The Golden Rule of Parenting? Judge Not

Family Matters on 04.15.11
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Image credit: Lisamarie Babik, used under Creative Commons license.

I mentioned before how, before becoming a parent, the idea of dealing with baby poop scared the crap out of me. But I had another deep seated fear of the parent world - parents.

More precisely, I wondered, how the heck do you deal with other parents with different parenting styles to your own? And how do you deal with well-meaning guidance from friends, relatives and out-right strangers who may have different views to you about how to raise a child.

This was not an entirely unfounded fear.

Everyone Has an Opinion on Parenting

Of all the spheres of human experience, child rearing is one of the most universal. We've all been kids, and we've all had parents, whether they were around or not. We all know parents, and many of us are parents ourselves. And I can think of few roles that have more responsibility than how you raise the next generation. So it's little wonder that all of us - myself included - have profound and sincerely held views on what is, and what is not, a good parent.

The trouble is that oftentimes those views do not coincide with those of others.

Beyond the obvious extremes of abuse or neglect, there are about as many views on "good" and "bad" parenting as there are parents. Can children be raised vegetarian? Should modern families go on a digital diet? Is it OK to feed your child by dumpster diving?  You only have to peruse the posts on Parentables to understand that the conundrums are endless.

The Legitimate Concerns of Others

Jenni and I have explored our fair share of approaches and methodologies with our daughter, Lilia (18 months) that might seem alien to some. From co-sleeping in a family bed, through cloth diapering, to raising her on a primarily vegetarian diet - I am sure some would question the choices we have made. I know for a fact - for example - that co-sleeping was a controversial subject among a few relatives. In general we have tried to accept that they have their legitimate concerns, and we've done our best to have a frank and open discussion about why we make the choices we make. (We also found our baby's attire criticized in a parking lot by a complete stranger - that was an entirely different story!)

We All Judge

Likewise, we're not immune to judging the parenting choices of others ourselves. Early on in our parenting days, we gravitated toward the philosophy of "attachment parenting" - namely not letting your child cry it out, and generally accepting that if a baby is crying, they need something and it is our duty to give it to them.

We even found ourselves privately questioning the choices of others who chose differently. While we have by no means abandoned attachment parenting - after 18 months of raising, shall we say, not the best sleeper in the world, we've adapted our approach somewhat, and we've also gained an understanding of why others may choose to let their child cry it out.  

Passive Aggressive Judgment is Still Judgment

Perhaps the biggest danger is judgment that hides behind acceptance. I remember early on when Lilia was a baby reading an otherwise excellent book about co-sleeping and attachment parenting. In it the authors noted that every family should make the choices that were right for them. It was, they said, absolutely OK for families to put their child in a crib. But - of course there was a "but" coming  - we should be aware that other cultures in which co-sleeping was the norm would be shocked to hear that we in the West put our children to sleep in cages!

This was not open-minded advice. It was a guilt trip. And it made me reassess my own tendency to pass judgment, and to express that judgment - even subconsciously.

Whatever Works for Your Family

Given the important - even crucial - role that parenting plays in our society, it is little wonder that people have such strong views. Indeed, debate and discussion are an important part of how we form our cultural norms. I continue to have strong views about what constitutes healthy nutrition for kids - for example - and I am happy to have that discussion with folks who are of a different mindset. But that debate should be measured, informed and respectful, and above all it should encourage every parent to develop the experience, wisdom and ability to learn what their own child needs.

Our new parenting philosophy might be described in three phrases: "Judge not." "Listen to others." And "Whatever works for you." I find that most seasoned parents have come to similar conclusions.

 I have strong views about those who have not.

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