What They Don't Tell You in Parenting 101: How to Deal with Other Parents
A Parent's Survival Guide
It starts the moment you announce you are pregnant: all the other parents have advice on what you should and shouldn't do during your pregnancy, as you give birth and begin your journey as a parent.
While it can be easier to smile and nod politely when strangers on the bus want to share their wisdom with you, it can be difficult to handle it gracefully when the advice streams in from family, friends, and other parents. The number one thing I wish I'd have known about parenting when I was first pregnant was how important it would be to have good communication skills - not for dealing with your child, but with other parents.
There was a time when child rearing was a communal activity. Other parents were actively involved in sharing the joys and responsibilities of raising a child. Women benefited from their children interacting with adults of varying age and experience and their children. In the western world, the current family model is most commonly that of single or partnered women doing much of the work of parenting in a community of isolation. This isn't to say that partners are not involved; more than ever women are enjoying the support of dedicated partners who are actively involved in their child's upbringing. However, the village mentality and reality of days gone by have been replaced by attitudes, expectations and living arrangements that leave many adults feeling alone and anxious about their parenting - even when they frequently interact with other parents.
Theories on what is best for children abound, and the scores of advice received by a new or expectant parent is often contradictory, out of date, or delivered with a moralistic tone that is hard to take. Unsolicited advice from other parents can leave new parents feeling more insecure and anxious about their own parenting, rather than enlightened and less burdened. The truth is, unless a parent is clearly neglecting or abusing their child, he or she will likely turn out all right. Just as there is no one right way to live, there is no one absolute right way to parent - all parents make mistakes and that is the reality of an important, lifelong job that has no fool-proof resource manual. Realizing this early can be invaluable in learning to cope with unwelcome comments and advice, and successfully dealing with the other adults in your child's life: grandparents, aunts, uncles, coaches, teachers, and other parents.
5 Parenting Survival Tips for Dealing with Other Parents
1. Realize there are two opposing schools of thought on every possible issue related to parenting, and a range of philosophies that fall between the two extremes. It may come as a surprise to you that people want to know what your plans are for your child, from birthing, feeding, comforting, sleep training and schooling - all before your baby is even born! Some will be open-minded and will offer helpful advice when asked. Others will already have their minds made up about what is best for your child, and will tell you whether you are interested or not.
Certainly take a prenatal course and read some books, but know that parenting is a life long venture made up of innumerable personal decisions and few pat answers. Even within families, different styles and techniques may work well with one child and not another. Parenting is no place for absolutism or inflexibility, and parents who try to raise their child under a constrictive code will only feel frustrated, disappointed and lost if their approach doesn't work. This doesn't mean the philosophy is flawed, but children, like adults, are dynamic creatures whose needs, personalities and behaviour change as they grow.
Try to smile when other parents share their opinions, and remember that most advice-givers do mean
well. However, if someone is downright moralistic about their views and
takes on a know-it-all or bullying tone, they have more invested in
being right than simply helping you find your way. Thank them, change
the subject and move on. If the behaviour is unavoidable and
repetitious - a meddling relative, perhaps - a clear and assertive
conversation about what is appropriate and appreciated regarding
childcare advice is called for.
2. Inevitably as you encounter other parents, you will encounter people whose ideas of what it means to parent will vary. Some people overparent, some people underparent, and some seem to have the balance right, even if they struggle at times (which is perfectly normal and to be expected). It may be frustrating to witness a scene where you can see a parent is overly protective in a situation that has age-appropriate risks (for example, a 9 year old diving off a diving board at the life-guarded community pool), or on the opposite end of the spectrum, when a child is taking dangerous risks (e.g. boisterously running around the house with a knife in hand) and no one seems to notice.
When the behaviour of another child and her
parent impacts your child, it will be hard to tell yourself their
parenting style is just different than yours. In
this day and age, when we are used to doing much of the work of
parenting on our own and desperately hope we are doing it right, it can
be hard to accept that other parents will sometimes feel compelled to
"parent" our child.
Sometimes you may be comforable with your child's behaviour, but another adult or parent will think it is inappropriate and reprimand your child. Sometimes you will be the "other parent" with someone else's child. It is hard to predict when our efforts to intervene will be appreciated and when they won't. This may be the trickiest of all inter-parent communications, as hurt feelings or outright resentment can be the end result of trying to avoid disaster or even to calm an anxious parent.
Use careful judgement, and ideally, get to know the parents in question before venturing to "help" other parents. Of course, there are situations at the park or playground where you won't know every other parent there and your help may be needed. My parenting intervention guideline is whether it appears that a child is in danger of hurting herself or others, whether property may be damaged, or whether a parent or child appears to be unduly - or rightly - anxious or distressed.
3. Different house, different rules. In your child's life she will encounter many different kinds of people with different attitudes, beliefs and customs. In fact, as a parent you will find yourself befriending people you would never otherwise have associated with, simply because they are the parents of your child's friend. This can be a positive experience for you and your child, and will well prepare your son or daughter for life in the real world, which is anything but monotonous.
A sensible perspective to take is to allow your child to experience the differences in other families - including different family structures, living arrangements, communication styles, house rules, levels of parental attention, etc. - with the understanding that your behavioural expectations remain the same wherever your child happens to be.
For example, if Alison's parents tend towards leniency, your basic house rules still apply at Alison's house. Being rude or disrespectful is as unacceptable there as anywhere else; so is intentionally hurting anyone's feelings, or lying. These misdemeanors will be treated the same when your child is back in your care, even if they are not addressed at Alison's house. This allows a child to understand that basic boundaries are still in place, even when you are not present. It also allows other parents the right to do things their way with a respectful level of trust and without interference.
4. Sometimes, conflict is inevitable. Unfortunately, a cool head and diplomacy are not always at the forefront of our interactions with other parents when it comes to our children. You may find yourself in a dispute with another parent or a teacher. Your child depends on you to help her make sense of the world and her role in it, and looks to you for guidelines of how to behave. It is OK to be honest about differences in opinion and disagreements with other parents. Children experience conflict, too, and need to learn how to handle it respectfully and effectively. They will model the way you deal with upsetting feelings, manage conflict and handle relationships. The way you address your anger about the way your child was treated, or a grade they received in school, will be a teachable moment for your child. Take care to be appropriately assertive, while also fair. Remember that your child is always watching.
5. We are all, for the most part, doing our best. Give yourself permission to be a novice and make mistakes, and give other parents the same dignity. It has been said many times that parenting is the toughest job in the world, as well as the most rewarding one. A sense of humour goes a long way in mediating difficult moments throughout your child's life, and in keeping stress levels down. Ideally, every day in the parenting journey will feature at least one gut-splitting moment of laughter you will want to share with friends, family, and the other parents you meet along the way - and one heartwarming moment you will want to write down so you never forget. All parents experience the highs and lows of parenting, and it is these moments that make the difficult parts tolerable and ultimately worthwhile.
Parents: Remember you and all the other parents out there are on a singular journey, together. Enjoy it, every day!
I Can Make Life: Poems About Infertility, Miscarriage, Pregnancy and Birth
About Nicole Breit
Nicole Breit is a published author and poet. Her debut poetry collection, , retraces the journey to have her son, and was a finalist for the 2012 Mary Ballard Poetry prize. I Can Make Life
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