“My son is not yet potty trained.” She said.
“Oh. Okay!” I replied, surprised.
She then sighed and went on a rant about how difficult it is with boys.
“They’re a bit slow compared to girls, when it comes to these things.” She said.
I smiled and didn’t say anything. That had not been my experience, but I understood that she had obviously been struggling with potty training. I wasn’t about to confront her gender stereotyping (perhaps I should have, gently?). Clearly she just wanted someone to talk to.
I was saying the other day on Twitter that you will never see me bash a particular style of parenting, unless it’s undeniably and unequivocally abusive and/or dangerous to the child. Because Lord knows Rom and I have tried many different approaches to parenting for all three of our kids. But today as I took my daughter to her ‘taster day’ at her new nursery, that brief chat with another mum outside the school gates about her struggles with potty training her 3-year old son really made me think about my own thoughts. Although I took the time to listen to her, I felt my mind slowly going towards the judgment zone. A three-year old? Not yet potty trained? How could that be?
Then I stopped myself.
Parenting, with all its ups and downs, is such an enormous endeavour. There’s a lot of talk about finding your ‘parenting style’, and I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, especially in light of some of the stuff I see on social media.
My parenting style over the years has been a huge melting pot.
I’ve taken some elements of attachment parenting, and ‘positive/conscious’ parenting and applied it to my children, just as I’ve also tried stricter and more structured parenting methods. This is why I rarely criticise any style and absolutely hate when I see other women do this on social media, or act as if their way was the only right way (Yes it’s usually women!).
I mean, sure, I may hold an opinion – we’re all entitled to one and I think it’s a very human, normal thing to have an opinion. But parenting is one area where I choose to be very careful about the words I use, especially on public platforms. Because I remember that on several occasions in my life, I reached my breaking point, looked left and right for answers, tried different methods, different pieces of advice, and I’m still on that imperfect journey today.
Sometimes it’s not even the parenting styles that are being attacked, but certain practices: from piercing a baby’s ears to letting kids wear face masks (you know, Covid et al), the insufferable “This is child abuse” brigade comes out in full force, in a world where parents are already under scrutiny with every choice they make. Parents choosing to co-sleep, home school their kids, or raise them according to a particular faith… are also often targeted by those who simply do not understand them, and are committed to judging them.
What I have learned in this parenting journey is that desperation leads you to experiment with different things until you’ve figured out what works best for that child, at that particular time in his/her life. And that is why we say parenthood is a never ending learning curve, that involves trial and error.
If you ever feel the urge to judge other mums and dads for their parenting choices, remember these five things:
1. No one was born with the ability to parent.
These things are self-taught over time. And even once we have learned them, children go through phases during which different approaches may or may not work at the time we apply them. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a never ending learning curve and I don’t think any parent ever fully graduates from the School of Parenthood. Even the knowledge you gain from reading books, as great as some of them are, can only take you so far. The reality of everyday life is rarely ever textbook-like.
2. Unless you’ve been in that person’s shoes, think carefully about the impact of your words.
And let me break it to you, you haven’t been in their shoes, and will never be, because it’s their child(ren) and not yours. Most parents try as hard as they can, with the tools they possess. We all get it ‘wrong’, we all lose our temper, we all lose patience… What matters is the lesson we’re able to draw from our setbacks and the steps we take to improve.
3. You’ll find there are positives and negatives in everything, and no one can really agree anyway.
What’s right and what’s wrong is often subjective, unless it clearly goes against child protection laws designed to safeguard children from evidence-based abuse and neglect. What’s considered wrong in one culture may not be in another. What’s forbidden in one religion may be permitted in another. What you perceive as “child abuse” may not actually be defined as such by social services or the law, and vice versa – what you consider totally harmless may actually fall under the definition of abuse. Of course, as with all things, be informed and be wise.
4. A parenting choice usually bears its fruit.
Time usually tells if a child has benefited from a particular approach, and of course our hope for every kid on the planet should be that they do not grow up developing all sorts of traumas stemming from their parent’s parenting failures. But until you have the full picture and full context of how someone lives their lives and runs their household, refrain from attacking them.
5. The best place to be is in your own business, and out of other people’s.
Personally the only time I would feel the need to actually call out “bad parenting” is when I know a child is being hurt, neglected or abused. But that’s just me.
How has your parenting style changed/evolved over the years? Do you find yourself trying different approaches until you figure out what works or are you pretty set in your ways and focusing on a single parenting method?