Monday, February 20, 2012

10 Parenting Principles I Wish I'd Known: Episode Two

FINALLY getting back to posting. Monkey has been in bed for hours. Girls are having sleepovers with Grandma and my aunt. And my insomnia is in full swing. So I've decided to be productive!

2) Grow a Thick Skin. And Moisturize It.

I was told today by a friend that I need to write a "New Parent's Guide to Dealing with Stupid People." Although I do not use them as often as I feel like it (damn internal filter), I have been known to make snarky and sarcastic remarks to people who shove their nose in my business. You see, as soon as you find out you are going to be a parent, you WILL be judged for every single decision you make. You WILL be interrogated about your decisions. You WILL hear comments about how your method isn't working.

It starts easily enough. "When are you due? You could go any day! Are you sure you're not having twins? You're awful small, is everything going ok? Do you know what you're having? I could never wait to find out and be surprised, why would you do that? How much weight have you gained? Oh, that's too little/much. You need to eat more/healthier so you can gain more/less. You haven't had that baby yet? Hurry up!"

And the list goes on and on. Birth location: home, birthing center, hospital? Care provider: midwife, OB, or (gasp) unassisted? Birth: unmedicated, medicated, medically necessary c-section, elective c-section? Nutrition: breastfeeding or formula? Diapers: disposable, cloth, or both? Car seat: infant, convertible, boosters? Are you extended breastfeeding? Extending rear-facing? What about sleeping arrangements: Bed-sharing, co-sleeping, side-car crib, crib in room, baby in a different room? Will you stay at home, work at home, or be a working parent? Vaccines: none, selective, delayed, or all? Solids: age to start, cereal, purees, baby-led weaning (NOT about breastfeeding, look it up)?

For every decision you make, someone you meet will have made a different one. Whether it is a family member, a friend, a kind stranger you meet, or the obnoxious stranger that is handing out "one size fits all" parenting advice at the grocery store checkout. I was not prepared for this when I became a mother. I knew that people would have opinions and give (sometimes) unsolicited advice. I just did not realize how I would react to it or how it would make me feel.

So be prepared. Know that everyone is a critic. Everyone has an opinion. And many people will feel the need to discuss their opinions and experience with you. Which is fine. I actually LOVE hearing other people's experiences and what worked for them. I love to respectfully debate different positions with people who can actually have a respectful and thought-provoking debate. But I'm intelligent enough to know that what did or did not work for them may not produce the same results for me. Just like I would not push my choices on someone else who feels that something else will work better for their situation. So the question is:

What do you do when you meet someone that attacks your decision or tries to force-feed you the choices they made? What do you do when someone butts in and attempts to dictate to you in an attempt to be "helpful"?

When I became a mother, I was nervous. I was scared. I was insecure in my decisions. Sometimes I did whatever someone advised me to do because "it's the way I did it," without doing any real research or making the decision on my own. But I have been told by many that I did not behave like I felt. I apparently exuded confidence...who knew?! When Sassy was small, I did not know how to react to people who were overstepping the invisible "respect my choices" line in the sand. I was sometimes left speechless, sometimes felt like crying (and sometimes did as soon as I was alone), and sometimes so angry I wanted to strangle someone. But I wasn't sure of how to react to the person that was overstepping.

But I found the answer as I began to "own" my role as a mother: grow a thick skin. Then moisturize it with whatever tools you find most helpful.

It takes some getting used to. You cannot magically go from being bothered by someone questioning or criticizing your choices to complete indifference of their opinion. But, just like many things in life, you can fake it until you make it.

I'm generally a pretty tolerant person. If someone told me that they did this or that with their kids, I would usually look into it. If I knew it was not for me, I'd say, "We're actually doing ____, I feel like it is a better fit for us." Some people were fine and perfectly respectful. Others...not so much.

As the years went by, I slowly became less tolerant of people who show blatant disregard for my choices. And that is when I turned to snarky and sarcastic comebacks. Yes, I know the whole "do unto others" thing. But, sometimes I do not have the time or energy to lay out a lengthy retort about how the person made me feel, why they should respect my choices, or how they could have been more respectful. I am a BUSY person. So, if I was offending a busy person, I would hope that they would give me a reality check with a quick comeback that would allow me to ponder the situation and learn a lesson about how to interact with others. See how easy it was to justify my naughtiness?

And I am not talking about open, honest, healthy discussion or comments. I am referring to the people who just *know* that if I were doing A, B, or C then I wouldn't be having whatever issue they perceive that I am having. And sometimes it is unhelpful comments that you need a thick skin for instead of criticism. Unhelpful comments are a real sore spot for me. Let me give you a few examples of my shining thick-skin moments.

Growing a Thick Skin- Beginners Level
I was not brazen or bold initially. I honestly think it was not until Diva was born that I started developing a thick skin. There is something about being out in public alone with a newborn and 2 yr old that makes a mother less receptive to "helpful" comments. I started out passive-aggressively.

We would be at a store and Diva would be crying while Sassy was climbing out of the double stroller, trying to escape. And I would hear comments: "Geez, some people need to learn how to control their kids in public. MY kids never acted like that. Poor kid must be tired, she should be home for nap time." Back then, people rarely made comments to my face. Or if they did, it was something like, "Wow, bet you're glad they aren't twins. It gets easier. Wait until they are older, it just gets worse." Yes, ALL of these comments are so helpful when dealing with a toddler tantrum in public.

One day I was almost to my breaking point. Working full time, full semester of college classes, exhausted from a baby who thought sleep was a joke, and a toddler who was having a very rough day. I had Diva in the cart and was crouched down to eye level with Sassy, explaining again why she could not climb the shelves at the store. I stood up and noticed an older lady had been watching me. I smiled and then she said, "Oh honey, it just gets worse. Wait until they are teenagers."

So put Sassy's hand back on the cart handle beside of mine, looked at Diva and said, "Oh, isn't that nosy old lady nice? Acting like Mommy is a moron who doesn't know that parenting is hard work and that you'll still give me problems when you are older? Silly sweet lady, wave bye bye to her!"

The lady gasped. She started at me, open-mouthed. And I walked off to continue my shopping, knowing that I had taught that woman a valuable lesson and that next time she met a mother struggle in a store with her kids that she would either keep her mouth shut of actually be helpful.

Growing a Thick Skin- Expert Level 
At the grocery store in the produce section, Sassy and Diva are picking out fruit. Monkey, around 8 months at the time, is getting restless and fussing, so I was talking to him, trying to calm him down. This was our last stop before checkout and our home is less than 5 mins away, so I knew that I just needed to calm him down briefly and then when we got home he could go down for a nap. While I'm trying to calm him down, a lady nearby comments, "Oh, poor little guy, I bet he's hungry!" So I said, "No, it's almost nap time and he's restless. We're getting ready to checkout and head home for nap time." She completely ignored what I said, reached towards Monkey and gently pokes his belly, and said, "No, I know you're hungry, tell your mommy to feed you more often."

Um...what? So, given her limited contact with me and my child, this stranger felt that she knew my baby's cues better than I, that I did not feed my baby often enough, and that my baby was hungry when we had just finished lunch about 30 minutes earlier. And she apparently was under the impression that the best way to help a mother finish shopping so she can get her tired baby home was to delay her with a debate over what the baby was feeling. Because THAT will help me get out of the store faster.

THIS is an example of something that I have a really hard time ignoring. I do try my best sometimes, but some people really get under my skin. And then I blurt things out, such as my response to that woman, "Either you nurse him or go through checkout and pay for my stuff while I nurse him. But I'm in the last aisle heading to checkout before nap time. I think this has little to do with him starving to death. But if you feel your boobs are better than my boobs..."

She quickly fled my immediate vicinity. Which is a pattern when I turn my filter off. Oops.

Now, do all parents need to make sarcastic responses in these situations? No. Do what works for you. For me, snarky and sarcastic comebacks make me smile. They stop the person in their tracks because they are not used to getting a response like that. I'm all about the shock and awe. But that doesn't work for everyone, just like different parenting choices do not work for everyone.

So, grow a thick skin to protect yourself from the Negative Nellies, the unhelpful helpers, and the experts who are only experts on their own experiences. Then, moisturize with your favorite tool, whether it is sarcasm, snarky retorts, a polite smile, simply shaking your head, or ignoring the person.

Do what works for you. I'll keep doing what works for me. And maybe together, we will change the world so that parents can have open, honest, respectful discussions about parenting choices when they want, not be cornered in the store or at a party and lectured about why what they are doing is wrong.

Then again, sometimes I like being cornered. It gives me a chance to vent some pent up frustration. Maybe I should make up cards to hand out. "Thank you for being the target of my recent sarcastic remark by questioning my abilities as a parent. It has allowed me to release some tension. So thank you for helping my mental and emotional stability."

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