I talk to my children all the time about adolescence and the perception of being different from their peers as being bad. It didn’t dawn on me until I started reading Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, that the same happens to parents as well.
Just the other day, my daughter who is almost 14, told me about girls in her class who were talking about what they got for Christmas. Most of them said clothes. She said she wanted to say that she got Shopkins but was afraid they would think she was immature. This fear of standing out, of being different, affects us all.
During adolescence, we all struggle to find out who we are as individuals but in our pursuit, a dichotomy forms of the good and the bad. What I like is good, what I don’t like is bad; what is familiar is good, what is different is bad. However, the problem with this way of thinking is that just because something is different, doesn’t make it bad. Just because my daughter likes Shopkins, shouldn’t make that a bad thing in the eyes of others who do not like Shopkins. However, because the other girls in my daughter’s class were happy about different gifts than my daughter had received, she internalized that as a direct criticism of her gifts. She felt she was different and, therefore, bad.
But different isn’t bad, it’s just different.
Now let’s equate this to parenting. Look on any library or bookstore shelf in the parenting section and I guarantee you will find a whole slew of books claiming to have the right approach to parenting. For years, I couldn’t even look at those books because if they suggested different parenting techniques than I used or was comfortable using, I thought that meant I was a bad parent (different = bad). Brene Brown says:
“Our need for certainty in an endeavor as uncertain as raising children makes explicit ‘how-to-parent’ strategies both seductive and dangerous. I say ‘dangerous’ because certainty often breeds absolutes, intolerance, and judgment. That’s why parents are so critical of one another--we latch on to a method or approach and very quickly our way becomes the way. When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting.”
Seriously, my mind was blown when I read this. This is exactly what I had faced and confronted for years as an insecure mother, and sometimes I still face it. When others are confident in their parenting and proclaim (overtly or not) their way to be THE way, what does that say about me and my parenting if it’s different? That I must be doing something wrong? Absolutely not.
Different isn’t bad, it’s just different.
It took me years to realize this though. Every one of us was blessed with different upbringings, experiences, and personalities. And each of our children will have their own set as well. Each situation and relationship is different and we need to respect and praise those differences instead of fearing, rebuking, or self-criticizing.
What we need is a spirit of love, compassion, understanding, and non-judgment when sharing with others our parenting experiences. Is it good to give tips that have been helpful to you to new moms? Probably. Is it good to chastise the mom who lets her kids sleep in her bed because that’s something you would never do? Definitely not. Her choices may be different than yours but that doesn’t make them bad, just different.
Just as I want my daughter to embrace every beautiful unique quality she has and recognize how good she is, I want all kids and adults to recognize this as well. Brene Brown said, “the question isn’t so much ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is: ‘Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?’” When we as adults can set the example of loving and accepting our differences, our kids will learn and grow from that as well.
Birth Boot Camp Certified Doula (BBCD)