Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What to Do About Other People’s Parenting (or How not to be a Dick): A Handy User Guide

by Molly S. (guest blogger)
As a mother I am practically legally obligated to participate in many online forums and discussions regarding parenting. Typically things sail very smoothly on most of the ones I participate in until someone posts about the dreaded topic of “other people’s parenting”.

Some (mainly fictional) examples include:

I saw this mom at the park today, she was just sitting on the bench checking her iPhone and her two year old was just running everywhere, I felt so bad for him

My niece’s step-sister’s aunt posted this picture on Facebook of her 18 month old in a car seat and he was FORWARD FACING! Ugh, some people just don’t even care about their kids

My friend Bertha is still breastfeeding her three year old, I mean I’m all for breastfeeding, but come on!

How should I tell my coworker that the baby Bjorn she has is probably going to damage her little one’s hips for life? I mean I showed her the custom made Tula I got for my son and she acted like it was too expensive, I guess some people just put their kid’s health second.

What do you guys think about cloth diapering? I’m SO grossed out that my daughter’s teacher said she is doing it. Also, why add all that laundry to your life?

These posts are typically followed by many parents who feel personally judged by these comments. Then fights ensue, people dig in their heels, feelings are hurt and the administrators start deleting posts. (And as an administrator on a rather large Facebook group- I make myself a White Russian. Circumcision debates alone have caused me to kill a bottle of Kahlua.)

So, in order to stop these fights I have made this handy user guide on what to do about other people’s parenting. Let’s pretend you are at the mall playground, and you see Annie do/talk about something that you would never ever ever do to your little Jimmy.

  1. Is it an emergency? And I mean real emergency. Is her kid about to be set on fire? Did she pass out and her son is now trying to eat unidentified purple pills from his diaper bag?  Then call 911. Do not stop to update your status or take a picture of little Sam leaning over her pale limp body.

  1. Is her child in serious danger? Did she confess that she is selling him over the internet in order to finance her Beanie Baby addiction? Did she throw him in the trunk when she left to take him home. Then call either the police or Child Protective Services. I don’t want to diminish the seriousness of child abuse or the necessity of people reporting it -- in fact I wish more people would report it when they see something happen to a child. But please remember that many actions (such as not vaccinating, feeding them rice cereal at 4 months or letting a five year old play outside unsupervised) are not usually actionable, for good reason. So please really consider what serious danger is. Also, notice I said report it, not solicit advice from 25,000 strangers on Baby Center.

  1. Are they doing something that is unsafe or not the best practice? These are typically the actions that don’t require a call to an authority, but maybe aren’t the best for their kid. Are they forward facing a 14 month old in a car seat? Are they giving their five year old only soda to drink? First recognize that oftentimes you are only given a snapshot of anyone’s parenting. Maybe the soda was all that was left in the house that morning and their food stamps don’t come in until next week. Maybe the only carseat they have is forward facing. These are the situations where you have an awesome opportunity! You can help! And by help, I don’t mean publicly shaming them on Twitter. I mean you can sweetly send them a private message (or even better mention it to them over drinks that you are springing for), you can loan them a better car seat, you can tell them you didn’t know about how dangerous it is to put a Bumbo on your kitchen counter until your friend sent you an article. Now this is a risk, anytime you call attention to something a mother might not be doing right they can feel judged or attacked (mainly because as mothers we often feel judged or attacked for our personal decisions for our family). If the mother snaps back at you or ignores your well intentioned advice then do the hard thing: walk away. People have a million different battles they are fighting, and what might seem significant to you, may not be something that they have the time or energy to address at the moment. So walk away. Don’t post about them, don’t take pictures of their kids and ask what to do. Just walk away and say to yourself “Not my monkeys, not my circus.”

  1. Is your child impacted? Is your child being bit by their blood thirsty toddler? Did their teenager tell yours he can drink at his house, because his parents allow it? The best option is to remove your child from the situation. You can do this by just leaving, ending a friendship or calling the parent and setting some firm boundaries. Soliciting advice on what to do personally to protect your child is in my opinion totally fine. But when soliciting advice it is important to say something like this: “I do not want my child to consume the amount of candy that he does when he is at my cousin’s house, does anyone have any suggestions on how to bring that up with her?” NOT “My cousin allows her kid to go sugar crazy! They eat so much I know they are going to get ADD. What should I do?”

  1. Are they doing something you feel passionately against? Do you truly believe that kids should never eat red dye? Do you think that disposable diapers are ruining the environment? Then by all means be an advocate for your cause! I personally run into this issue often because I feel very passionate about ensuring that children are vaccinated. So, I post articles with research on vaccine safety, I join groups where vaccines are promoted and I donate money to vaccine outreach. What I try really hard not to do is this: “All of these dumb parents who don’t vaccinate should really just sign over custody of their kids to the state.” Why? Because that is just being a dick and parenting is hard enough without having to deal with dicks.

  1. Are they just doing something differently than you would do it? Would you have removed your daughter from the park while they are having a tantrum, instead of waiting it out? Would you have pumped instead of switching to formula when you went back to work? Would you never homeschool your kids? Well then notice they are doing something differently and wish them well. There are 7 billion people on this planet and they all required 7 billion different types of parenting. To assume that what works for you or your kids would work for theirs is presumptuous at best, judgmental at worst.

After following this handy guide you can see that it is almost never necessary to post online about other people’s parenting. This parenting shit is hard, and most of us don’t know what we are doing. And if by chance you do find yourself violating one of these rules and get called on it (I certainly have), instead of digging your heels in, try listening and learning. When you know better, you do better. Oh, and really try hard to not be a dick.

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