Changing the Conversation or The Day I Stopped Being an Expert on Young Children

Changing the Conversation or The Day I Stopped Being an Expert on Young Children

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“You’re doing a great job, Mama.”

The words came from my daughter’s preschool teacher and I had to bite my tongue—literally—to stop a sudden overflow of tears. Until that moment, I had no idea how much I coveted those words of praise. Everyone knows that parenting is hard. What I was unprepared for was how vulnerable it would make me feel. I had no idea that I’d wrestle with every decision, from bedtime to breastfeeding, school choice to sibling spacing.  I had no idea that simply by having a child, I’d become a walking invitation for advice and even criticism. A born people-pleaser, I’d entered a situation where I could not hope to please everyone—or actually even anyone. Even with a wonderful extended family and supportive I felt the weight of “being mommy” and it was very heavy indeed.

Many have commented on the challenge of parenting today. Not because kids are so different, or because parents are so different, but because our world is so different. We are constantly connected and readily critical. All the news and research and advice gives us the illusion that we, personally, know everything.  Any quick scan of the day’s news reveals multiple stories about how someone is—or isn’t—raising their children. Everything from the clothes they wear to the food they eat is questioned.

The treatment doesn’t stop with the rich and famous. We’re quick to do it to each other, too. Just this morning, a friend posted on Facebook that she was frustrated with her child’s behavior. In the middle of all sorts of craziness she has going on in her family’s life right now, one of her children is acting out. Stressful, yes. Frustrating, definitely. The mark of bad parenting or a juvenile delinquent in the making? No. And yet, within seconds comments to her simple post began to fill with advice. We have many shared friends so I know many of these people and I know it was all well-meaning advice but still, they felt critical even to me.

“You’re being too soft. ” “Give the child a stronger consequence.”  “In our house, we simply don’t tolerate that kind of behavior.” Not one person said, “That’s really hard! It’ll get better.” Or, “You’re a great mom, I know you’ll work this out.” Not one person offered encouragement instead of advice overlaid with judgment.

So I did. Right there, on the spot, I typed “Phases like that are so hard! You’re a great mom, I know you guys will get through this.” It actually took real courage for me to do that. I was afraid I’d look soft, that my own parenting would be called into question. You know what happened instead? The conversation changed. People actually deleted their negative comments. Others chimed in with sentiments similar to my own. People “liked” my comment.

Now, my initial response was to offer advice, and lots of it. That’s what I did professionally for 5 years—advise people on handling difficult situations with children. I had a WHOLE LIST of helpful things I was going to say. I was slowed down only by the speed at which I can type and the need to prioritize so that it would fit in that tiny little space Facebook has for comments. Then, due to my slowness and by the grace of God, I didn’t type any of it. (It probably also helped that I was writing an article on supporting parents and the idea of withholding advice/judgment was fresh on my mind.) Instead, I remembered what a great parent my friend is. I remembered that she’s an engaged mom with access to the internet and 50,000 blogs that could tell her what to do if she needed advice. I remembered that moment when someone told me, “You’re doing a great job, Mama.”

From all that came an amazing, powerful idea. Guys, we have the power to change the conversation.. We have the power to create a world where people really support each other. Sure, maybe it’s just our part of the world, but still, that’s a start. So there’s my resolution and challenge: Let’s help parents be better parents just by loving them. Let’s offer advice only if someone explicitly ask for it. And if we should be asked to give advice, let’s preface it with, “You’re a great parent. This is hard.”

Go barefoot, friends.

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