I was the world’s best parent… until I had kids. I literally used to teach parenting strategies for work before becoming a mum myself, and while I still stand by the content that was taught, I was missing a vital piece of the puzzle. Now I have a toddler, the school of life has brought me the kinds of experience and hindsight that I would never have known outside of a 24/7 parenting context. I came to the overwhelming realization that the first rule of parenting is that someone is always judging. Sad, but true. We often think we could have handled a situation better than “that lady over there with the screaming kid,” and the truth is, she was probably watching your parenting and thinking the same thing. We would all agree that parents need more support, and fewer judgmental attitudes – so here are some ways you can work towards making this happen:
1. You Do You
Parenting styles are basically a collection of opinions, and you’re welcome to yours, without having to be swayed by others.
Your values define your family’s preferred set of actions, and that is a very beautiful and private thing. Your actions as a parent should promote a sense of security within your child, and outside of that, how you parent has nothing to do with anyone else.
2. Offer Help – or Mind Your Beeswax
Last year, a photograph of a woman and her baby went viral. The lady was sitting on a seat at the airport, using her phone, while her baby was on a blanket on the floor. People on the internet were enraged at this picture, saying that people shouldn’t have kids if they’re not going to pay them any attention, and other damaging comments about the woman’s parenting. I remember this picture vividly, because around the same time I had traveled from San Francisco to Brisbane alone with my (then) five-month-old. I carried him on my body for over 24 hours each way, even bringing him with me to the tiny airplane toilet stall. We crossed the world to help my sister (Meg) and her young family through an extremely tough time after Meg’s major surgery and were subsisting on bad plane coffee and no sleep. All of these factors were invisible to passers-by, and who knows what kind of judgment I was dealt for the parenting choices I made at that time. I am sure glad nobody took a photo of me, wrote derogatory comments, and shared it with the world. The best part of our journey across the world was how many random women asked if they could help me by holding my son, walking him around the plane, and flight attendants playfully fighting over who could hold him next. I felt a village form when I needed it most, and that made all the difference.
Just before Christmas last year we flew from San Francisco to Brisbane again, this time with my husband, and now very wiggly ten-month-old. I saw another family with a toddler frequently melting down a few seats in front of us, and despite feeling shy about intervening, I offered some of our toys to the parents to see if they would provide some kind of distraction from a ridiculously long flight.
The thing is, help breeds help. When you have been helped in a situation where you’ve truly needed it, you’re more likely to act in a helpful way towards others. Genuine help is the opposite of judgment, and it may take you out of your comfort zone. Offer anyway! Sometimes the most genuine and beautiful help you can give another parent is simply ignoring a child’s meltdown. Don’t look, don’t stop what you’re doing – just carry on with life. It can be incredibly embarrassing and stressful to feel as though you’ve become the center of attention because of a child’s outburst, so purposefully ignoring a situation can mean the world to some parents.
As with any lifestyle choice, the way you choose to parent (within boundaries of safety and secure attachment) is completely up to you. Keep an open mind towards other people’s ways, and you may see something admirable in their communication, their respect for one another, and their good intentions which may not have been translated in the way you would have expected. Most parents do the best they know how, and we all need a little help sometimes.
Amy Piers is an Australia born, USA based writer, who also happens to be my sister. Aside from this, she has been a teacher, a school chaplain, a nanny, a behaviour specialist, a ghost-writer for a Silicon Valley catering company, an Indian parenting magazine, and a special needs parenting sites. She’s also tried her hand at screenwriting, creating scripts for two full-length feature films, as well as a short sketch comedy series. To find out more about her inspirational book ‘I see Red’ visit http://www.amypiers.com