Sometimes I wonder whether the difficult choices I make as a parent will actually pay off. Although responsive parenting is what feels right to me, it isn’t always the easiest way to parent especially because it can be so different from what other people do. In being different, parents who choose to go against the grain can be perceived as odd, ‘soft’ or even as making a silent commentary on other parents’ choices. When my friends went back to work and I stayed home, I was the odd one out. When my daughter carried on breastfeeding past the first few months, and my friends had weaned their babies, I was the unusual one. When I resisted the popular advice to let my baby cry it out, others couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t. When I put my babies in a sling friends and strangers alike wondered why I didn’t just use a pram.
Although I held no opinion on their choices about their children, my own quiet decisions were perceived as a threat to some people. When it became clear that my choices were very different, some of my friends distanced themselves from me. It was painful to be pushed aside, to have phone calls left unreturned, to be looked at with a disdainful glance as I lifted my top to feed my one year old. I knew that they didn’t approve of me, and even now it hurts.
But rather than change my choices, external disapproval acted like a furnace on my heart. I looked at myself through the eyes of my critics and considered my decisions afresh. Rather than change my ways, their criticism of my choices only burned away all doubt and made me feel even more confirmed that I must defend my choice to listen to my child above all others. Because if the world was full of people who put my child second, third, fourth or last, the hard truth is that I am my child’s only champion.
Sending my children to school means that my parenting choices are often placed under the microscope. I refuse to have my crying child wrenched from my arms so that he can go to nursery. I will not sneak away without saying goodbye. When my older children are unfairly chastised at school, I listen to them first and the teacher second, and stand up for my children when they need me. I hope that I am fair, but I will not be cowed by authority. No one will stand in between my child and me.
When constantly under pressure from outside forces, it is hard to have the resilience to keep the course and do what I feel is right. But there are golden moments when I think, “Yes, this is why.” This is why I do what I do, this is why I stand up and go against the grain, this is why in the face of disapproval I do what I know is ultimately right for me and my family.
This morning, one such instance. My eldest daughter recalled a time when she’d been having problems with another girl at school. She recounted how the boys in the class had taunted her for telling me about her problems and going to the Headteacher for help. “Why do you have to go to your mum and get us into trouble?” they jeered.
As she told me this story I felt the anger build inside me. How dare they try to intimidate my child into keeping secrets from me? How intolerable it would be to think that she could be suffering and not telling me for fear of being taunted and disliked. The fear of disconnection from her swelled within me and I felt seasick. I watched the birds out of the window as she talked, not wanting her to see my rage and my fear.
As the birds flew away she said, “I know what I’ll say if they say that again.” “What will you say?” I asked. With triumphant emphasis she said, “I’ll say, I’m telling my mum because I trust her.”
And as I stared at out the window at the empty feeder, the tears building behind the dam of my gaze, I thought, “Yes, this is why.”
Will you please share those times when you had confirmation that you were on the right path?
Photo credit: jans canon (Goldfinch Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons