Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Public Parenting

My awesome friend Amber sent me this article called, "Yes, I Have Only One Child" thinking it would be about the dumbfounded-ness people respond with when you confirm that, you know, you only have one child. It was, but only a little bit. The writer's situation is nothing like mine, and in fact I imagine that her many ambivalent feelings about the potential second child cause her to feel the pressure from others even more intensely. In my situation, there is no ambivalence, and therefore I feel no guilt/stress/anxiety/pressure when people ask if Gwen is an only child, and, as they frequently do, follow this up by inquiring why.

What interests me on this topic, what I think could have been explored more in this article, is the question of WHY people feel the right to get nosy about how many kids you have (no matter what that number is). People ask you when you're going to have kids, and then once you have one, they ask when you're going to have another one. Why is it anybody else's business? Not to mention the fact that people love to tell you exactly how to parent (which starts as soon as you are visibly pregnant, when people start telling you what you should/shouldn't eat, how much weight you should gain, and where and how you should give birth).

Why do people feel it's their right to comment on these things? My own personal theory is that parenting is one of those things in which there is NO one right way to do things. (Sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.) If I was wondering how to calculate a math problem, I could consult a math text or a mathematician and soon, a definitive and inarguable answer would be found. With parenting - not so. Parents are individuals, kids are individuals, situations and environmental factors can change from day to day or even several times throughout one day. There is no definitive and inarguable answer for how to raise a child, and if you don't believe me, please visit the "Parenting" section of any bookstore and note the hundreds of books that have been written on the subject.

So, here we are with this task that no one knows for sure how to complete perfectly. And this task, this transforming of squalling helpless poop-machines into charming and intelligent world citizens who contribute to society, well, it's an important job. The lack of definitive knowledge, combined with the importance of the task, means we all get a tad defensive and self-righteous when it comes to parenting. If I realize someone else is doing the task differently from how I'm doing it, the tendency is to vehemently insist that they are doing it WRONG, because if they're not wrong then that means I am and that's too terrifying to consider.

What works for one family may not work for another, and though we all hear that and repeat it and nod along sagely, sometimes emotions get in the way and prevent us from really internalizing it. I think many of us feel threatened when we confront a real-life situation in which parents are parenting differently, and that can mean anything from how to handle a dawdling kid to how many kids you have, anyway. I have worked really hard in the past few years to step away from the judginess in myself and accept that no matter what I see other families do, my own task is to figure out what works best for our family, not pass judgment (even silently) on theirs.

As for what to do when the inevitable judgy comments come my way, that one I haven't figured out yet. What judgy comments do you get about your kids/parenting, and how do you handle them?


Amberism said...

The one I have the hardest time not getting all in someone's face about is the spanking comments from the childless folk(and, well, some not childless folk) A lot of my childless friends really seem to think that all children need today is a good smack. A good spanking, well now! That would fix all those irritating behavioral issues!

Even though adults act like children A LOT, and no one is going around smacking them.

Maybe I should just start randomly spanking people... hmmmm...

Anonymous said...

You know, as a parent of more than one child, I often wonder what makes people stop having them? What made them choose that number. For me, it's a curious thing. I always knew I wanted 4 kids... I don't know why, or where the number came from, it just was. Funny....

As to the parenting.. I can tell you that, having 4 kids, the type of parenting doesn't change from family to family, bur from child to child. I had one kid who I could tell "I'm disappointed in you" and that would shatter them. One who was totally motivated by food. If I took dessert away, the world ended. Each child is different and it takes different skills with each of them.

I think the best advice I give parents is: do what feels right for you.

You know, my youngest is 17, and I'm still learning parenting skills.


Amberism said...

I want 4. I can not explain it. Intellectually though, I wanted 1. It's WEIRD.


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