Hey you over there with they keyboard! Yeah you—the one on the message board or blog implying that everyone who doesn’t parent exactly like you doesn’t love their children enough, is psychologically damaging their child, and/or is completely destroying their children’s chances of being normal, happy, functioning adults [oh, but you said you don’t think those ladies are bad parents, so it’s all good, amirite?]. Yeah, I’ve got a message for you.
Dear Judgy McJudgerson,
Amazing how you think you know on such bold and sweeping, blanket terms what is best for EVERY child. I’m sure your vast experience in raising [one child] / [three children] / [20 children Duggar style] to the ripe old age of [two months] / [11 years] / , combined with the books and blogs you faithfully read, has completely qualified you to determine what will and will not make for a productive, functioning adult. Can I borrow that time machine when you’re done?
I have two children who cannot be parented the same way by the same parents because they are so different; yet you, perfect stranger who we have never met and will never meet, knows exactly what works and doesn’t work for my children. Why haven’t you written your book yet? It’s sure to be a bestseller. After all, why do we need so many parenting books out there when your one philosophy on parenting will surely answer every question any of us have ever had?
Before I swallow what you’re selling hook, line and sinker, I just want to make sure your parenting techniques will actually work for my children. I know you think all children can be molded the same, which is why your one philosophy applies to all children equally, but I really want to know how this is going to work. So let’s just start with Little Diva for example.
Even though I know [you don’t believe in any type of punishment, because that will psychologically damage my child]/[only believe in spanking, because anything else will spoil my child], what does Little Diva consider the single worst punishment for her—the one that relates to her individual personality, motivations and triggers? What are the three most effective rewards to offer her?
I know you already have your own very strict beliefs about diet or television or cartwheels, but—assuming this question is even acceptable within your parenting philosophy—given a choice between extra dessert or an extra hour to stay awake and watch TV, which would she choose?
What are her fears?
What are her favorite movies?
How does she typically react in a social situation with people she’s never met?
How does she feel about spiders?
What would her reaction be on a 4′ high beam? In a pool of water?
Who are her favorite non-fictional people excluding immediate family? [you know, when she isn’t hating us for not following your soon-to-be-patented parenting technique]
What is her least favorite word?
Does she like tomatoes?
What? You don’t know? But you’re sure your one-size fits all philosophy works? Based on what exactly? Oh… Those books and blogs you read? Have you met the author… and his/her children? You haven’t…. So why do you assume their way to raise children was even effective for their kids, let alone yours or mine? Because the author’s suggested parenting techniques fits your own personal style, instinct, preference and philosophy? That’s funny. I was acting on my own instincts, style, preference and philosophy too… and you implied that it made me a bad mother.
Until you can answer those questions with respect to my child—both of my children—you don’t know them. You don’t know their ticks or triggers. Unless you can answer similar questions about me or my husband, you don’t know anything about our family structure.
So don’t purport to assume you know how to raise my kids.
Most sincerely (oh boy, am I sincere),
Pop Culture Mom
Of course, the One True Way Moms will never read my letter. They’re too busy telling perfect strangers online what’s wrong with how they live.
Look, I know that people judge each other’s parenting choices, just like we judge everything else. When I see things I don’t like or understand, heck yeah, I judge. I may even rant to my friends about it or write on Facebook, maybe even post a blog. But there’s a difference between judging something that is different from you and trying to dictate how others live. Moreover, I think most of us who silently judge are fully capable of admitting that while we prefer our own way, that doesn’t make any different way inherently bad.
If you can’t understand the simple concept of how we are all made different, which is why different things motivate and appeal to us, try thinking of individual parenting choices as other choices. I am a cat person. Dogs are okay. I’ve had plenty of them, but I’m not really that into them. I have some friends who can’t stand cats. Me constantly mentioning my love of cats isn’t going to change the anti-cat person into a cat person, and them countering back to me with the merits of dog love isn’t going to persuade me either. Now let’s suppose we have a friend who wants a pet, but doesn’t know what to get. Of course we are going to both try to persuade her why our pet preference is best. In the end, though, that neutral friend is probably going to pick the pet that fits best within her personality and lifestyle. If she’s a dog person, my cat argument may have sounded appealing… until she found an alternative that was more “her.” I can’t get mad at her for that. I can’t call her and the other dog lover horrible people or irresponsible pet owners simply because having a cat wasn’t for them. I mean, I could; but if I did, they would probably be well within their right for hating me and my insistent one-true-wayism.
I’m not that gal, though. I might question why anyone would ever prefer a dog. I might even think they’re crazy for it. But at the end of the day, I will always acknowledge that while a cat is right for me, it isn’t for everyone, and I shouldn’t give a flying flip about what someone else does in her own household unless it directly or indirectly affects me. I also don’t need to justify my choice of cat to anyone. And if I had a fellow cat-loving friend who was One-True Way about her cat love and who refused to respect anyone who owned a dog, I couldn’t be friends with her. I am not in the habit of maintaining friendships with people who can only respect me when I am exactly like them. Heaven forbid I want to have my own opinions one day!
I know some of you think this is a ridiculous example, because cats and dogs don’t really affect society, but how someone raises their kid does. But not really. Yes, there are some universal bads that have a long-term effect on society. People who choose to allow their kids to be obese are affecting health care costs, but someone who occasionally lets her kid have junk food that you don’t allow in your house at all probably is not. People who are sexually or physically abusing their kids are probably affecting the society around you, but people who are spanking their kids or strict Positive Parenting advocates most likely are not. People who raise their kids religiously or who raise their kids atheist are likely not affecting you, but people who are raising their kids to hate and even engage in physical violence towards people of a different race, religion or sexual orientation, probably are.
We all want society to be better. We all want our kids to be nearly perfect (whatever our version of “perfect” is). However, there are only a few examples of truly universally bad parenting. The rest is all shades of gray. So tend your own garden before you go pointing out the dandelions in someone else’s.
Post Note: After this was published, someone asked me if I’m not doing the same thing I’m accusing others of doing—judging someone’s parenting style. I think it’s a valid question. Here is my answer: In the same way people who are intolerant of bigotry, sexism, homophobia, etc. aren’t “intolerant” on the same level as the bigots/sexists/homophobes [e.g., hating Westborough Baptist doesn’t make you a hypocritical hater], I’m not casting judgment in the same manner as the one-true way parent. I don’t care how someone parents. I really don’t. Even if I don’t like someone’s parenting style, unless it falls within the rare exception of a Universal Bad warranting a call to CPS, it isn’t my business. That was the whole point of this post. It’s none of our business when people employ parenting methods that are different from our own. Most of those people know nothing about your kids and what makes them tick, so they have no business publicly passing judgment on your parenting style. And, quite frankly, they also lack the qualifications. So, no, I’m not trying to say “Hey, I bash the One-True Way Moms who parent differently from me.” Heck, I feel the same whether it’s someone with a vastly different parenting style or someone with whom I generally agree [I cringe watching another lactivist attack moms who use formula. Killing the cause, deary. Killing. The. Cause]. I’m just saying, until you’ve walked several hundred miles in another mom’s pumps until you made it all the way home, don’t go around telling her that she’s not walking the right way. That’s all.