For many of us, summer means family gatherings: BBQs, weddings, and family reunions all bring us closer to our families, whether they live around the corner or on the other side of the world. And while seeing great-aunt Mildred and hearing stories from generations past can be a real treat, spending an extended period of time with family can also evoke old emotions.
We might love our families and simultaneously feel as though we aren’t entirely accepted by them. We brace ourselves for criticism about our hair, job, or housekeeping skills. Even more personal, we might find our parenting choices being questioned.
If you know that you’re likely to take some heat this summer, it’s best to be prepared for the onslaught of opinions and suggestions.
Make conscious parenting choices
Rely on data
When my son was about 18 months old, but brother disapprovingly informed me that my baby clearly didn’t have an interest in nursing and implied that I was thrusting it upon him. Creepy insinuation aside, my brother is childless and has had very little experience with babies and small children. He’d have no way of knowing that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to the age of 2 or beyond.
Sharing data from a reputable source makes an otherwise heated interaction less personal and shows that your choices are conscious decisions supported by the data.
Recognize they probably feel defensive
Odds are that the criticism you’re subjected to doesn’t actually have anything to do with you at all! Family members who are currently parenting small children or who have raised children in a different generation may feel that your own parenting style is somehow a condemnation of theirs.
If you don’t use timeouts but your sister does, she may assume that you’re judging her for her choices. If you co-sleep but you were placed in a crib in your own room as six weeks, your parents might assume you blame them for how they parented. And if you don’t spank but your grandparents are firm believers in the “spare the rod, spoil the child” school of parenting, they might be feeling as though you not only disapprove of spanking but that you also disapprove of them.
It might help to have empathy for these family members, recognizing that they did best with the skills and information available to them. You can remind your sister that your parenting choices are personal and have nothing to do with hers. Folks, parenting isn’t a competition.
Resist the urge to justify or proselytize
No matter how intentional your parenting choices are, no matter how much research you can cite to back them, and no matter how much empathy you show your family, there will be those who will simply continue to criticize you. It’s important to limit your time with those people and remember that you never have to justify your lifestyle or your parenting choices to anyone. Period.
You also don’t have to spread the good news of respectful parenting like a Hare Krishna. Your actions will speak louder than your words, and if an interested family member feels inspired by your parenting, they will reach out. Wait until that moment and resist sharing your opinions unless a child’s welfare is being jeopardized.
Build a village of like-minded people
Some of us are fortunate to have a beautiful network of loving, supportive family members. Sadly, some aren’t. Those without supportive families must build their own village. My husband and I are lucky to have my parents living closeby, and they couldn’t be more affirming and supportive of our parenting choices. Yet even we have found value in building a network of close friends who can help us out in a bind and share the agony and ecstasy of life with small children.
Building a community who understands why you parent the way you do and are supportive of your lifestyle is incredibly valuable.
If you are parenting with respect and empathy, you can rest assured that even if your Uncle Mike doesn’t understand the choices you make, you’re doing what’s best for your kids. And isn’t that what matters most anyway?