There’s little more demoralizing than being told what we’re doing is wrong, or that there’s a better way, or worse – that we’re in some way harming or damaging our children. We take it very personally, especially when the criticism centers around our parenting.
That’s why the TIME cover and tagline, “Are You Mom Enough” exploded over the media as it did. Their job was to get attention and ultimately sell copies. Unfortunately, to do so, they resorted to playing on mothers’ emotions and spotlighting the negative, competitive vibe around a conversation that should be supportive, encouraging and helpful.
The Fall 2012 issue of Pathways magazine features the cover mom herself, Jamie Lynne Grumet, sharing her thoughts and clearing the air about the TIME cover photo and the media storm surrounding it all. Grumet tells Pathways, “I think the hate that comes from some mothers is from defensiveness and that they believe what we are saying is that what they do is less or they are hurting their child, which is totally untrue. There are so many ways to parent.”
It’s not just TIME. It happens all too often. Some parenting practice is framed as an us vs. them, a red team against the blue team, a this-way-wins-over-that-way or this-group-is-better-than-that-group issue. Then we, as parents, end up divided.
Sadly, when this is the arena we’re given, we’re left with little choice. We either risk getting into a debate, or we stay hush-hush about how we parent. Parenting becomes one of those off-limits topics, like religion and politics. We don’t want to offend anyone, fuel the mommy wars, or create guilt. As a result, we miss out on conversations that inform us, ease our fears and give us new ideas or perspectives.
It’s a shame, because we want to reach out, to get support. To give support. Instead, we miss out on the kinds of discussions that benefit our children.
We can’t control what the big media outlets will do. All we can do is try to create an environment for healthy conversation within our own circles. When you find yourself discussing parenting, here are some things to keep in mind to keep it friendly and supportive:
Remember, the AP principles are adaptable. For example, “feed with love and respect” applies to parents who breastfeed as well as parents who bottle-nurse. “Respond with sensitivity” is about as non-specific as it gets and applies to all kinds of interactions. Each of the principles is written very broadly and can be adapted to every family situation.
We never know the whole story. So we can’t possibly judge without all of the details.
We all make mistakes and are doing our best. We all want what is best for our kids and we’re working with what we’ve got. Nobody can be faulted for that.
Change the subject if you must. Some people just want to be right. And that’s okay. When the conversation takes a turn toward competitiveness and winning or losing, and that uncomfortable feeling sets in, it may be time to move to another topic.
Respond with sensitivity (sound familiar?). Always assume the other person’s feelings are easily hurt. This is advice my husband and I were given right before we got married, and it applies well here. If you assume the other person is sensitive, you won’t say anything wrong.
Want to open up a discussion with other parents who share your goals? API Support Groups provide a nice, level playing field that encourages helpful discussion and avoids judgment and competition. Find a support group in your area.
Also, coming soon: Jamie Lynne Grumet and her family will be featured in the next issue of The Attached Family!