Parenting has been a complex journey. It’s a role filled with contradictions: my children bring me immense joy, happiness, laughter, and love, but with that also comes fear, concern, frustration, and uncertainty. I’ve found we all have this in common. We all face the same struggles, challenges, and hope to reap the same rewards of confident, successful, and happy children. We are all trying to do our best.
However, there are many different answers to the question of how we do our best. So many families I know choose to meet, or even define, their children’s needs in vastly different ways. There are so many different decisions to be made about food/nutrition, nursing, screen time, sleep, punishment/reward, toilet learning, schedules, routines….the list goes on and on! And, within each of these different topics, there are many different approaches to making these decisions. It’s often overwhelming.
I have chosen to parent against-the-grain.
For me that looks like paying attention to labels and food sourcing, being conscientious and informed about medical care from a holistic viewpoint, approaching discipline from a gentle perspective, co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and many other decisions that do not fall in line with more traditional, adult-centered approaches to raising children.
I’ve discovered all parents feel push-back for their decisions at some point, and I have met many people who have disagreed with me.
There are people who want my children to hug them despite my children’s wishes, others who want to give them candy at inappropriate times, others who shift uncomfortably when my toddler breastfeeds, and still others who struggle when my children occasionally express themselves while screaming and, possibly, thrashing.
Many times I feel resolute and remain the strong, confident voice and advocate for my child. Other times, I have felt confused, alone, angry, and frustrated. Sometimes, I have felt insecure about my choices.
So, how do I survive this road I have chosen, based on my beliefs, my research, my knowledge, and most importantly, my intuition? How do I remain strong as I blaze new trails and empower my children to become gentle, positive, self-assured, independent, confident individuals? How do I prepare myself for the push-back that sometimes comes with argument, anger, offense, and disapproval?
How To Parent When Your Parenting Style Goes Against the Grain
Seek out like-minded individuals
…or at least individuals open to discussion and confident enough in their own parenting not to judge your parenting style.
I have found support in online communities like Facebook groups or websites with threads where like-minded parents can share information and have discussions. I have attended local meetings (like La Leche League and Holistic Mamas groups). I have searched meet-ups for Mom Groups. Finding allies has helped me vent when I am frustrated, give me ideas that align with my beliefs when I am are struggling, and support me when I feel alone or estranged.
Research lends a tremendous amount of support.
I am continuously seeking out information to help me feel more confident about my decisions, as well as confident in having conversations with others who may not agree. The more research I do, the more I read and understand, the more confident I am about my approach.
Don’t let others’ beliefs influence you.
I never let others’ beliefs influence me if they are not grounded in a real understanding of a child’s development. Just because something has been done before and worked before does not mean that it is the best way.
If I am facing conflict about a choice, there are always many articles out there that can help me defend my position with factual information or studies. And, in some cases, I have even learned that I agree with a different position. I have also found that not everything has research. Those are the times I have to follow my intuition, and I have to trust myself.
It’s not necessary to defend yourself or engage in arguments.
While information helps me feel supported in my choices, I never forget that I am my children’s parent. I don’t have to defend my choices. No one has all the answers; no one is a perfect parent. More importantly, my child doesn’t have to be perfect.
Have expectations according to your child’s age and development.
Parenting in a way that honors the child depends on the belief that children will, at times, exhibit behaviors at odds with modern society’s expectations. Many of those expectations placed on children are not even upheld by adults (how many adults do you actually know that can remain quiet, sit still all the time, and never have outbursts??).
My children will have struggles and that’s okay, because I will be there to guide them and find strategies that work for them. Most often, the people I feel are judging me and my children are really struggling with their own issues and beliefs which often are the result of their own negative childhood experiences. Those issues and beliefs do not have to be mine, and they say more about the person experiencing them than they do about me.
Parenting is not about being right, it’s about honoring your child.
Despite our differences, I always have compassion for the choices of others. The choices I make may not work for every family. The decisions families make must take into account a number of factors, based on the individual needs of the family members. Every family is different; every child is different. What works for me may not work for others.
In the same way that I am making choices that I believe are best for the individuals in my family, I know that the people I disagree with feel the same way…their intentions are for what’s best for their family.
If it’s my own family or friends that I am in disagreement with, I try to remember that they too are acting from a place of best intentions for my family. The first step to discussing disagreement with others is to recognize that their intentions are genuine, even if I believe them to be misguided.
Gandhi once said: “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
When faced with outdated modes of thinking, I am always the model of change. If family members or friends are interacting with my child in a manner I disagree with, then I step in calmly, quietly, and kindly model the appropriate interaction.
In any given moment, I may choose to model appropriate language or demonstrate how I would redirect a behavior. I model my thinking for others by helping them understand why something works better for my family and my child or the process that brought me to certain decisions either through my research, my intuition, or my experiences.
This allows me to shift from antagonistic conversations (“your way is wrong”) to beneficial discussions (“well, this really works for our family/my child because…”) with more positive outcome. By being the model of kindness, compassion, and understanding of both my children and adults, I can affect change in much more positive ways.
We all need a village.
Because I cannot survive without a village, I have faith in the people I care about and that care about me. If the person disagreeing with me is a stranger, it can be very easy to move on from what they say or think. But, if a person is close to me, I may find myself in a larger struggle.
There are things that I draw a hard line on (like spanking, for example…NO ONE may strike my child, or any child as far as I’m concerned), but there are other things that are not so black and white (occasionally, my children’s grandparents take them to fast food restaurants I don’t really approve of).
If the person I disagree with on occasion, is someone my child and I love and provides care for my children, I try to remember that children can benefit from a number of different approaches.
Diversity in caregivers is an important part of the development process.
As long as I remain consistent with my approach at home, I am confident that my child will know and understand it. As I am the primary caregiver for my children the majority of the time, this is easier for me to accomplish. But, if I have to rely on another person to care for my child, and my child remains positively connected to that person, I have faith that some differences in their methods will not undo mine. While I may not compromise on the hard lines that I have taken, I always recognize that, with many things, a little compromise will not damage my child.
Parenting the road less traveled is not always easy, but it is rewarding.
At the end of the day, if I follow my heart and my intuition, I know my family will be okay.
When I follow my intituion, I have more confidence about the choices that we make as a family and I am able to easily adapt to the needs of my family. I don’t always have the answers. And sometimes, I can’t always find the answers. Sometimes I’m just following my heart and my children. Sometimes, that road leads me far away from others, and other times, I’m traveling right along side them. And that is ok.
Ultimately, the only concerns and opinions we should worry about are of the people depending on you to be their guide and their role model. You will know you’re on the right path if you parent conscientiously, and as long as your focus remains your family.
This is a guest post written by Anjali from More Than Just Montessori.
Anjali is an American Montessori Society certified educator working closely with primary aged children (2 to 6 years) and their families since 2003 and substitute teaches at her children’s Montessori school. As a faculty member of the Northern Virginia Montessori Institute, she educates future teachers in the language development of young children. Now a mostly stay-at-home mother to her son and her daughter, her approach to parenting credits Montessori philosophy, positive discipline, attachment parenting, gentle parenting, and staying apprised of current research in child development. But, most of all, she’s all about snuggles, modeling kindness, and a warm cup of tea.