Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trying to build our village

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.


When I moved to this town, I didn't know anyone who lived here all that well. On the other hand, I knew several people a little bit, and quite a few people by sight, because John and I both went to school here and the town is chock-full of alumni. It was one of the things that drew us back here: we knew we were moving to a town with a large population of young Catholics, many of whom had young children too.

And yet, this "huge community of Catholic moms" I kept hearing about failed to materialize. Everyone I knew who didn't live here was always exclaiming about the community here. But all I was experiencing was a huge crowd of stressed-out moms in the vestibule on Sundays. We exchanged understanding looks and smiles, and the occasional whisper, but then Mass would let out and we'd all go home. There was nothing at the parish where all of us moms could get together: no donut Sundays, no play group, no midmorning mom's Bible study ... nothing. There are many "women's" activities, but there are no events in the parish where we could come along with our kids.

There are several reasons for this, but the saddest one is the new child abuse prevention regulations. No events can happen with both adults and children present unless every single adult gets vetted. I know why it's necessary, but it breaks my heart that it would ever have to be necessary.

Anyway, I knew I needed to get out, that Marko needed to get out, and I couldn't keep being one of the only moms I knew. I ended up posting to a Facebook group of moms about my woes, knowing that many of the moms on the group lived relatively near. One brave woman rose to the bait and came over to my house to plan a play group. She knew a lot of the women in the parish, unlike me, so she was able to invite everyone. We met in the park -- right near my house, luckily, since I don't usually have the car -- and set the kids loose to play.

Honestly, it was more overwhelming than fun, at first. So many new people. People with whom I ought to get along -- they were all moms, nearly all Catholic, and all lived within a few miles of me -- but I didn't know where to begin. Most of my mom friends are online friends, who are way into natural parenting ... these moms fell everywhere on the spectrum. My one really close mom friend agrees with me about almost everything, so I had no idea what would happen if I ran into someone who didn't.

At first the conversations were awkward. We talked about how hard it is to get toddlers to behave in church (very!) and how we get along with our in-laws. We talked about what our husbands did, and how we manage the challenge of getting by without them when they're away. I think, by instinct, that everyone gravitated toward topics they knew everyone could relate to ... but that really limited the topics available.

After a month or two, though, people opened up, and I think we all found that the other women were more respectful of our points of view than we would have thought. When something came up that was controversial -- one would let drop "well, we sleep-trained him at six months" or "I know a lot of people think it's weird, but we're still nursing" -- people mostly just nodded. They could have jumped in to criticize, but I think we all realized it wasn't the place. None of us knew each other well enough to say much about each other's parenting. We stuck to our own stories. And, you know, you can teach people a lot just by your stories. I'm sure my mentioning that I co-slept for awhile but had no trouble transitioning my son to his own bed, or another mom telling about her home birth that went beautifully, sank in a lot more than a lecture would have. As moms, the thing we really want the most is to know that someone's done what we're thinking of doing, and that it went okay.

The real magic, though, was what happened when a few of us would suddenly realized we shared something else in common. I stayed way longer than I meant to one day when the topic of homebirth came up. One woman had had one, and was raving about her midwife. I asked her so many questions. Another time a mother much older than me, who was from Germany, started talking about ecological breastfeeding one day -- not only encouraging me in what I was doing, but making me feel a lot better about not having gotten pregnant yet. I even made one "real" friend, whom I started getting together with on my own.

Community is hard to cultivate. It took lots of phone calls and emails nagging people not to forget our playgroup. And the playgroup did die off when the weather turned bad, though I sometimes see those moms at church or the library and can say hello. But I really think we were never meant to parent by ourselves. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were part of a community of mothers: extended family, friends, and neighbors were always around. If you were having a bad day, you could drop the kids at your mother's, or vent to your sister, or borrow an egg from your neighbor -- all of whom had had kids, were at home during the day, and lived nearby.

Nowadays we don't have that, so we have to create it. It's hard. I'm not as outgoing as I wish I were. I can chat with anyone, but I don't make real friends easily. Even when I have, I always wonder if they actually like hanging out with me or are just putting up with me. Trying to create a village has meant swallowing that fear and calling people up to hang out anyway.

My closest mom friend has set me a very good example. One day, out of the blue, she emailed me and said, "I was thinking about how women used to have this big community to rely on, and it occurred to me that if I want that today, I need to create it. So, if it's all right with you, I'd like to come over and help you with your housework while our kids play together."

Is it all right with me? Is it all right with me?! Having someone to talk to while I get some help on that mammoth mound of dishes?! She did not have to ask me twice.

So now we try to make a habit of that, getting together whenever we can (though we don't live that close) and doing chores together, or just talking. When one of us is stressed out by unemployment or marriage problems or just one too many sleepless nights in a row, it really helps to talk about it.

I don't see interacting with other parents as mainly about instructing, explaining, correcting. Usually, I try not to. Maybe I'm too non-confrontational, but my answer to any controversial question is usually "pass the bean dip." I am happy to explain to anyone what my reasons were for my choices, but I don't tell anyone else what choices to make. Maybe their choices are dead wrong. But if they are, what are the odds I'm going to convince them of that in a five-minute or even hour-long conversation? I usually keep my debating to the internet, where you can pass someone some links and bow out. In any event, most parenting decisions aren't right or wrong. In any individual circumstance, the best thing for someone else could be something you yourself wouldn't even consider.

I see interacting with other parents as being primarily about support. When moms and dads are supported and happy, they are better parents for it. When a mom hears that your baby didn't sleep through the night at that age either, and he's doing fine now, it comforts her to stick out another night of nighttime parenting (even when it feels like "enhanced interrogation"). When a mom hears your beautiful homebirth story, a seed is planted that might give her the idea of doing that herself someday. When a mom hears how you finally taught your toddler to come when he is called, gently and without punishment, she realizes that she doesn't have to spank if she doesn't want to.

Better than that is when you're actually there to help. If you show up with a meal after she's had a baby, that means one more day she can focus on mastering breastfeeding instead of worrying about cooking. If you take her toddler to the park with yours for the afternoon so she can nap, maybe she'll feel her calm and patience returning so she can be the mom she wants to be when he comes home. If you offer to wash her dishes, she'll be able to snuggle on the couch with her kids and read them a book. That way you are actually empowering her to be the mom she wants to be instead of trying to convince her to be the mom you think she should be. I think that should be the heart of every interaction we have with another parent -- trying to nourish their hearts so they can turn and pass that love on to their children.

Sappy? Maybe. All I know is, I'm looking forward to my playgroup starting up again in the spring.

*Note: I only talked about moms here, because everyone at the playgroup and all of my close friends who are parents happen to be female. I imagine, though, that everything I said would go just as well when talking to dads!


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.


Shannon at The Artful Mama said...

I definitely agree with you on the points you raise in this article. I found it very frustrating as a new mom that I could make friends online but that it was so difficult to find other "like-minded" people in real life. My mom's friends are people that she met because she had me and my brother and met through playdates, church, school events and the like. I've just had such a hard time myself making that work for me because I'm at work a huge chunk of the day and couldn't justify paying $$ to join a "mommy group" that met once a month. I am hoping that this time while I'm on maternity leave that I get the courage up to start planning playdates and putting myself out there to meet people the way you did. I'm glad that you had positive interactions with these women and you are so right that stories more then lectures get information through much better.

I'm a full-time mummy said...

Wow! That was nice!

And yes, sometimes you don't see it but people look at how you do things and they will realise it's not that weird or controversial and there are ppl out there doing it.

For example, I blog about parenting stuff and I don't flat out write that what I do is right/ What I do is I shared my opinions and experiences and it's up to others on what they feel about it. I don't see effects of what I write but I do get personal emails from my readers asking for more info about breastfeeding matters, tandem nursing and latest was about the MMR vaccination.

Lauren Wayne said...

I really loved hearing about your transition from solitary to supportive. It's so true that the more we hear each other's stories, the more we can get past the controversial differences and see everyone as people. Thanks for the inspiration to find community where we are.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

"No events can happen with both adults and children present unless every single adult gets vetted." Ouch - that is too bad :( The main reason we looked for a church when we became parents was to have community - and not just on Sunday mornings. At any rate, goodonya for bringing moms together respectfully. I agree that sharing experiences non-judgmentally is much better than lecturing!

FabulousMamaChronicles said...

I echo the sentiment that interactions with other mums should be firstly about offering support so that they can then turn around and do the same for their children. We've all been in a place where we were unsure of our choices and frustrated with the outcome and just needed to be told that everything was going to be okay. It really does take a community to help raise healthy children and also healthy parents, but we have to reach out ourselves and create those places that we can grow within.

Momma Jorje said...

Wow! What an awesome post! I'm jealous. I don't KNOW any mothers of young children in my area. I have friends with kids that are the same age as my older daughter and it just isn't the same.

I'd like to have community, but I can't seem to commit to going out to the mom's version of a singles club (LLL meetings, etc). I am, at least, attending local Down Syndrome Association meetings but am having a hard time meeting anyone there, either. A couple of us are trying to fix that.

Alaina said...

See you on Tuesday mornings when the weather is warm!

Hannah, Horn, and Hannabert said...

I love how you write about community; I think that is what a lot of moms are missing - especially those that work outside the home and feel stretched with their work, wife, and mothering duties. I am glad that you were able to find people to support you.

CatholicMommy said...

You already know I'm with you on the community thing, so I'll skip that. One thing jumped out at me: your church doesn't even do coffee hour any more?! Wow. That is absolutely nuts. I work with kids, I've worked with kids who have suffered things no child should even know exist, but I still realize there are limits to what we can prevent and remain sane. A very sad reflection on our society.

Sheila said...

Yeah, it's frustrating. I think the lack of coffee and donuts is more because of our priest, though. He doesn't like kids "running wild" in his nice hall. The playgroup, though, did get nixed because of the new rules throughout the diocese. I'm thinking they're not supposed to apply to playgroups, because every mom is just watching her own kids, not anyone else's, and no kids are there without their parents, but ... we haven't been able to convince anyone of this. The women's group and other groups like Legion of Mary all do not allow children. You're right, it isn't necessary and shouldn't be required, but there it is.

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