“We have to go now.”
“NO!” she says rather rudely, storming off.
My thoughts differ depending on our surroundings.
If we are at home I might think, “She’s not ready to leave, she’s having fun with what she’s doing.”
But if we are in public? It could be, “She’s being rude. People will think she’s rude. People are expecting me to do something.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it seems like the hardest part about parenting is dealing with other people’s opinions and expectations.
You can be a completely committed respectful parent and secure in your choices, but it doesn’t change the fact that many other people don’t understand. They think you’re not ‘tough’ enough, that you’re spoiling them, that you let your child ‘get away with anything’.
Naturally, we love our children, we think they’re totally amazing. And we want other people to see that too! When we perceive that they might be thinking badly of our child, it can lead us to act in ways that do not align with our beliefs. We want to stop the behaviour. We want others to see the wonderful people our children really are!
Being a parent in public can be tough. And while parenting in front of strangers can feel awkward, it can be even more challenging when friends and family are the audience.
You may have to deal with family that don’t understand your approach, unwanted advice, criticism, pressure to do things a different way, triggers from your own childhood, people overriding your decisions, and more.
It’s hard for kids too
When you’re feeling so on edge, it’s hard to stay true to your values. You are aware of all the little things your children do and how they may be perceived by others who are not on board with respectful parenting. You might try to head off any problems before they even eventuate.
This is confusing for kids! Suddenly the expectations have changed, but they don’t understand why. You feel annoyed, and the small things that are usually a non-issue become problems. You feel triggered due to your past experiences and overreact.
Can you relate?
What can we do?
Instead of focusing on what we don’t what to happen, and how to avoid any awkwardness, maybe we can become more intentional about our thoughts, perspectives, and actions.
Focus on what we actually want to do. Even if people disagree, even if no one understands, even if it’s uncomfortable. The best way to show people how awesome respectful parenting is, is to actually show them, right? You never know, maybe they’ll come around?
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi
It helps so much if we can hold onto the perspective of children as people, deserving of equality and respect. It can be hard when you are surrounded by others who don’t share that perspective.
8 Things to Remember Before Your Next Family Gathering
Remind yourself of these things this holiday season. Keep them in the forefront of your mind. Say them in your head as many times as you need to.
1. My responsibility is to my child
It is not up to me to make sure everyone else is comfortable, at the expense of my child. Everyone is important! Often children need even greater consideration as they are still learning about the world and how to regulate their emotions. They may be in a situation where they feel overwhelmed, unsure, overstimulated, or anxious. They don’t need to sacrifice having their needs met for the sake of adults who have preconceived ideas about how children ‘should’ behave. I am my child’s safe space. I am their ally. My responsibility is to them.
2. My child has a right to be accepted
Children have the right to be exactly who they are. Everyone does! Trying to stifle them out of embarrassment might send them the message that they are ‘too much’, that they need to change who they are, that they are not accepted. They have the right to be themselves, 100% of the time. That doesn’t mean infringing on the rights of others of course. But it means forgetting about the notion of a ‘good’ child, and loving the fantastic one right in front of me, unconditionally. Others may frown, but I can radiate acceptance, and they will always remember that.
3. My child has a right to their feelings
They don’t have to stop crying, smile when they don’t feel like it, be happy, or stifle their emotions for the comfort of others.
“When we become uncomfortable with the way children express themselves, we may believe that we’re sending a message that it’s their behavior that we find unacceptable. Mainstream parenting philosophies claim to distinguish between the person (the child) and the behavior. Yet this distinction is too abstract for children, especially young children. Children equate their behavior, their feelings, and their experiences with themselves. Because of this, when we reject their behavior what children experience is a rejection of what they feel and, ultimately, who they are. This is a difficult message to experience as a child. All children want the love and approval of their parents and will often do anything to ensure that they get them. When we, as parents, try to control a child’s emotions, we strip her of who she is in that moment and require that she push her emotions down rather than allowing the feelings to flow.” -Teresa Graham Brett, Parenting for Social Change
4. My child is entitled to their opinions
Children are entitled to their opinions, and to voice them. What they think matters! Their ideas are as important as anyone else’s. They have a right to be involved. I will let them speak.
5. My child has a right to bodily autonomy
Every person has the right to be the boss of their own body. No one should force or coerce them into doing something they are uncomfortable with. No forced kisses and hugs from family members, and no guilting them into it either. No one should be shamed about their appearance or choices about their own body.
6. I don’t have to force relationships
I’m not obligated to try and force relationships on my child. They have the right to make up their own mind about people, no matter who they are. I will support, guide, and protect them in their relationships with others. But, I’ll also allow them to develop meaningful, authentic bonds with people on their own terms, or accept their choice not to.
7. It’s not about me
Criticism about my parenting is not about me. I am comfortable with my choices. I am open to listening to others concerns, expressed respectfully, but my choices are not up for debate. Nor are my child’s rights. If people have a problem with that, it is about them, not me. I have a right to enforce my personal boundaries.
8. Empathy is the answer
Everyone needs empathy. Children and adults. My first response will be empathy. I will choose empathy as often as I can.
While we hope the holiday season will bring connection, community, love, and enjoyment, there’s no doubt there is often at times tension, disagreements, and awkwardness. We can’t control other people, but we can control ourselves. If we are firm in our beliefs, they are less likely to be challenged. If we treat our children with the same respect as we always do, they are more likely to feel safe and comfortable.
Let’s be confident in our choices and actions.
Let’s respond with empathy and love.
Let’s remain mindful of our triggers and inner dialogue.
Let’s be intentional and respectful!
Remind yourself of these things before your next gathering with family and friends. And have a happy holidays!