I came across a quote recently by Walt Whitman that has made me think about my relationships with other parents:
Be curious, not judgmental.
Simple. Direct. AND SO DAMN DIFFICULT AT TIMES.
What if the next time a fellow parent proclaimed they were doing the exact opposite of what we were doing we thought: Fascinating! You came to conclusion X, I came to conclusion Y… AND MAYBE THAT’S OKAY! I’m kind of freaked out because I’m worried about what this says about my choices (maybe you’re right! maybe I’m wrong!) But, hey, maybe I can learn something here.
Fat chance? Okay, here are a couple of examples: breastfeeding in public and bed sharing.
What if rather than falling to judgement, we first challenged ourselves to be curious when we saw a woman breastfeeding in public? What if we wondered:
Why is she nursing here as opposed to somewhere else (not, WHY OH WHY GAAAHHHH CAN’T SHE GO SOMEWHERE ELSSSSSEEEE? I’m talking genuine curiosity here)? What kind of day is she having? What kind of temperament does her child have? Did she ever worry she wasn’t making enough milk? Is nursing painful for her? Was it ever painful for her? What was her birth experience like? Has she experienced postpartum depression? What kind of support network does she have? Does she have a partner? If she does, is he or she supportive? Was she breastfed as a baby/child? Was I breastfed as a baby/child? Have I ever breastfed? Have I ever breastfed in public? What kind of research has she done? Does she have her mothers support? Does she have her mother-in-laws support? Does she have family support? Is she comfortable nursing in public? Why or why not? Am I comfortable seeing her nurse in public? Why or why not? What does my answer say about me and my experience/research/perspective? Can I learn anything from her? Can she learn anything from me? Considering everything I don’t know about her situation, does she need to learn anything from me? If she can, can I say it kindly?
What if we were curious when we learned our friends bed shared with their child? What if we wondered:
Why did they decide to bed share? When did they decide to bed share? Did it happen all at once or gradually? Did they ever try co-sleeping? Did they ever try a crib? What kind of temperament does their child have? How sleep deprived are they? Has mom experienced postpartum depression or have a history of depression? How about dad? Do they like bed sharing? How many kids do they have? What kind of research has she done? Does mom or dad work outside the home? Do they have family around? Do they get enough “adult alone” time? How (let your mind wander here… go on… do you really care if they are having sex or just thinking you would find it a pain to get up out of bed to make that happen?)? Does mom breastfeed or formula feed? Did I bed share? Why or why not? If bed sharing doesn’t bother me, why? If bed sharing does bother me, why? Can I learn anything from them? Can they learn anything from me? Considering everything I don’t know about their situation, do they need to learn anything from me? If they can, can I say it kindly?
What if before we wondered what someone’s choices said about OUR decisions, we forgot ourselves for a minute? What if we stepped into their loving, attentive shoes and tried to understand their motivations? Are they loving and attentive? Do they love their kids? Do they have the same information we have or maybe more or less or different research? What would we need to hear/learn in order to come to the conclusion that we are wrong, they are right, and maybe we made a mistake? Or that we are right AND they are right given our situations, our families, our understandings, our fears and priorities?
I’m not saying it’s easy. Parenting is a highly charged arena precisely because the stakes are so high. We are talking about our children, our charges, the most important pieces of our hearts skipping and tripping and running around in the world, ever further from us. That, however, is the very reason we need to take these words to heart: “Be curious, not judgmental.” We are talking about our children. What if we see differing opinions as an opportunity to learn as much as we can so we can do as well by them as we can? What if we considered all sides?
MomsUnitingMoms.com was founded by Shauna Stewart Douglas. Shauna lives in Victoria, BC, Canada with her husband, her spunky daughter and her two crazy dogs. You can also find her on her personal blog at Fido & Wino.
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