Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Empathy and respect

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.

We parents should always strive to use our words and actions to convey empathy and respect, rather than power and superiority.
(Harvey Karp, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, p. 19)

The above quote is written in the context of communication with your toddler, but it applies equally, I think, to our interactions with everyone else we come into contact with.

Respectful Interactions with other parents ~ I couldn’t wait to get started on this post. I had a thousand ideas. I’d been stung many, many times, both online and In Real Life, by comments made by others. Sometimes I’d stewed for days, months, (yes, I admit) years even, over some barbed remark I’d internalised and interpreted to mean that I was A Bad Parent (or, seemingly even worse nowadays, A Perfectly Smug, Perfectly Perfect Mother). And you know what, it wasn’t fair, because I don’t judge others or comment on their parenting choices. And anyway, my choices are all backed up by research. And instinct. They are The Right Choices.  Mother knows best, therefore that must make me the best mo …..

Oh, hang on a minute, I think I just found my angle.

Apparently 80% of drivers think that they themselves are a fantastic driver. It’s everyone else on the road who drives badly. Something doesn’t add up there. If 80% of us are self-proclaimed impeccable drivers, who are all the incompetents out there who turn without indicating because they are wilfully negligent, or who park across two parking spaces because they don’t care enough to reverse properly?

Substitute ‘parents’ for ‘drivers’ in that last paragraph, swap the driving crimes for parenting flashpoints such as breast vs bottle, routine vs baby-led, and you’ve got my point.

No one sets out to be a bad parent. But we all fear, at times, that we might be. Some days we certainly  will be less than perfect. Parenting is bloody hard work, and no one can be at the top of their game 100% of the time on a roster that includes evenings, weekends, public holidays, 3am, 4:17am, and then again at 5:40am, 5:55am, 6:09am  …. Oh sod it, I might as well just get up for the day now.

Just like the precise distance a projectile poo can erupt across a brand new rug, I had no idea about any of this before I had my babies. My ante-natal classes failed to cover the Mummy Wars, made no reference to that fact that almost every parenting choice you make can, and probably at some point will, be taken as a personal criticism by someone who made a different choice. I know this because I have myself felt judged, attacked or pitied by others with different opinions on the ideal way for a child to eat, sleep or be disciplined. And if I’ve felt defensive, you can bet others have too.

So, how can a mummy retain her zen when she feels like baring her teeth? Myself, I consider that maybe I took their comment the wrong way, or that maybe they’re lashing out because they have worries about their parenting choices or their child’s development. Maybe they only managed a few grains of scrambled sleep last night. Or maybe one hundred other reasons that I cannot begin to imagine. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

And if it turns out that they are simply a rude, overbearing, judgey-judge? Not my problem. All I can do is minimise their impact on my life and my children by not letting them carve out a space in my head and by not dwelling on their comments, or their assumed intention.  

And then I look at how happy and bright my children are and remind myself that I’m doing ok. Because that’s pretty much what parenting is ~ trying our best to not get it too wrong, with occasional flashes of sheer brilliance.         

Some links that you might like:

Well aren't you the perfect parent!!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)
  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.


  1. Oh, I am totally with you. Let's put an END to the mummy(mommy) wars! I have been guilty of acting snug in the past. . . thinking that that would win over those parents in my life who were really set in their ways. But it turns out that being right there in the action with other parents (even the most mainstream ones) and leaning on each other and learning from each other in times of need is much more productive and effective than preaching from a parenting soapbox :)

    "we should always use our words to convey empathy and respect, rather than power and superiority." Amen to that!

  2. I love this post :) Such a great reminder to consider the other person's recent circumstances when we see a "bad" parenting moment. Who knows what that parent is dealing with that we can't see?! Thanks so much for writing this month!

  3. "And then I look at how happy and bright my children are and remind myself that I’m doing ok. Because that’s pretty much what parenting is ~ trying our best to not get it too wrong, with occasional flashes of sheer brilliance."

    So true this is and such an important reminder for parenting!! I am glad to have found your blog!

  4. "3am, 4:17am, and then again at 5:40am, 5:55am, 6:09am..." gosh, that sounds too familiar! Thanks for helping me smile about it :)

    I agree, it's really up to the individual to sort out their own response to rude comments (or comments perceived as such). Easier said than done, of course! Also, as you suggested with the driver analogy, maybe we could each do with a bit of reflection to see if we're following the rules of the parenting road we've designed for ourselves. Also easier said than done!

  5. Great points ... and I love your writing! Your sports analogy is awesome. I don't know that I was ever at the top of my game, and my kids are already adults! Knowing how well they turned out despite my imperfections probably helps me be more empathetic toward others. I figure that love is really what's most important, and the exact methods we use are typically much less important. :) Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

  6. ah yes, parenting is "bloody hard work". I think most of us can at least relate to that! And most people just need alot of encouragement too.