Thursday, March 12, 2009

Parenting choices...can we judge?

As I mentioned in my post of earlier this week, there was a kerfluffle over a woman nursing another woman's child. I didn't read the blog post that originally questioned the decision of the two women to "cross-nurse" but I understand that she raised issues of the wellness of the mother (potential disease, taking medication or other substances, cleanliness) and the well-being of the child, physically and psychologically. All reasonable questions that one might ask.

The kerfluffle occurred when the woman in question felt "shamed" and "judged" by the blog post. And then the comments flew back and forth. They are almost impossible NOT to read. Very dramatic. Very soap-opera-ish.

The whole thing got me thinking, and not about the potential misuse of both the word shame and the word judge. Apparently it is verboten to "judge" another person's parenting choices. And by "judge", these people seem to mean "stating an opinion that makes a value judgment about another's parenting choices." It seems that you can make a statement that "I wouldn't do it, but it is their choice" but it is not ok to state that a particular choice is right or wrong. We are not supposed to make value judgments about other mothers. It perpetuates the "mommy wars." Or something.

The silly thing is, we make such value judgments all the time. We pass a mother on the street and her toddler has what appears to be soda in his bottle. And we judge: doesn't she know how bad that is for the baby? We see children at the playground who appear out of control. And we judge: can't those mothers discipline their children? We see a mother with a whole passel of kids at the grocery store. And we judge: that is a LOT of kids! We may never say any of these things out loud. But should we or shouldn't we?

The government makes all sorts of rules to protect children: car seat laws, seat belt laws, regulating baby and children's products, regulating child care facilities, pediatricians who frontload a vaccination schedule to ensure that they catch all the "at risk" children before their parents stop coming to see the doctor, "recommendations" for various parenting choices on childbirth, sleeping, nutrition, etc.

And each of us has opinions about various parenting choices. And we picked our choices because we reviewed all the options and picked the "best" one, right? Even if we tell others, and maybe ourselves, that each choice is perfectly valid, obviously we have picked one.

Now there are issues for which I just made a choice and I had no particular opinion about the choices. Baby food is one for me. Some people get all hepped up about organic versus regular food. Whatever. Not a big deal for me. If I have a coupon for Earth's Best, I will get it. If Gerber has a better deal, I get that one. So, when I see a mom buying (or making!) something I didn't, I actually don't think anything of it.

But there are issues about which I have stronger opinions, to varying degrees. We co-sleep, sortof. And I think that is best for my family. A crib and nursery might be better for others. We might choose to homeschool our children, if that is what is best for them. And I think homeschooling is definitely better than a lot of other educational choices, but not all of them, so I don't really think less of other options (especially since it is only theoretical on my part at this point.) I have chosen to breastfeed my baby, which is a great effort for me, and I don't just feel that breastfeeding is best for my children, I think it is best for children in general. And when I learn that a woman is formula feeding by choice, I do think her choice is not as good as mine. (I absolutely know that there are situations in which a woman cannot breastfeed and thank goodness that formula exists for those situations. You can ask me my story about breastfeeding my first child sometime.) When I see a person driving a car and there is an unrestrained child in the back seat, I absolutely think they have made the wrong choice.

So we all make judgments about parenting choices of others. Most of the time we don't say anything, or at best, gently question the choice. At other times we might say something, when we think that the child might be suffering in some way because of a parent's choice, or if we think that the parent might not be aware of the "wrongness" of the choice they have made.

And then there are the parenting choices that result in the intervention of Child Protective Services. And I don't even have to detail what those might be.

All of this is to say that the mantra of "it's her choice, you don't have a right to say (or think) anything of it, or think less of her for making it" is false. It is easy to say that, but it isn't true. We all judge. Much of the time our judgment shouldn't be voiced, because we are not more "right" than another. Sometimes we should say something, or at least ask questions. And sometimes a person should feel "shame" for making a particular choice.

Where are the lines? When do we cross them? Should we cross them? Do I have a right to tell another mother how to parent? Do I have a right to tell her she is wrong? And not only wrong, but not a good mother for making the decision she did?

The answer surely cannot be, "mind your own business."



Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Oh thoughts. I have so many. And so little time to type it all out.

Hope to be back when time permits!

Grace said...

I don't have all the answers, that's for sure, but perhaps one guideline for speaking to others might be, "How open am I to hear it from others?" I think if we ourselves are open to correction, then we're more likely to be compassionate to others if there is something we feel needs to be said. Maybe?

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Okay, I just read an article that sums up my thoughts SO much more articulately than I could have:


Julia said...

It's funny that you just left a comment on my blog because I was just thinking about this post that you wrote. :)

This issue is something I have been struggling with over the past 8 months or so, since our move from a place where I felt pretty in sync with the parenting practices around me in my social circles to a place where I feel really at odds with what I mostly see around me. It has been hard to build real friendships because I feel like I have so little in common with these other moms. And then I think I've taken it further into sin territory by feeling self-righteous and judgmental. It's hard-- we've made a lot of our parenting decisions because we read/think/research and then come to what we think is the best decision, the "right" decision in some sense. Seeing so many people around me dismiss those choices as even possibilities makes my brain yell, "WRONG! WRONG!" I haven't really come to terms yet with how to make my own decisions and not fall into being critical of other parents.

Melodie - Breastfeeding Moms Unite! said...

I posted something similar to this on my blog a couple days ago and it may just be the comment I would make if I could make one that long. I hope you will go and take a look. Reading yours I felt like we could've been writing these sitting side by side in a living room somewhere, having just finished a lengthy conversation. My post is called Think. Act. Breastfeed.
Great point of view. Loved reading it.

Raise Them Up said...

Knowing when to say something, and when to be quiet is indeed the question.

We live in a world where society does not want to acknowledge any absolutes at all, be it moral or otherwise.

It wants to claim that two Mommies are just as good as a Mommy and a Daddy and choice is more noble than life, and formula feeding is more civilized than nursing, and on and on and on.

Yet, through education on health issues, Biblical principles, and sometimes just through experience, we become convicted that certain things are not only right, they are best.

Watching another parent make "mistakes in judgement" can be quite unsettling.

I think the key is prayer. If we pray before we discipline our children in order to seek His wisdom, how much more do we need to pray before we correct another mom?

If, after we pray long and hard about it, God has still placed a burden on our heart about a situation, then I believe He'll also provide the opportunity to approach it in his timing and wisdom.

In the case in question, if the mom who blogged her judgement had prayed about it, I believe it would have had a different outcome.

She would have either had a peace about staying quiet, or had a prompt to go to the woman she watched in love.

That's how God works. We pray (and pray some more if there is not an urgency), and then we go directly to the individual in love.

The thing is, it's not up to us to force a change, but rather be an instrument in His hands.

Did I skate around the issue well enough?? :)

Beck said...

I think that we do have the right to judge other parents - it's how we determine what our own parenting values are, in part - although I do understand a lot of what the modern "no judging!" ethos comes from. MOST parents these days ARE trying desperately hard, and a lot of the things that I see mothers judging each other on are really, really trivial.

I've thought mean thoughts about parents who didn't cosleep with their babies and I've also thought mean thoughts about parents who can't handle betimes with their older kids, so obviously there's not a lot of well-reasoned out thought going into what my gut reactions are.

I think that the original post critisizing HBM was unwise. Obviously, the blogging world has its cliques and a post like that will always blow up in someone's face. I have my thoughts about cross-nursing, but I don't think, when I really think about it, that it's actually a terribly serious issue.

Mrs. NutLaw said...

This whole "controversy" stems from the now-decades old idea of political correctness. I didn't read the original post, so I can't say if what she wrote was a personal attack or actually just a statement of her opinion. But, darn it, why can't I say that I think cross-nursing is gross if I want to? Why can't I say that if more women, who were physically able to, nursed their babies then children would be healthier and happier? And, heaven forbid, why can't I think, and speak aloud, my opinion that women who don't nurse because they think it would be time-consuming and inconvenient, are just plain lazy and selfish? I am just plain lazy and selfish about other aspects of parenthood, so . . . When did we develop such a collective thin skin? I can state my opinion - whether or not someone out there in the big wide world, or in the scary, quamirish blog world, might possibly find it offensive, ignorant, ugly, stupid, etc. And for the record, I do think cross-nursing a stranger's baby is gross. I don't want someone else's kid sucking on my breast. Family is different as are emergencies.

Stephanie said...

This is such a thought-provoking post. Thank you for writing this.

Like you, there are some "baby care practices" that I am not exceptionally passionate about. Homemade baby food versus jarred baby food. Disposable versus cloth diapering. Etc.

But other topics are much closer to my heart. Breastfeeding is one of those choices (I firmly believe that it is best for baby and mama in almost all cases). Letting a baby "cry it out" is another (it seems like such an inhumane practice).

It's hard to know how to talk about these issues with other moms. For the most part, I think it is helpful to share opinions...and perhaps even give a little long as it is done with compassion and grace and kindness.