I was just telling a friend that I’m more opinionated about judgmental parents than I am about parenting styles.
It seems that lately I come across two handfuls of articles a day on what to do and not do with my own children—often written by other parents who aren’t even “experts,” except for maybe in their own minds.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that every person who has ever born and raised children has experienced some form of judgment from other people—even by other non-parents.
I love how some people without kids have opinions on sleep habits and patterns. I love, even more, how people who have kids—and thus should know better—think that because their style works with one or two children, that it would benefit everyone.
And, yes, there is research and, yes, there are good “rules of thumb,” but as an identical twin who is very different from my sister, I can vouch for the reality that, truly, no two people are alike.
Take my newborn and her four-year-old sister.
When my eldest daughter was a baby, my go-to solutions were the same two things: car rides and my breasts. Yet, for my current infant, these two things are exactly what she seemingly cannot stand. (I know—a baby who doesn’t think nursing is life’s solution to everything?!) But it’s true. On top of this, I swear my new baby cries when she is merely shown her car seat—she loathes the thing that much.
And this is also what makes parenting so much fun.
It’s thrilling to have another child and have it be a completely new experience. The traits and glimmers of older siblings that are witnessed are special too, but, for me at least, it’s been shocking to see just how different two people born from the same parents and raised in the same household can be.
I minored in sociology in college. I spent a good deal of time studying the sociology of family. Much of my writing displays my intense fascination with people, with our relationships with one another, as well as with how we fundamentally fit into our societies—and how different societies can be. Possibly it’s this same awareness and curiosity that make it nearly impossible for me to understand those who are ignorant enough to neglect seeing that all people are not exactly the same.
We spend so much time—and often rightly so—focusing on how we are the same, that we can forget to both celebrate and recognize where we are different—and that’s another thing that’s repeatedly popped up in my own parenting.
My oldest daughter, for example, is much like my husband. Actually, there were many characteristics in the over-20 years that I’ve known him that I’ve assumed are “guy things”—until I had my first daughter. Because they are so much alike it’s equally eerie and awesome.
This said, emotionally she seems to be much more like him too.
In other words, I consciously choose to try to understand how she reacts in a situation, be it stress or jealousy, because our reactions are not innately the same. It’s also my thinking that if I assumed she had the same emotional reactions to a situation as I do, and raised her within the confines of my own experiences and feelings, that I would, unfairly, not give her the chance to grow and thrive in her own true nature. So I choose to recognize our differences and then see where we can benefit each other.
More, this is how I find healthy relationships to work in general.
I’ve been with my husband, as I’ve stated, for over 20 years. Part of the reason that our relationship functions so well is because we don’t expect ourselves to be the same. (Which, frankly, would be impossible as we potentially define “opposites attract.”)
Still, we, as a society, often understand that relationships with spouses and partners take work, but we don’t as easily honor that all relationships take work.
Like yesterday, when I took my daughter out for our first day without the baby. It was a big deal.
One of the things that I took her to do was buy a new pair of shoes. (She loves shoes like many other children love toys.)
To put it mildly, the sales lady was not that kind. I know it was a Saturday and maybe she didn’t feel well or something, but, come on, when a cute kid is trying to smile excitedly in your face about a new pair of shoes, could you simply feign excitement in return?
And I had many options for how I reacted back to her casual indifference to my cute kid, as well as to her snotty and completely unnecessary comments to me. The route I selected was to totally ignore her rudeness and, instead, try to make this experience a special and memorable one for my child. (Which I think worked, since she wanted to sleep in those shoes.) Still, it occasionally took effort to have this reaction.
And we, collectively, have the choice to see other parents and households function differently from our own and then either shame or judge our differences or respect that what works well for one family might not work for another.
Now I’m not offering that we ignore safety or that we don’t even believe our ways to be better for us, but I am implying that we need to practice restraint from judging other parents as freely as it seems many people find acceptable.
Because maybe you wouldn’t let your kid watch an hour of television shows in the middle of the afternoon, but maybe you also don’t have a screaming baby you are trying to keep your older child from having to deal with.
Maybe you didn’t get a total of four hours of sleep when your body really needed eight (for several days in a row). Maybe you have family that lives close by and can’t even comprehend not ever having help.
The bottom line is that no two households are alike.
Even my four year old—raised by the same two parents—is not technically being raised in the same environment. No, my husband and I have evolved as people over the last four years and the Jennifer of her birth is not the same as the Jennifer of her sister’s.
So the next time we’re sitting next to another parent holding her child, watching her do something that we would “never” do, remember this: just because we would never do that doesn’t mean we’re right. Further, being right isn’t always that great.
No, what’s great is being surrounded by varying personalities and likes and dislikes and remembering that even though we both have feet, our shoes might look drastically different.
My daughter didn’t sleep in her shoes last night. It took me three tries to get them off. This morning, when she woke up, one of the first things that she did was put her shoes back on.
I think, to her, they are a symbol of how much her mother loves her and how special she is, despite having a new baby sister, and, when I look at her new-shoe-clad feet, I see a little girl with a bright personality who needs me to create days that are just the two of us—because we all need reminding that we are special.
We all need to know that our uniqueness is amazing and, even more importantly, that we are unique.
And we are—thank goodness.
Photos: Author’s own; Flickr/Travis Swan.