Monday, November 28, 2016

Relating to Moms Who Parent Differently Than You

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You know those awkward moments. Those times when another mom is trying to find common ground with you by bringing up a common frustration among mothers, but the ground is actually uncharted territory for you?

"My two year old still gets up all night every night!"

"I can't get my four year old out of my bed."

"Whenever I lose my voice, I quickly realize how much I yell at my kids!"

"I can't ever leave my baby because she still nurses to sleep."

Or similarly, those moments when you are around a mom and her kids and it becomes clear you  have very different behavior expectations. One is left feeling judged for being to lax while the other one is feeling judged for being too strict. 

While we can find groups of parents online who share our same parenting philosophies, it can be very difficult to find one or two, much less a group, of moms who parent similarly to you within your neighborhood. That leaves us with trying to figure out how to relate with other moms when we really don't have a whole lot in common at our base occupation in life at the moment: motherhood. We all need that like-minded mom friend to bounce ideas off of and commiserate with, but there is so much value in friends who think differently than you do! Here are some ideas for how to relate to moms even when you are vastly different.

Realize They Might Parent That Way Intentionally
We often assume other moms parent differently than we do because they just haven't been enlightened to our ways yet. This is often not correct. Stephanie shared:

"I had a candid convo with a friend about this once. Her family is very AP-friendly. It came down to what they believe and value: they believe their kids will sleep on their own when they are ready (meaning independent sleep is not something you teach but something you do when you're ready), and they valued time together as a family, which for them expressed itself as co-sleeping, nip-and-nap nursing, etc. Before that convo I had always arrogantly assumed that attachment parenting was clearly a second choice and a result of failed sleep training, fear of starting sleep training, or lack of knowledge about sleep training; it didn't occur to me that families would actively choose that way of life right out the gate. Consider me schooled! After talking with her I have much more respect for families choosing different methods for sleep and eating, etc. I just do my thing with my kids and if they have questions they know they can ask; I don't offer up advice anymore. If something is going poorly for them I just say "ohh bummer that's so hard, what are you going to do about it?" and let them do the talking. I've also found it helpful to ask questions of those that do it differently so that I can give all the options to my new mom friends. I can say "oh we don't co-sleep but I have a friend that does and here are the pros and cons as I understand them, etc". The more I know, the better resource I can be to others!"

I love how Stephanie talked openly with her friend. Communication can go a long way toward understanding and connecting! 

Find Common Ground
Even if many of your practices are difference, chances are high there is something you have in common. Try to find that. Ashley said:

"I try my hardest to be understanding of how they parent. As long as their children are healthy and behaving within the lines, I really don't care. If their kids are out of control, I sympathize but silently say prayers of thanksgiving that they aren't my kids 😉  Most moms are trying their best and are following what they believe. Some think I'm crazy for working so hard on a schedule. I think some are crazy for not!
When we disagree face to face, I try my hardest to find common ground. From there I give my respect to the mom and bluntly say we will have to agree to disagree. With my first son, I got really rattled when my parenting was questioned. I now have confidence that I can successfully keep a child alive for three years! 

I am part of my church's MOPS group and am the only Babywise mom. I try to represent! Seriously, we moms need to stick together. We're raising kids in a tumultuous time, and we need support. Arguing over AP or BW or free range or lots of TV parenting styles, what are we accomplishing? Last I checked, people aren't won over to new lifestyle choices by argument. Lead by example, allow yourself to be smug in your alone time/time with spouse, and be confident that if your child(ren) haven't burned your house down, you're a rockstar parent. Be the example you want you kids to follow."

I love her point to lead by example. If people want what you have, they will ask. If they don't, they won't. 

Be Confident In Your Parenting
Often times when we struggle connecting with others, it is because we feel defensive of how we are parenting. Obviously it is hard to not be defensive if someone is being aggressive and telling you that you are wrong. Most of the time, however, we are not literally being told we are wrong. I think we often put that judgement on ourselves without other people overtly saying judgmental remarks. Katie said:

"Ohhh this is so much easier now that my kids are older! I'd say now I'm just confident in what I do. And I also know more that sometimes you're handed a doozy of a kiddo and might have to parent in ways you never thought you would. And honestly in the end, if there's any potential conflict or tension brewing, we just steer away from those topics."

I like how she pointed out to simply avoid topics that will be a source of contention. 

On a similar line of thinking, Janalin shared,

" I'm not defined by the method I use to parent my child, and I try not to define other parents by their parenting. If they are purests about their method and it is different than mine, they might criticize me. That is their problem but mine."


Stand Up For Your Kids
It is one thing to say, "Not my circus, not my monkeys," and move on with your day, but quite another to have people imposing their different views onto your family. Alyssa shared,

"When I see something done differently than how I choose to parent, instead of criticizing internally, I choose to focus on seeing why that style fits that parent and child/family etc. People usually have good reasons for doing things the way they do. Especially when it's a friend, I remember that I respect them and that their family's needs are different and that's okay. It turns my analytical thoughts into a positive direction by using my experiences to see and know my friends better. The book the Child Whisperer has been extremely helpful in doing this. 

Where I find the challenge is when other parenting styles are directed at my kid and I have to step in and readjust the expectation. Even harder with family in my opinion. I usually pause as much as I can before responding or overriding the direction that loved one have my kid, for sure putting my child first, but responding firmly as needed and with as much respect as I can. It also helps to explain our family rules before an event occurs: example, my dad volunteered to take my kids swimming while I stayed home and the baby napped. He immediately launched into the toy the kids could earn if they were "brave." I said that all sounded great, and then proceeded to inform him of what bravery looks like for my kids and how far they could be pushed before it was too much (childhood scars here 😂) it ended up being a great experience and my dad was able to teach my kids some new things with out anyone reliving my childhood trauma lol."


Keep Advice To Yourself
In general, people do not like advice they didn't ask for. Even in my position as a this blog author, my friends know that I will absolutely not offer them advice unless they blatantly ask for it. If they are complaining to me about how exhausted they are from waking up every hour all night, I just commiserate with them. That must be exhausting! They know I will not try to solve their problem
unless they ask me to. 

This was something I had to actually share with them. Most thought I would jump in with advice because that is what people do! They now know, though. Cole at Twinning Babywise shared:

"I think in general (not even specifically in motherhood) judgement comes from a place of insecurity. If we are confident in our decisions, there really isn't any reason to hyperanalyze how someone else does it. You don't have to relate - you just observe and move on. 

On a practical level, I have learned that there is almost never a situation where it is advantageous to offer up unsolicited advice. If someone else is doing things differently - EVEN IF SHE IS TOTALLY FAILING - I generally try to hold my tongue. If she wants advice, she'll come asking for it. Exceptions to this of course would be if a friend was doing something overtly harmful to them or their child - obviously I'd speak up at that point. So how do I respond when it's clear our parenting philosophies are different? I DON'T.

Because I seek out advice from friends I see parenting how I want to parent (or with results I want to achieve) over time I've grown closer to women that parent similarly whereas I haven't established those same deep friendships with the women who do things totally differently. It hasn't been a purposeful paring down of friendships - it just occurs naturally. There are some exceptions - a friend or two and some family members - but for the most part my closest friends at least have the same parenting goals in mind."


Realize Differences Don't Matter
Many of the things we get huffy about just don't matter. Alice shared:

"Before becoming a mother, I worked in the foster care system and saw the effects of childhood abuse and neglect and lack of attachment between parent and child. I think that because I've seen abuse and neglect first hand, disagreeing about how to put your baby to bed, how to start solids, and what kind of diapers to use seems so minuscule. With that said, I've settled on believing these things. 1) My friends' way of parenting may be different but every "way" has pros and cons and is not perfect, including babywise. 2) I remind myself that everyone is doing their best. 3) I also remind myself that they are probably doing what they think works best for their family unit, just like I am. 4) I don't give unsolicited advice. ever. That makes things much more peaceful." 

So much of what we worry about as mothers just doesn't matter in the grand scheme of life. Yes, we have to make those decisions as parents, but the ramifications of either option often just don't matter.

Connect In Other Ways
Like I said earlier, you will likely not find many moms who parent exactly like you in your every day life. Sometimes those differences can cause some contention. When your child is hit by another child and the mom does nothing about it, it is hard to say, "Eh, differences don't matter" or find common ground there. Some parenting decisions only impact that family, but others will impact your children. For the most part, however, different parenting styles aren't going to impact you or your children.

I once shared with you many of my friends. I shared how we are different and how are the same. I have some mom friends who are basically the same as I am as a parent. These are definitely special friendships and we get along so well with each others kids and our kids get along well with each other. 

But that doesn't mean I don't value my friendships with my mom friends who parent differently. One of my very favorite friends lets her kids sleep in bed with her and sugar runs freely at her house. Those are just a couple of differences. I could let those things divide us and stay away, but then I would be missing out on a great friend. I have found things in common with her. She demands her kids be respectful of people and she is pretty crazy on car seat standards just like I am. We both have our four year olds in five-point harnesses while most people around here have four year olds bouncing around in the car...We have differences as moms, but that doesn't threaten either of us. 

We are more than "just" moms. Yes, motherhood is a huge part of our lives and a huge part of what defines us, but it isn't the only thing. My friend I was just talking about has more in common with me than our mom connections. We are both organized and OCD in many ways. We both have PCOS and connect over that struggle. We have a lot of similarities in life, but just as many differences. I have learned so much from her about enjoying life and living in the moment. You can connect over differences just as much as you can similarities. 

Even when you find that mom who is your clone, you will have differences. They might be silly differences. My clone loves sushi and I want to gag just thinking about it. She hates verbal confrontation and it doesn't make me bat an eye. The point is, even someone who has similar life experiences and parenting styles as you will be different from you in ways. If you look for people just like yourself, you will be left with only yourself as a friend. You have to accept the differences.

I think a great secret among my friends is that our differences are not an elephant in the room. We openly discuss how we are different and no one worries about it. We usually laugh our heads off about the differences. Pretending the differences aren't there gets awkward over time. There is no authenticity. You have to be accepting of differences.

When my husband and I had been married for a year and a half, we moved into a new town. The wife next door visited with me. She had 8 kids and I had 1, so obviously we had some blatant differences before us. She asked me what I liked to do. I told her my short list, and she responded, "Oh, all of the things I hate." And that was that. She decided then and there that we were too different to be friends. 

The trick to discussing differences is to remove judgement from the conversation. Find what is the same, find what is different, and love your friends through it all. Look at differences as a way to learn new things and see the world from a different view. 

You need friends in your life. Open yourself up to them. Do not let the differences stifle your relationships. Sure, you won't be best friends with everyone you meet. You don't have to be. But you can grow great friendships even with people vastly different from yourself. 

Practical Ideas
If you want to get to know other people better and grow closer to them, you need to spend time with them. You can do this by meeting at the park to visit while your kids play. You can have moms over to your house with their kiddos to visit while kids play. You can meet up at a local jump park, splash pad, or even McDonald's. 

Meeting with kids is fun, but the best is getting together without kids. Organize Girl's Night Out  each month. My friends and I do this. We take turns hosting and we do it after kids are in bed. We have so much fun. Sometimes we just talk (and eat treats). Sometimes we go out for dinner or dessert. Sometimes we sit around the camp fire. Sometimes we go to an amusement park. It gives much needed girl talk and we get to know each other without being interrupted every five minutes (at best). You can also go out on date nights with your spouses. 

Conclusion
We are living in a climate where too many people are willing to throw away even old friendships over differences of opinion. Those differences enrich our lives and help us see the world in a more-rounded way. It is okay to be different from other friends, and definitely okay to make friends who are different. Find common ground where you can, agree to disagree where you need to, and have fun together!

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