Parenting Differently From Family and Friends

Photography: HADAS Images

By Genevieve Simperingham

The trials of being a peaceful parent pioneer.

Do you sometimes feel challenged in your attempts to be a more peaceful parent in a society that’s less than compassionate towards the differences and struggles of parents and children? Many parents are surprised about the tensions that arise among friends and family when they choose to parent in ways that differ from the norm. Have you sometimes felt harshly judged for your choice to be patient and supportive at a time when your child expressed their raw feelings? Did you often hide your exhaustion for fear of being judged to be your own worst enemy for not sleep training your baby? These are issues that many parents I talk to through my work have a huge need to discuss. Many parents I’ve helped as a counsellor have described the heartbreak of rejection they’ve experienced as a result of choosing to parent very differently.

There is strength in numbers and it’s dangerously easy to assume that the choices of the majority are the right choices. Such attitudes are felt acutely by just about anybody in one or more minority group. Yet the frontiers of change have always been forged by those who choose to walk a path less travelled, who bravely step into new territories and new ways.

A mother and foster mum shared: “It feels so vulnerable to have your child acting a certain way knowing that others may attribute that to your parenting style rather than the child being a child! I sometimes feel ‘it’s not fair’, because I see the same behaviour from kids that are mainstream parented who are approved of for ‘taking control’ (by being punitive), even though what I’m doing in holding space for my child I think is actually the most effective thing I can do. I feel especially upset when I sense people are judging my 8-year-old foster child for his behaviour and me for my parenting, because his behaviour is often very similar to a typical 3-year-old child due to his trauma background.”

Another mother shared: “This difference in parenting philosophy has created such a rift between my brother and myself that we haven’t seen each other in over a year, which is so sad.”

I also was unprepared for the challenges that my parenting choices attracted when I became a mother 19 years ago. What was harder than the judgments was the breakdown in connection and the many misunderstandings that resulted. Luckily my husband and I naturally seemed to agree on many choices such as to carry our child in a sling, to co-sleep, to feed on demand, which meant feeding in public (gasp!), which was akin to indecent exposure in Ireland less than two decades ago! My husband was so committed that he spent several weeks making a birthing pool as there were only four in the whole of Ireland back then. My heart really goes out to the parents who face judgments from family and friends, which can be stressful enough to deal with, but also feel they have to defend their choices with their own partner. It can be very painful for both parents struggling to come to terms with their partner’s views, enough to challenge the most solid relationship!

The parent who chooses to co-sleep and babywear or feed their baby past a year can hear accusations of spoiling their child, of thwarting their development of independence. This, of course, is contrary to what’s known about the important role that meeting the child’s dependency needs plays in developing their emotional strength, security and resilience. The parent who chooses to homeschool is often accused of depriving their child of a “proper education” or healthy socialisation. The parent who chooses to not punish can feel judged to be permissive and too soft to hold boundaries or limits. Many parents who have changed to a more peaceful non-punitive approach have shared their surprise at how much more criticism they now attract compared to back when they used time outs, threats and liberally yelled at their child. I won’t take up time here speaking to why such judgments are misinformed and generally crossing the line into the very personal choices of another. And of course, every season of The Natural Parent Magazine brings a rich delivery of articles covering such topics, and if these are some of your choices, you’ll be highly aware of the reasons why you choose what you choose.

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