When you have friends who are also parents, things can get awkward when parenting philosophies clash.
I have known since I was a teenager that I wouldn’t let my baby watch tv, and that I would use a diaper service, and that I would carry my child in a carrier instead of lugging around a car seat, and that I would breastfeed. They didn’t even feel like decisions. They were things I felt I knew about myself.
When I was getting my B.Sc in Psychology, I added things to my mental list of future parenthood.
I would practice attachment parenting, because I learned in Interpersonal Relations and Emotions classes how vital a secure attachment is to a person’s future happiness.
I would use babytalk (sorry, “parentese” :-p) with my baby, and sign language, because Psycholinguistics taught me that they actually speed up language development.
Watching a parent in a store, I would think about how I would deal with a discipline problem, using methods I had learned from Behaviour Modification.
Now I am a parent, and so are some of my friends.
And it can get awkward.
People feel very personal about their parenting decisions.
Everyone wants to be a good parent (I hope). No one wants to believe that they might be doing things wrong, and yet that fear lurks beneath the surface of every truly good parent. For that reason, people tend to get violently defensive of their own parenting techniques.
So I tread on eggshells.
I nod and smile when people suggest letting my baby cry it out, rather than lecture them about attachment styles. I downplay my use of the cloth diapers. Instead of talking to them about links to asthma, and low sperm counts, I tell them that “it’s laziness, really”, because the diaper service will deliver diapers to my house.
I don’t want to hurt my friends by suggesting that they did things wrong by letting their child cry it out, or by using disposable diapers. I don’t think they did do anything wrong. I just know I don’t want to do it.
Many of my friends are excellent parents whom I admire very much, and these little things are very minor in comparison to the many other things they do as parents that I wholeheartedly agree with. Some of them made those choices many years ago, when there was less information on the subject. So I don’t tell them why I make the choices that I make, in case they feel like I am lecturing them or implying that they did things wrong.
Doing this goes against my natural instincts, because I am a lecturer by nature. However, I was blessed with a friend of lesser intelligence when I was younger, and the hurt she invariably felt whenever I lost patience with her taught me the beginnings of self-censorship. I still don’t always know when to shut up, but I’m better than I used to be, and I know that parents don’t take lectures on parenting styles sitting down.
So I shut up, but sometimes it is really hard.
The other night, when a friend offered me her DVD for infants, which she referred to as “baby crack” I had to think fast to turn it down politely. I had an idea that a reflexive “Oh, HELL no, why don’t you just offer him some methamphetamines while you’re at it?” would not be a well-received response. This is a kind and intelligent person who doesn’t deserve that kind of rudeness.
I suppose I could have just accepted it from her and just never played it for Babby, but then she might have asked me how Babby liked it, and if I had been amused by it myself, and that could have started a whole web of lies. So I summoned every bit of tact I had and said,
“Thank you, but we have a DVD of original sesame street, and that’s enough for now.” I neglected to mention that there’s no way Babby is watching that before age two or three, either. I resisted adding that we don’t want Babby watching TV because pediatricians recommend absolutely no television before age two. I just said no thank you, and hinted that Babby was watching other things.
I feel bad, as if I had lied to my friend, because in a way I did lie. I misled her to think that I was not opposed to DVDs for infants, and that I had my own collection of such things. On the one hand, I spared her feelings and avoided insulting her own parenting choices. I feel that this was the right thing to do.
On the other hand, she babysits for us sometimes, and so I feel like I have delayed the inevitable… unless I want to take the risk that some day she will play “baby crack” for my own child… something I’m sure she wouldn’t do if she knew that it was against my rules. But if I tell her my rules, I’ll be risking making her angry and hurt.
What do you do, when someone suggests something for your child which violates your parenting beliefs? Conversely, what do you do if someone lectures you on your own?