The trials of being a peaceful parent pioneer
Do you sometimes feel challenged in your attempts to be a more peaceful parent? Especially in a society that’s less than compassionate towards the differences and struggles of parents and children. Many parents are surprised about the tensions that arise when they choose to parent differently from family and friends.
Have you sometimes felt harshly judged for your choice to be patient and supportive at a time when your child expressed their raw feelings? Have you often hidden your exhaustion because you feared being judged for not sleep-training your baby?
These are issues that many parents I talk to through my work have a huge need to discuss. Many parents I’ve helped as a counsellor have described the heartbreak of rejection they’ve experienced as a result of choosing to parent differently.
When you parent differently
There is strength in numbers. So it’s dangerously easy to assume that the choices of the majority are the right choices. Just about anybody in one or more minority groups feels acutely the impact of such attitudes. Yet the frontiers of change have always been forged by those who choose to walk a path less travelled. Those who bravely step into new territories and new ways.
A mother and foster mum shared:
“It feels so vulnerable to have your child acting a certain way. Knowing that others may attribute that to your parenting style rather than the child being a child! I sometimes feel it’s not fair because I see the same behaviour from kids that are mainstream parented. They are approved of for ‘taking control’ (by being punitive). Even though what I’m doing in holding space for my child is actually the most effective thing I can do.
I feel especially upset when I sense people are judging my 8-year-old foster child for his behaviour. And also me for my parenting. His behaviour is often very similar to a typical 3-year-old child due to his trauma background.”
Another mother shared:
“This difference in parenting philosophy has created such a rift between my brother and myself. We haven’t seen each other in over a year, which is so sad.”
I also was unprepared for the challenges that my parenting choices attracted when I became a mother in 1997
What was harder than the judgments was the breakdown in connection and the many misunderstandings that resulted. Luckily my husband and I naturally seemed to agree on many choices. Such as carrying our child in a sling, co-sleeping, and feeding on demand. This meant feeding in public (gasp!), which was akin to indecent exposure in Ireland less than two decades ago!
My husband was so committed that he spent several weeks making a birthing pool. There were only four in the whole of Ireland back then! My heart really goes out to the parents who face judgment from family and friends. This can be stressful enough to deal with. But also they feel they have to defend their choices with their own partner. It can be very painful for both parents to struggle to come to terms with their partner’s views. Enough to challenge the most solid relationship!
Parents can hear accusations of spoiling their children and thwarting the development of independence
When choosing to co-sleep, babywear or feed their baby beyond a year, parents hear all these accusations. This, of course, is contrary to what’s known about the important role of meeting the child’s dependency needs. This plays a part in developing their emotional strength, security and resilience. The parent who chooses to homeschool is often accused of depriving their child of a “proper education” or healthy socialisation. The parent who chooses to not punish can feel judged to be permissive and too soft to hold boundaries or limits.
Many parents who have changed to a more peaceful non-punitive approach have shared their surprise at how much more criticism they now attract compared to back when they used time-out, threats and liberally yelled at their child.
I won’t elaborate here on why such judgments are misinformed. They generally cross the line into the very personal choices of another. You’ll be highly aware of the reasons why you choose what you choose.
Belonging and sharing values are such primal needs
If you find any of these differences or misunderstandings to be very stressful, you deserve to be truly compassionate towards yourself in honouring how hard this can be. An understanding I’ve gained from some of the attachment literature is that there’s something very primal in bonding through shared beliefs, shared values, and shared traditions. Through feeling a sense of likeness and sameness.
It’s not logical, for instance, that Granny seems so hurt and personally offended when Mum explains that Tommy has a gluten allergy. He can’t eat Granny’s famous apple crumble. Neither Granny nor Mum can fully understand just how deeply reliant Granny is on expressing her love through food. Hence gaining her sense of value. Granny needs to be adaptive and move through these feelings. Then she’ll likely find ways of cooking that continue to meet all the needs. When a parent chooses to parent differently from their own parents, it can truly test the bonds of those relationships.
Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love. – Thích Nhất Hạnh, How to Love
Complex challenges arise when differences touch on deeply rooted core beliefs, values and traditions
These challenges are faced by parents, partners, grandparents, friends and relatives. Feeling at peace with one’s differences generally needs to rest on the security of overall belonging and feeling accepted. For those who don’t have that solid secure sense of belonging and acceptance within their family of origin, tensions around differences can touch on old wounds. Especially if differences in that family resulted in harsh criticisms, rejection or character judgments. To feel more secure and hold steady in ourselves in the face of differences and especially judgments often calls on a parent to do some soul searching and emotional growth.
Setting ourselves up for success
The more mindful and realistic we are about the challenges that differences provide, the more skilfully we can navigate those challenges.
Melissa shares what has helped her:
“I have struggled with hanging out with other parents as my parenting style differs to anyone else I know in person. The situations I put my son in are carefully managed. I especially manage his sleep and my expectations of him depending on his sleep or lack of. When I’ve felt judged and misunderstood, I find it hard to explain myself.
So instead I’ve sent family links to articles on my style of parenting. Once after my sister read them, I sat down with her and discussed some differences as she uses time out or threats. It’s been good to get it all out on the table and agree to differ.
I still need to become stronger in all this. But these days I am more and more confident in my parenting and don’t care about the looks or stares when I’m perceived to not be parenting properly. I have been known to sit down on the floor in the supermarket with or near my son who is having a big emotional release.”
When children cry or tantrum around relatives or in public
Quotes from parents about what works for them
The challenges of feeling judged and judging others
Whether or not to have those difficult conversations
The original version of this article was first published in The Natural Parenting Magazine
Genevieve Simperingham is a Psychosynthesis Counsellor, a Parenting Instructor and coach, public speaker, human rights advocate, writer and the founder of The Peaceful Parent Institute. Check out her articles, Peaceful Parenting eCourses, forums and one-year Peaceful Parenting Instructor Training through this website or join over 90,000 followers on her Facebook page The Way of the Peaceful Parent.