Whatever the reason, I am a peacemaker. I try to understand both sides of an issue. I'm not liberal or conservative, democratic or republican, traditional or contemporary--I am comfortable being moderate! I try to find and express the middle ground. I rarely state an opinion without a qualifier like, "Of course there are certain situations where this isn't true," or, "You have to use your best judgement." Not that I don't have topics I feel very strongly about, but I don't often feel the need to share those feelings unless someone asks me, and even then, I choose my words carefully so as not to sound too harsh or unwilling to listen and learn. I don't want to take a hard and fast stance on something because I don't like being that person. You know the one. The know-it-all! The one where you just want to say, "Chill! Back-off! This is my life and I'll do what I want!"
There are a bazillion polarizing topics when it come to parenting. Way, way more than I ever realized before I became a parent. I can't stand the political or religious bashing I see on Facebook (people can be ugly to each other via the internet), but the parenting bashing can be so much worse! The conversations are generally passive aggressive, littered with back handed insults surrounded by smiley faces, and are taken so much more personally because it's not just an attack of opinion, but rather an attack of who you are.
You're emotionally cold if your child sleeps in his own bed, yet you're overbearing if you co-sleep.
You're reckless if you place your child forward-facing in a car seat before the age of two, yet you're insensitive to your child's needs if you leave them rear-facing while they are unhappy or carsick.
You're a crazy "crunchy" mama if you breastfeed past the age of two, yet you're bordering on child abuse if you don't breastfeed at all.
You're pumping your kids full of deadly chemicals if you vaccinate, yet you're perpetuating a dangerous epidemic if you don't vaccinate.
They are so many polarizing parenting issues, and I see so little room for middle ground. We try--I think we all try to find some middle ground. I often hear people say, "To each his/her own," or some such cliche that they don't actually mean. No one wants to make another parent feel bad about how they're doing things, and at the same time, if something is really important to us, we feel like we're doing a disservice to other parents and their children if we don't speak up. I remember posting a sweet photo of my son sleeping in his car seat when he was just a month old, and one of the first things someone commented was about how the harness of the car seat wasn't aligned properly. Now, this person was right--I was a new mom and I didn't really know how important it was for that center clip to be level with his armpits--but I cried about that! By posting that picture I was trying to say, "Behold, World! My beautiful son!" And the response I heard back was, "You're doing it wrong."
I know many parents have experienced something like that.
Even with my peacemaking tendencies and my desire to avoid such situations like the one I just described, I now find myself getting worked up about parenting issues, too. I had to really bite my tongue the other day when I heard a mom talk about giving her child rice cereal (in my understanding) way, way too young. It was one of those subjects where I have done a lot of research, so I feel like I know the best practices. The part of me that always wants to validate mamas so they know they are doing a good job wanted to say, "Well, whatever works for you!" The other part of me that knew better wanted to yell, "Are you crazy???" I hated that reaction within myself! I don't want to be that kind of person. I want to encourage parents, not constantly challenge or correct them, causing them to doubt themselves. However, I also want them to have all the information. How do we find a middle ground here???
I'm not sure I 100% know the answer to this, but I know it has to start with love and respect. We all started from the beginning in the parenting journey, and we all learn as we go. We all are doing our best. We all want the best for our children. And, most likely, we all doubt ourselves from time to time. Rather than throwing out advice that no one asked for, be supportive and be an example. Tell another mom how beautiful her kids are before you are compelled to tell her something she is doing wrong. Assess if it's actually that important to share what you know. Is it a life and death situation? Well alright, maybe that's worth sharing, but do it in a "mama to mama" sort of way: "Oh man, I remember how hard it was to figure out those darn car seats! Let me show you a trick I learned."
It's good for us to take a step back and realize how many things aren't our decision. Yeah, I think it's important to keep a child rear-facing in a car seat as long as possible. So I will keep my child rear-facing as long as possible--that's my decision. I can share my opinions with you if you ask, but when it comes to your children, that's your decision. You were given your kiddos for a reason. Just like I have to learn to trust myself and my instincts when it comes to parenting, I have to trust you and your instincts, too. I remember agonizing over the decision to supplement with formula when my son was two weeks old. I felt like I was a terrible parent because the breastfeeding journey was so exhausting for me. I'll forever be grateful to my mom for reminding me that it was my decision--I didn't have to explain my choice to anyone. If I thought this was what we needed to do, it's what we needed to do. You're responsible for your kid, I'm responsible for mine. I'll trust my gut, you trust yours. Hopefully we're both looking to God for guidance, and I certainly can't judge you for the choices you make.
As the oldest child, my mom has apologized to me many times for being her "guinea pig." I was her first experience at child raising, and she did a lot of things differently with my younger three siblings as she grew as a mother. Now as a grandma she's still learning, and she's so willing to learn. I love that attitude. I think it's incredibly healthy. She was raising children before we had Google at our finger tips, yet we all turned out just fine. Even me, her "guinea pig." ;-)
My point is that we're probably going to change our minds about the best way to do things a bunch of times in the next 20 years. New research will come out that will overrule old research. New studies will turn something we thought to be absolute fact on it's head. There will be some major break through that changes everything, and we'll all be shocked that we used to do things the other way. We'll be different parents from the moment our first child is born to the moment our last child graduates high school. We're supposed to grow like that. Let's be easier on each other through the process. Let's give each other room to grow and discover things on our own, or even give each other a safe place to discover things together. Let's listen to each other and give hugs and prayers before we give unwanted advice.
Let's find the middle ground. The middle ground doesn't have to mean being wishy-washy about your beliefs or compromising your parenting convictions. The middle ground is about love. Think about those early days of parenting, when everything was new and a little bit scary. Think about how you wanted so badly to give that baby everything, and how at the same time you were dying for a solid nap. Think about the things you wanted to hear during those times. I doubt they had anything to do with vaccinations or the proper preparation of baby food. I bet they had more to do with smiles, and offers to cook you dinner, and assurance that feeling slightly insane is normal. Think about the things you want to hear, and say those things instead of the constantly corrections things.
When someone is loving to you, it's so much easier to have the hard discussions, because you feel like they care more about you than being right or winning a debate.
That's the middle ground.