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.”

In Part II of Parenting Differently from Family and Friends, read about:

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.

12 Comments
  1. Tracey Willms Deane 8 years ago

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart Genevieve, and for the souls of the new generations being parented now, and all those to come who are benefitting from your willingness to bravely pioneer peaceful parenting yourself. And then, the support you provide through your wonderful work! As you know, i have experienced much of what this article speaks to. I’m ongoingly healing still-open wounds that began 20 years ago while pregnant with my firstborn, and making “controversial” choices. So much love and gratitude for the healing you are generating!! Arohanui Tracey

    • oh bless Tracey, thank you for your kind and generous words. And yes I know well that you can relate to this and how hard it was for you to stand by your values in your parenting and lifestyle choices. As much as I always look back and wish I could have been stronger in standing my ground, yet I also need to appreciate myself for the extent that I never lost my visions or doubted my values even if I couldn’t always weather the conflict that voicing them entailed. I always remind myself that I don’t need to change all the patterns in one generation, but that the changes I’ve been making in breaking cycles has definitely set my guys onto a whole different path and trajectory. And the same with your guys <3 We can be very proud of ourselves and our kids.

  2. Naomi 7 years ago

    It took MANY years for me to learn to ignore what everyone says and do what I feel is right.

    With my first child I did everything by the book. Slowly I learned to co-sleep, wear my baby in a sling, and feed on demand. At the time, there weren’t online forums so it was hard to find other people like me. And the people around me always seemed to have an opinion to voice (for or against).

    Eventually it stopped, like-minded forums popped up, and now I just do whatever I think is right.

    Naomi

    P.S. Something interested I noticed – the more confident I am, the less criticism I get.

    • Yes Naomi, it is interesting that the more confident we become, the less criticism we get, it’s as if people pick up on another’s vulnerability which gives them more confidence to give their opinion. Lovely to read that you learned to trust your instincts more and more over time.

  3. NATALIE PAPADOPOULOS 5 years ago

    This gets easier and then harder again in waves. Thanks… on to Part II now. x

    • Author

      Yes Natalie, this one is such a huge challenge for so many parents. I find it incredibly sad that so many of the parents I know are really doing the hard yards of changing how they relate and communicate to give their children a better start in life, yet instead of gaining the encouragement, acknowledgement and support to keep on keeping on, parenting differently so often triggers others and results in them being defensive and judgmental. It is a topic that has often come up over the years here in the Village, let me know if you’d like me to pull out a couple of those threads for you. One that comes to mind was Jo Bee who posted just after Christmas or maybe early January about challenges at the relative’s house over the holidays.

  4. Louise H 5 years ago

    Hi Genevieve, this is such a great article – thank you so, so much. I am a mother to a 15 month old girl and my choices in how to parent match with yours – yet my confidence in my choices is knocked by other mums with regularity – I get little comments and judgements against my ways (“WHAT?! You’re still cosleeping? And breastfeeding during the night?! Well no wonder your baby won’t sleep – you need to sleep train” and recently “It’s healthier for them to go to nursery at a young age so they can detach from you”), and as no one else I know is doing things our way, it can so often feel like I’m actually doing it all the wrong way. So it was wonderful to come across your article and see the other commenters’ feelings on here. Naomi saying it took years to learn to ignore what everyone says and do what you feel is right – that feels so true already – I wish I could get there quicker!! Your article has certainly helped. Thank you – Louise

    • Author

      Louise it means the world to me that my article has helped you feel a bit more seen, heard, validated and supported in your parenting choices. You’re SO on the right track, good on you for following your gut and following your child’s cues and needs. Do you also get my peaceful parenting tips by email? Lots of people say that it just gives them little boosts or tips that can turn the day around and generally maintain that feeling of being connected in our peaceful parenting community. You can join through any page of the website here. Also I’ve got a private facebook group The Way of the Peaceful Parent Q&A group where lots of discussions happen amongst parents with similar values to yours. Keep the faith!! Your child will thank you endlessly!

  5. […] had to admit that I wasn’t quite as at peace with the difference between my parenting style and that of what seemed like everyone else I knew.  In fact, when I dug a little deeper, I […]

  6. […] you and your child. Each parent must decide what’s best for their individual child, as with all parenting issues. Only you can find your truth and the strength to follow what you believe to be right. There’s […]

  7. […] You may also like to read Parenting differently from family and friends […]

  8. […] Right from the beginning of being a parent, I experienced judgment and defensiveness. This was from many who chose more traditional approaches in their parenting. I was also aware from the beginning that messages and early childhood conditioning (or hypnosis as I think of it) that my children received were different in many ways from the messages imprinted on children in mainstream families. I knew they would have the challenges of noticing those differences as they got older. Often I was concerned about how they would cope with these differences and the potential social impacts. These are common concerns of many parents who chose to walk a path less travelled in their parenting and lifestyle choices. […]

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