I like to think of myself as a pretty laid-back parent.
Some of that seems to have come naturally – I’ll never forget the horror on a relative’s face when I dropped my oldest son’s pacifier on the ground, then nonchalantly gave it a quick rinse from my water bottle and popped it back in his mouth – while some of my relaxed stance has come from experience and time.
And I admit that I have found myself doing a little inward eye-roll when a fellow mom is absolutely freaking out about something I don’t rank as very important, like her child’s unwillingness to use the toilet at 18 months, or the fact that an older child sneezed in her baby’s general direction.
We’ve all got those things, though, right? The things we care about that others don’t. The things others care about that we don’t understand. It’s human nature.
The problem is, that not-getting-it can lead to conversations that imply moms are being ungrateful, selfish, paranoid or just plain high-strung if they put a lot of importance into things that others don’t, whether it’s disappointment over a birth plan gone awry or worry about GMO’s.
When you’re the parent who isn’t much worried about whatever the topic du jour is, it’s only too easy to advocate “Calm The F*ck Down Parenting.”
But what about when you’re the parent who is?
I think we need to realize that the world of raising children goes beyond our own experience of it. That there are bigger concerns than our own particular ones. That just because we don’t have much of an opinion on a certain topic doesn’t make other parents wrong for caring – a lot – about said topic.
We can’t all carry a torch for every issue, no matter how worthy or important. There aren’t enough hours in the day. But just because something doesn’t get me worked up, doesn’t mean that the parent who cares about it is wrong.
Not every parent has the benefit of years of experience to soften her anxieties. And some parents have had experiences I can’t even imagine, don’t want to imagine, that have shaped the landscape of their personal convictions.
But I don’t have to have a certain experience or feel a certain way to understand why others might. It’s empathy, and the lack of it – the inability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes for a moment – is, I believe, what’s behind parent-on-parent judgment to begin with.
Yes, some parents do seem to worry about everything. And yes, I would love to help those parents calm the F down a little. (But in a nice, and not at all hostile way. Promise.)
On the other hand, some parents worry about a few things that are very close to their hearts, for reasons I may never fully understand. It’s simply not my place to tell them to calm down, shut up, or stop worrying.
Thoughtful discussion is wonderful. Casual dismissal of another person’s very real feelings is just plain rude – and it doesn’t change minds, either.
I’ve been guilty of this myself, via off-the-cuff Facebook updates or thoughtless comments. But then I remembered how it felt to be a newer mom and have a more “seasoned” mom blow off my concerns about chemicals or finding the perfect car seat. It didn’t help me relax; it just made me feel foolish and defensive.
Yes, it’s true that many of us have experienced judgment at the hands – or mouths – of other parents who care so deeply about their issue du jour that they lose perspective and compassion.
And I don’t think that I owe any other parent a detailed defense of why I didn’t buy the highest-rated car seat or use cloth diapers the last three go-rounds.
But if I do choose to wade into a parenting topic I don’t really understand, I think I owe it more than a “CTFD” blow-off. And I have to be careful not to let any defensiveness I might be feeling harden into a mask of superior coolness.
So if you care a lot about special needs, or kids’ athletics, or multicultural parenting, or adoption, or standardized testing, or clean eating, or bicycle helmets, or pesticides in baby shampoo, or (fill in the blank), I can respect that. Even if said topic doesn’t much matter to me, or I haven’t given it a lot of thought.
Even if I just disagree with you.
It doesn’t make me wrong. It doesn’t mean you need to CTFD. It just means that we care about different things.
And when it comes down to it, isn’t it better to live in a world where people care about things – even if they are different things?