What did I learn this week?

Are you a good parent? (2)

As previously noted, I published and then deleted my earlier post of this title, but here is the rewritten version.

If someone were to ask the question “are you a good parent?”, the answer would probably be “yes, I am…I think?” There is no such thing as a parent who has no doubts about the choices they have made in raising their children. Anyone who says differently is either not a parent, or not telling the truth.

On March 31, 2008, Corey’s father passed away unexpectedly. We got the call around 8pm that something had happened, and so immediately bundled C and ourselves into the car and headed up to his parent’s house, about an hours’ drive away. When we got to the house, I explained to C that all the people at the house were there because Papa had died, but that his body was still there. She knew from previous discussions that dead meant not coming back, and so she would not see him again. Corey and I had already briefly discussed what we would do when she asked to see the body, which she did.

I asked Corey’s mom if she would mind if C saw Corey’s father. She asked me if C would be scared, but I told her no, because she had nothing to be scared of. Children do not have any fear of death until we instill it in them. I have always told C that death is a natural thing, and that it happens to all people. It is not something to be afraid of, but it makes people sad because they are not able to see the person anymore. At this stage in her life, what her two year old mind understands of the concept of death is not frightening to her. So, with the agreement of Corey’s mom, I brought C into the room to see Papa’s body.

A few days later, Corey’s aunt – who was also there at the time – told me she was “horrified” that I had done this. She said that when C came into the room, she just wanted to “jump in front of her” so she wouldn’t see anything. But, she went on “I guess that is how you are raising her.”

Now, I don’t think that Corey’s aunt was necessarily trying to be as critical as she sounded, but it did bother me nonetheless. I don’t believe in using euphemisms for “unpleasant” or “impolite” things. I would never use a cutsie word instead of a proper name for a body part, and I would never consider saying to C that Papa went “night-nights” or “to sleep” rather than just saying he died. In being honest with C about basic things such as this, I am setting the stage for the type of communication I want to be able to have with her later about other things that will inevitably arise in our lives.

When we make decisions about how to handle certain situations with our children, we inevitably face criticism, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, from others. I have tried to comfort myself with the thought that generally, others criticize because they have done things differently, and so feel a bit defensive at the thought that what they did wasn’t objectively “the best” way of doing things.

The incident made me think about some of the subtle ways that my parenting decisions have been criticized. For example, I have had people insist on telling me (sometimes repeatedly) that, in their view, there is no benefit at all to breastfeeding longer than 6 weeks or 6 months, or whatever, when they know full well that C is still nursing. Or, telling me how important it is to put a baby in a crib in its own room, because it fosters independence, when they know that Corey and I cosleep with our kids. One of the worst is when I have tried to talk to someone about a particular issue, in the hope that they will gain some insight into why I am doing things in a particular way, and they have just waved it off or changed the subject completely – they do not even want to hear about it, let alone agree with it.

The list goes on and on, but the effect is the same. What those people who engage in this sort of subtle criticism don’t seem to realize is how deeply it cuts when it comes from close friends, and especially, from family. There really is nothing more hurtful than feeling that members of your or your partner’s family do not feel that you are doing a good job raising your children. Corey has told me that, as a rule, he won’t even discuss parenting issues with other people, because he just doesn’t want to deal with this type of reaction.

I know how he feels, and it is unfortunate, because I think that a lot of valuable discussion is simply prevented by people having a lack of confidence in their own parenting decisions. Instead of feeling defensive, why not find out whether what someone else is doing is working for them? Why not accept that different arrangements work for different people? Is it really so hard to understand and accept that just because Corey and I believe in attachment parenting, doesn’t mean we think every other way of raising a child is bad. Certainly we should be extended the same courtesy in return? Think about what a great conversation that could be, and how much we could learn from and about each other.

Well, I can be hopeful for the future, can’t I?

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