What type of topics in natural parenting cause opposition among family and friends and how do you handle it?
Wow. This really is a toughie. None of us wants to be different, singled out as the weird one in the family.Yet we want to remain true to our own parenting decisions. We have a moral imperative to do what we feel is right with our own children.
Here are some of the big ticket issues that many parents have found that run counter to standard parenting practice, and a few words of advice on how to handle unsupportive family.
Nothing makes the relatives choke on their turkey dinner like feeding the baby anywhere and anytime, it seems! This may be the biggest one, since breastfeeding is so obviously best and it’s so close to a woman’s heart.Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 100 years, you know that few things are more established in the medical community and the school of common sense than this fact.
Any mother who knew consciously that breastfeeding is right and good for her child, and that formula is very much sub par, and yet didn’t want to breastfeed, because she has body image issues and thinks it’s “icky”, is likely to have “issues” (coughcough) around the topic. Meaning she can’t think rationally, only emotionally. Meaning she may have a problem with you breastfeeding around her.
And those mothers who knew breastfeeding is best but who lacked good information and support and therefore failed in her attempts to do so, will also have sadness and grief. This is the same kind of feeling you may get around a friend who struggles with infertility, and you’re pregnant. Again.
It grieves me to see the lengths women sometimes go to to avoid breastfeeding in public. Where else should a woman feel safe to nurture her baby than around her family?
When it comes to family being unsupportive of breastfeeding, I say go with your own comfort level. If feeding the baby in the same room as your family will cause you to have toxic emotions and total discomfort, then take it elsewhere. It’s not a political statement to duck into a spare bedroom to nurse your baby in peace and comfort. It’s a gastrointestinal one. If your mind and emotions will be so disturbed by the possibility of questions and criticism, that isn’t good for your health or baby’s.
With younger babies, you may be able to be discreet and nurse wherever you are, just turning away from the group for a moment to latch on, then settling your clothes around baby’s face. Older babies, of course, won’t stand for it. In this case I recommend using a sling, especially a ring sling like the Maya Wrap. Many times I’ve nursed a baby in the Maya and noone around me was the wiser.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Is that baby still nursing? Is he sleeping through the night yet? Where does she sleep? How did he do with the shots? And my personal favorite, “Is he a GOOD baby?” (I cringe inside and fight the urge to slap anyone who says this. My answer is always the same. “Well, he hasn’t robbed any banks lately!” As if a baby, a gift from God, could ever be anything less than “good”!?)
Questions this impertinent don’t deserve a response, at least not an honest one. Learn to change the subject, defer to the imaginary “Doctor” (the Doctor can be Dr. Sears or any other parenting expert with letters after his or her name whom you respect), your spouse or just simply avoid the topic at all costs. It’s nobody’s business where your baby sleeps, whether you and your beloved are having any sex due to baby’s sleep location, whether your yoni is healed up yet, whether your nipples are sore, etc.
If you don’t know how to change the subject when someone is being rude and nosy, I recommend reading Jane Austen’s novels to learn this art of verbal judo.
If you know a topic is going to trigger a heated response (for instance, you don’t vaccinate but your sister in law is a nurse who thinks you’re killing your children, or you homebirth and your mother in law thinks the only proper way for a lady to bring children to bear is knocked out for two days), simply avoid it at all costs.
“Margaret, If you cannot think of anything appropriate to say you will please restrict your remarks to the weather. “
Mrs. Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
One very important thing to remember is that whenever we make a decision, we are by default condemning the other person’s decision.
Even if we aren’t judgmental, if we do something that we feel is “right”, then automatically the other party thinks we deem their decision “wrong”. (And to be quite honest, we do.) That doesn’t mean we don’t love our families or respect their decisions.
But keeping this firmly in mind helps us to be empathic when others get riled up by our personal choices. We have to realize that by making a different decision, they may feel judged by us.
Eating, Discipline, Homeschooling, And Everything Else
I’ve written 893 words and have barely touched on these other topics. Honestly, it doesn’t matter because the same principles apply no matter what the controversy.
As parents, we have the right to make decisions that we believe are in the best interests of our children. Unapologetically. If brother in law works for the Board of Education and we unschool, that’s ok. If Auntie carries a hickory switch in her purse for errant toddlers and we use gentle discipline, that’s ok too. If Grandma keeps bags of candy everywhere and we don’t keep junk food in the house, that can be worked around as well.
Here is a quick formula to use when in doubt. If someone is criticizing your parenting, or making unhelpful comments or offering unsolicited advice, do this:
1) Make a positive statement about the person.
2) Restate their position.
3) Restate yours.
4) If necessary, Repeat. (You may have to be a broken record, but don’t change your position.)
So it could look like this:
“My dearest mother in law, I appreciate how concerned you are about little Johnny. You obviously did a wonderful job with big Johnny, which is why I love him so much. And you worry that little Johnny isn’t getting enough to eat and is nursing too often. Our Doctor has assured us that little Johnny will get plenty to eat if he is breastfed on cue, without any supplements, and that it’s best to delay solids until 6 months. So we will continue to nurse him as often as he wants to, without offering solids until he is 6 months old. And I assure you I’m getting plenty of rest, since big Johnny is so helpful with the baby!”
Did you see it?
This works no matter what the topic.
I call it The Bobblehead.
It works well for people you won’t see often, like strangers. You don’t need to go into a long explanation with someone like this, since you don’t owe them anything.
With this one, simply nod your head repeatedly like a Bobblehead doll, and say:
“I’ll take that into consideration.”
Then walk away, and do whatever you please.
How do you handle relatives who are unsupportive of your parenting choices?
Related to unsupportive family:
- What Other People Think – Which type of mommy are you?
- Boundaries and Negative People – This links to a podcast interview that is now dead, but has good info and two great book recommendations.
- Nursing – To Cover Up or Not To Cover Up – thoughts to think on about nursing covers
- Holiday Babywearing - why babywearing is so helpful during the holidays