I get it. I do. You just popped up pregnant and you have to share the news that you’re having a home birth, aren’t getting a “never been proven safe for pregnant women” flu shot, am investing in a doula (a what!?) and are waiting longer than five seconds to cut the cord. Then, the baby arrives and you’re in over your head because you know how you want to do things but nobody will let you “just do it” without a little jousting.
You’re not holding him right, need to give him a pacifier, confine him to his back, and hit him with a few jabs. You dare not bring up co-sleeping because that just might send everyone whose not in your bed over the edge … if seeing your baby in your 25-year-old, collared, puke-pink romper with the baby shoulder pads doesn’t do it first.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there: As your child gets older, you’ll be expected to give the 411 on all of your decisions from their first foods, whether or not to vaccinate, and brand of toothpaste, to your decision to home school, nurse past the age of two, or stop before the age of one. The next thing you know, you’re not married to one person – you’re married to the entire village, everyone on their “friends list,” the dog walker a town over, and the postal service guy with the mis-matched socks – all more than eager to weigh in on your choices.
Then there are your girlfriends, who you’ll discover aren’t really your friends as you move from the inner circle, to the quarantine camp, and eventually the village of outcasts where all of the lone sheep gather. You’d give anything to talk to your besties about the package inserts, a little woo, and the toxicity of “Goldfish,” but they read something on Scary Mommy once and got scared of all the other mommies who don’t parent like they do, and respect for the sisterhood took a backseat. Really though, you would have settled for just being friends, because at the end of the day, you can respect another mom’s right to give her kid a cracker, even if it is synthetic and shaped like a fish.
It’s exhausting having to justify the decisions that are well within our authority to make and navigating around the people who think that our business is their business, too. Seriously, how do you remind someone nicely that they’ve already had their shot at parenting, are trying to parent the wrong kid, or don’t have kids so really … shouldn’t be telling you how to parent yours. (That’s like telling a rancher how to ride a horse when you’ve never been on one, or been outside of Chicago. Am I right?)
Satire aside, you’re going to have to know when to educate, when to dominate, and when to keep it closed, or you’ll let the arguments play over in your head and the hurt over their lack of acceptance consume you. As a seasoned someone who has no problem doing all of the above, let me give you some practical tips that will make your life easier, put the wrong people back in the right places, and the right people where they belong (on the same page).
#1 You don’t owe anyone an explanation for anything.
Remember, this is YOUR child … not your mama’s, your uncle’s, or your girlfriend’s, sister’s, cousin’s, neighbor’s kid. Therefore, you are afforded certain rights, like making ALL of the decisions for your child and owing nobody an explanation for them … unless you choose to provide one.
In other words, you may “plead the fifth,” tell them to “talk to the hand,” proffer a copy of the child’s birth certificate, or simply tell them that private decisions are just that … private.
#2 Choose who you engage.
I used to feel like I had to save the world and make everyone see everything from my point of view – like I needed their validation that I was doing it right, their acceptance and approval that I was a good parent, and that they would parent like I do if they only knew what I knew.
Don’t put that burden on yourself. You’re awesomeness as a parent is not based on whether they agree with your choices or would make the same ones, and your energy is limited. When an inquiring mind questions your lifestyle… gauge the situation: Is this person asking a question because they genuinely want to understand? Respond. Are they open-minded? If so, go there. Are they a troll? Abort the mission. If they’re someone, who, no matter your response, will not be convinced that the sky is blue when they’re looking right at it? Don’t take the detour. It will only waste your time.
It’s good to be challenged (it refines your arguments and strengthens your convictions), but don’t waste your time being challenged by the wrong people. Pick and choose those who are worth your energy. Sometimes, the best conversation is one that isn’t had.
#3 Actions speak louder than words.
A lot of people think that the only way they can reach someone is to be confrontational, yet this makes for awkward family gatherings, girl-fights, and social media show-downs. If this is your life and the tension is at a breaking point, scale back on the preaching and live out your message instead.
The truth is, your actions speak far louder than words, and your lifestyle will naturally lead others to ask questions.
#4 Set boundaries in your relationships.
If you have that family where conversations can flow about anything and everything and nothing trumps respect, preach on sister, but if you have in-laws who are all up in your business or a sister who hasn’t seen the light, set the boundaries now. There’s nothing worse than coming to a decision with your spouse, only to have a family member make it their life’s mission to get in on the convo too.
To avoid potential conflicts, create a list of subjects that are off-limits. If they can’t respect your boundaries and are still insisting that your kids can’t see theirs because yours have cooties, then send them a postcard from the quarantine camp where the sun is always shining and life is good. If someone makes a snarky comment about how your family eats different – just smile and offer them a plate.
At some point, you have to choose to love them where they are because you can’t change people who don’t want to change, educate people who don’t want to learn, and convince people who believe they’re right, that they’re wrong.
#5 Make your tribe.
There is nothing more frustrating and depressing than swimming upstream in a sea of people who just doesn’t get it. To help you cope, develop a niche or tribe of friends who are on the same page. Having people who share your beliefs and can encourage you, will help during those times when others aren’t.
On the flip side, don’t cut someone off just because they feel or do things differently. There is something to this “ignorance is bliss” business and if you think back, it was overwhelming and all sorts of scary for you too. Change starts slow and there’s always something that can be learned from everyone.
Whether you decide to have the tough conversations or refuse to go there, you always have a choice on who you engage and how you do it. Share your lifestyle, choose your battles wisely, and know when to plead the fifth. At the end of the day, these are your children and your choices belong to you.