engage or remind a relative or friends that they may need to look harder at their reasoning.
Offer…If someone is telling you to parent in a way that you know is outdated, feel confident referring to new evidence if you think they are interested. Casual reference to ‘I read something the other day about…’ often goes down better than ‘the scientific research on…’ as some people switch off when they think a lecture is coming!
Are children listening…Be aware of who is listening. It could be confusing for a breastfed child to hear another adult say that the child should not be breastfeeding etc. Feel confident in asking to postpone a conversation to a more appropriate time.
For those who express an interest
Sharing information is fun, especially if you want to share your enthusiasm for what you do – but do take a lead from those who are curious and restrain yourselves with those who show no interest at all.
Leave some books or magazines (Juno, The Green Parent) laying around for people to browse but only for those who you know are not likely to ridicule.
Sometimes providing research from orthodox sources helps people feel more confident in the credibility of your choices – eg: The Telegraph recently had an article titled ‘Babies should sleep in mother’s bed until age three’.
When you’re not sure about your approach
We all have moments of questioning our approach, moments of vulnerability and uncertainty. These are often the times when we would most like the support, understanding and love of family and friends. If you feel you will be judged, don’t complain about sleeplessness to those who think cosleeping is unhealthy! This is time to seek out those who you have confidence will understand your concerns and support you emotionally.
Some, hopefully light-hearted, responses
“…It may not feel suitable for all parents but it feels wonderful for our family”
“It’s amazing how much research has been done – I never knew that…/I never expected to…”
“We both love cuddling and snuggling at night, who doesn’t enjoy cuddles?!”
“He/she is a baby, he/she is supposed to be dependent on me”
“Intimacy – yes, that’s great. Thanks for asking, how’s your sex life?!”
“I’d be more afraid if he was alone in a different room.”
Re breastfeeding and how much longer you plan to do it – “another 5 minutes or so” (while nursing!)
Naomi Aldort gives confident suggestions responding to criticism: http://www.mothering.com/parenting/responding-criticism
A relevant Daily Groove piece with interesting reader comments: http://www.enjoyparenting.com/daily-groove/dont-explain
Dr Sears suggestions for handling criticism when parenting a high need child: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/fussy-baby/high-need-baby/handling-criticism
Some witty responses to criticism for cosleeping: http://www.authenticparenting.info/2010/05/witty-responses-to-cosleeping-remarks.html
Have confidence in your informed decisions by dipping into this site: http://parentingscience.com