Parenting as a mirror

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.

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I once had a new friend I’d just started hanging out with ask me for some discipline tips. I knew she wasn’t familiar with gentle parenting, natural parenting, or attachment parenting. As a new mom, she was just taking whatever advice she could to find her way, including punitive discipline strategies you read about in so much of mainstream parenting media. This mom approached me because she saw something was working (at least on that particular day; anything will work every once in awhile, right?).

She certainly wasn’t coming to me because I had ever questioned her own parenting style.  That usually makes mamas run in the other direction, or at least that’s my own personal instinct when someone tells me, for example, I just need to stop nursing that big girl of mine. (Big girl is approaching 3, and we are working on gently weaning simply because it’s getting tough for me to be nursing two kids so much. But that’s my decision. I don’t need anyone else’s input, thank you very much.)

During this particular exchange, I shared how I tried to not say no so much and allowed my kids time to explore and used cheesy but helpful phrases like “soft touch” when a toddler was reaching for something that wasn’t a toy but shouldn’t be off limits either. Then I told her about “time ins” rather than time-outs.

In short, I focused on positive discipline strategies rather than negative or punitive ones. She was so grateful for this advice. I later received an email from her thanking me for the advice and praising my children for being so well-behaved.

It’s actually good for me to be thinking about this conversation again because lately this tired, lazy mama needs to be reminded that positive reinforcement is so much more effective than threats from a crazy, yelling mama.

“STOP SCREAMING AT YOUR SISTER OR ELSE!”

There’s just far too much situational irony in parenting, isn’t there?

Now, of course, my acquaintance hadn’t ever seen me on an off day. Last week, for example, everyone went berzerk, myself included. The baby was fussing. Two of my other children were fighting, and even my oldest, who is generally quite easy, was loudly whining. I felt my blood pressure rising and quickly retreated to my room. Then I locked the door (it’s not technically a lock. We have a hook on the door, but it’s the only door that I can close and keep closed without children barging in because we live in an old house where pretty, glass doorknobs no longer lock). Mommy’s time-outs are not punishments; they are to protect her sanity and keep her from flipping out in front of her kids.

Once inside my room, I attempted to pray, but I couldn’t get past, “God” because my melancholic child was sobbing, screaming, and pounding on the door as if she was on the verge of death. My sanguine child, I later discovered, was whopping the sad child on the head with an abacus saying, “Leave Mommy alone,” while my choleric child was grabbing them both and trying to pry them from the door, shouting, “Mommy needs quiet time. Stop it right now!”

I finally couldn’t take it anymore and swung the door wide open. I tell you, I’d morphed into a mad woman. My eyes were wide, and my neck felt strained. I should have counted. I should have just shouted, “God, God, God!!!” Instead, I yelled, scooped up, the melancholic child and did not imitate the whole “soft touch” idea. Actually, I rolled my child up in a blanket as if she were a pile of beans and the blanket was a tortilla, and I held her close until both of us settled down (I know where she gets histrionics from). Later we decided I should have sprinkled on some cheese to make it a really good burrito. Now she keeps asking me to make her into a burrito again, so I don’t think I traumatized her too terribly much. Sometimes holding time cools everybody off.

But, thankfully, my new mom friend didn’t witness this. No one did. However, I did share this story with my regular babysitter because she’s a young woman who has a strong vocation to be a mom, and I want her to know what to do as well as what not to do. Let my loss be her gain.

I’ve also told her about the importance of being gentle but firm, wearing your babies (she’s a college student and she already rocks the Ergo with Thomas tucked snuggly inside if I’m trying to write in the other room), and how sometimes an introverted child sees a time-out as a luxurious reward and not a punishment, and that that is okay.

As my babysitter, I’m not afraid to share how I want her to tackle certain situations. As for my fellow moms, well, I’ve always been careful to not dole out unsolicited parenting advice or to marble in my own parenting philosophy without having a really good reason to do so (with the exception of this blog; this is my space so I can yammer on about whatever I desire). I know that even when people have meant well when they have corrected me or suggested I do this or do that when I’m not looking for a quick fix or solution, I feel caught off guard, defensive. We, mothers, can have delicate egos. We’re so passionate about parenting and doing what’s right for our families and our children that we don’t want to be told we’re doing something wrong or even that there’s a better way to do it.

St. Francis of Assisi advised, “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words only when necessary.”

I’ve tried to apply this wisdom to the Gospel of my parenting. If I try to do what’s right and people see how it positively impacts my children, then they will want to know my “secrets.”

Yet, the reason I shared a tale about a day where I certainly would not be up for any grand mommy awards with my babysitter is because I do believe it’s important to be authentic and to fess up to the times when we fall short of our parenting ideals. This makes us seem more real, and I think to a lot of people out there who don’t understand attachment parenting or who have had a negative experience with a “holier-than-thou” parent seem to make assumptions about parents who consider themselves natural parents or attachment parents. They think we follow a set of rigid rules. They don’t always realize that what we’re really about is connecting with our child, and that finding that connection may vary from family to family and even from child to child within the same family.

Or they see us as being needy parents who can’t let our kids go – as if “attached” means we can’t quite sever the umbilical cord. Or maybe we’re just granola nut jobs. Or we’re uber moms who just have limitless stores of patience. Some parents who practice this style of parenting do, I believe, have more patience or are better at accepting grace, but not I.

The bottom line is, we need to let others in on the fact that we’re real moms who are far from perfect and are not suggesting that because we do X because we feel it fosters a beautiful, close love-bond with our child or keeps them healthy and safe that if you do Y, we’re saying you don’t have a love-bond with your child and/or you’re putting her safety or health at risk.

Honestly, I shouldn’t even label my parenting style because it’s constantly evolving. There are some things that seem to work with all my kids, but their unique personalities and temperaments are constantly challenging me.

Likewise, in my own parenting journey I’ve realized that you can read a book about parenting with grace or being an attached parent and it can sound rosy and fantastic, but putting it into practice is extremely challenging, especially as your family grows. I never could have imagined barking at my 2-year-old to “get back to bed this very minute,” in my early years of motherhood, but those are the exact words that slipped out of my mouth last night after I nursed her for a long time while holding her baby brother in the crook of my arm and then kissed her sweet head and said I had to go help her sisters get ready for bed and to please stay put and that I’d be back to check on her. I went downstairs, holding her brother close, and found an over-tired 4-year-old and a 7-year-old bouncing off the walls and a sick husband and a dirty kitchen and a dog I’d forgotten to feed.

Then I heard the pitter-patter of those little 2-year-old feet coming to find me, and all I wanted was for her to go to bed without needing to be close to me. I was overwhelmed and over-stretched at that moment. Now that wonderful, sick husband of mine came to the rescue and went and planted himself beside that sleepy toddler until she fell asleep, so I could nurse a baby and then give a 4-year-old a backrub after I read her and her older sister a chapter from our current read-along.

When my own head finally hit the cloud of softness my baby and I call a bed, I was spent. I wished someone would come rub my back and tell me a magical story. Instead, my little nursling started squawking, so I nursed him again and felt like I couldn’t do anything right anymore. I thought about how it was far easier to be everything to my first baby even though she had the toughest temperament as a young one (boy, is she easy now though!). I just wasn’t stretched so thin. I could get by on a lot less sleep because reading monosyllabic board books and playing peek-a-boo with one child did not monopolize much energy or brain power, but juggling the demands of a growing family does.

Not that I’d trade this crazy, full house for anything. And it’s been such a gift to see my oldest emerge as such an empathetic child who voluntarily helps me make her younger siblings feel loved and connected to this family of ours.

No, I wouldn’t trade the beautiful chaos of my life for anything. Mothering is the toughest job I’ve ever loved.

But having more children has humbled me. It’s made me realize that I’m going to fall short of my idea of parenting perfection all of the time and that I should never judge other parents.

Being gentle with my kids, embracing child-led weaning, pursuing natural childbirth, focusing on positive reinforcement, being compassionate with my children even when they’re driving me absolutely crazy – these are still my personal mothering ideals, but that’s just it. They’re ideals. It’s what I strive for to be an attached, emotionally nurturing mama that meets her kids’ needs and handles refusing their wants in a fair way. Still, I goof up all of the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to be the kind of parent God designed me to be.

It’s these efforts that I hope other parents might see and be drawn to.

I’m not going to try to win other parents over to my parenting style by putting their own choices down.

Instead, I desire to be a shiny mirror that other parents can look into and see an imperfect but heartfelt mama who longs to be the best mom she can when she can. This is a mama who holds herself to high ideals because that’s what moms do: We long to be the best for our children.

Maybe that’s why parenting is so achingly difficult. We desire to become mothers because we love so much, but our children come along and become demanding teachers who give us hard lessons in exactly how to love. It’s a pruning process, and it’s best to remember the pruning and not just rave about the blossoms.

I’m not saying this is easy. I can be an opinionated, obnoxious little twit but when I’m tempted to get self-righteous, I remind myself I should be focusing my energy (especially when it’s in such short-supply) on doing right rather than being right. With God’s grace (and a good night’s sleep), I pray my parenting – and my life in general – will be a positive witness to others.

 

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CNPnaturalparent Parenting as a mirrorVisit 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.

Enter the Conversation...

29 Responses to “Parenting as a mirror”
  1. I’ve seen that St. Francis of Assisi quote before (I think in this Carnival one month!), and I really love it. My parenting mentor lives that quote – she does not share parenting strategies unless asked. Pestered, even ;) But people always ask, because she is so obviously doing something right. And you are too, Kate!!

  2. It is so nice sometimes to hear about the bad days other people had because it helps me not feel alone or like I’m the worst mom ever :)
    Spunky kids and spunky mamas can be a volatile combination…I’ve definitely done the burrito hug thing with my tantruming toddler to prevent him from bashing his head against a wall and prevent me from losing my cool and shouting at him. God sure knew what he was doing when he invented snuggles!

  3. Luschka says:

    I agree with you on so many of the points you made, especially the blog being your space. I think my blog has saved friendships for me, because it’s allowed me to have my soap box, where absolutely no one HAS to listen!

    You’re right too about the fact that people do come to you, eventually, when you do things differently. Actually, it’s one of the most fulfilling things in my world when people I’d never expect it from come to me for advice. It really means so much.

    Great post – we’re so similar in much of our thinking!
    Luschka recently posted..Respectful Interaction With Other Parents

  4. mudpiemama says:

    I loved your honesty in this post and can totally relate to what you are writing about with more children making those ideals more challenging to achieve, I have endless patience when dealing with just one child/challenge but if I add the other two into the mix or they are aggravating each other mid crisis I start to waver and wonder if I’ll make it out alive ;) takes a lot of practice and breathing deeply… In the end, like you said, couldn’t trade the crazy full house for anything!
    mudpiemama recently posted..Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to Eliminate Judge/Be Judged Mentality

  5. I can totally relate to wanting to be the best mom possible, but still having those ‘off’ days. We do try so hard, and I like where you say that we dont want criticism, or advice, because we dont want to hear that we are doing anything wrong.

    I, too, wait for someone to ask for advice before I dole it out. Much more peaceful that way.

    Thanks for sharing,its so nice to hear that other moms have bad days too :)

  6. Kate, as always, your honesty is endearing, and knowing that someone I admire from her writing has bad days too is strangely empowering (in the if-she-can-get-through-it-I-can-too kind of way). Bless you and your sweet family.
    P.S. Are there any gentle parenting books you particularly recommend?
    Victoria @ Mommy Marginalia recently posted..Yarn Along: Mystery Birthday Project 2.0

  7. “She certainly wasn’t coming to me because I had ever questioned her own parenting style. That usually makes mamas run in the other direction” I totally agree!! Honestly, before we started down this TTC road I never really questioned how long I would BF or if I would co-sleep but hearing people say “What?! You’re NOT going to wean at 6mos?”… That was just the motivation I needed to say “Heck, no!” ;) I also loved the line where you say you don’t want to label your parenting style because it is always evolving! I think, with all parenting, that just makes sense. If we want our children to grown and learn than we should always be willing too also! :) Thank you for this wonderfully insightful and honest post!! I’ll for sure share on my Facebook page!

  8. Sheila says:

    My mom is always praising me to the skies as such an attached, patient, perfect mom. And then she says, “I can’t do that.” (My siblings are much younger than I am, so my mom is parenting kids similar in age to mine.) That’s when I bring in the bad-mommy stories. So she sees that I might have good ideas, but it doesn’t mean I put them into practice all the time, or that I’m as perfect as I make myself sound. I mean, the last thing I want to do is make her feel like I’m a better mother than I am! And when other moms know that our great parenting ideas doesn’t preclude being an imperfect mom, then they know they can try those things even though they don’t have infinite patience.

    I used to think gentle discipline was for perfect moms who could put up with any amount of misbehaving … but for those of us who might lose our temper, better just to spank to get peace in the home instead of be screaming it our kids all the time. Now I realize that even though I lose it a lot and yell sometimes, I still can only gain from nurturing my relationship with my son. I mean, why forsake the ideal because I can’t do it perfectly? It’s still a good goal!

  9. Miriam says:

    “Maybe that’s why parenting is so achingly difficult. We desire to become mothers because we love so much, but our children come along and become demanding teachers who give us hard lessons in exactly how to love. It’s a pruning process, and it’s best to remember the pruning and not just rave about the blossoms.”

    Beautifully said. I love the shift that comes with viewing our children as our teachers, rather than the usual: vice versa.

  10. Love the mirror concept!
    Mandy @ Living Peacefully with Children recently posted..Cable Knit Reading Pillow

  11. I love the focus you’ve taken. I so agree with the need to show other parents our real side — all the real sides, admirable and not so much. We tend to be on our best behavior in front of others, so sometimes we think everyone’s parenting better than we are since we see only their good fronts but know the bad and ugly about ourselves. Thanks for this reminder to share and be compassionate with ourselves and with others!
    Lauren @ Hobo Mama recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Valentine’s week

  12. Motherfunker says:

    Thanks for this beautiful and honest post. I agree that our own blog space is supposed to be our own private soapbox – hard not to be passionate without coming across all preachy sometimes ain’t it? I have been struggling with AP vitriol a bit recently so it’s nice to read of someone’s AP journey as just that – a journey, not a sermon from an ivory tower, but a very human, flawed, loving experience of trying hard to ap gently and with humility. It is inspiring indeed x
    Motherfunker recently posted..Caspar BabyPants appreciation society!

  13. THANK YOU! This si the post I’ve needed to read for days! I feel like all I do at the moment is snap at my toddler, and at times I feel like I’m getting everything wrong. It’s so refreshing to hear that I’m not the only one who has good days, bad days, and downright horrific ones too :-)
    Helen @ zen mummy recently posted..Empathy and respect

  14. Wolfmother says:

    We are all at different levels in our parenting journey and most of us aim to have healthy relationships with our children but it is a process, a hard and grueling process that evolves over time. All we can do is try and remain connected while we fumble about trying different things that suit our family’s needs. I really enjoyed the insightful reflections in this post. Gave me much to consider, thank you.
    Wolfmother recently posted..Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions with Other Parents

  15. priyanka says:

    A Good article! This topic is very useful for us, and you should also go to positive parenting, it biggest Machine related web portal in the world.

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  1. [...] 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. [...]

  2. [...] 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. [...]

  3. [...] 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. [...]

  4. [...] 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. [...]

  5. [...] 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. [...]

  6. [...] 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. [...]

  7. [...] 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. [...]

  8. [...] 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. [...]

  9. [...] 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. [...]

  10. [...] 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. [...]

  11. [...] 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. [...]

  12. [...] 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. [...]

  13. [...] 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. [...]

  14. […] 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. […]



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