It seems these days there is always some war over which parenting style is best. Helicopter vs. free range, stay at home vs. working mother, mainstream vs. au naturel. The list goes on (yawn) and on. Parenting is chock-full of approximately 1,000 choices a day. Rarely do we fit into one style or the other any longer than your 3-year-old boy (or 36-year-old husband) can keep his underwear clean.
Parenting styles ebb and flow with who we are as people and often, more importantly, who our child is. It is not static. I am baffled by labels telling us otherwise.
My parenting style is a direct reflection of who I am as a person, right this minute. To say I am laid-back is an understatement. Sometimes I am lazy. But I am also driven and slightly obsessive. As a mother, I tend to fall more on the free-range side. I like to watch from afar and let my kids make mistakes. I believe they should have their freedom.
However, I was raised by a mother riddled with worry and anxiety about everything. As a result, she made me watch the Adam Walsh TV special every year since birth. For those who don’t know his story, he was abducted from a Sears while shopping with his mother and later found dead. It was horrible. Because I have seen this play out on television approximately 40 times, I was certain for years that my children would be abducted. I wouldn’t let them ride their bikes on their own until this year. My oldest just turned 18. I’m kidding. But I’m also the first to allow candy before bedtime and sleepovers on school nights. I can be wishy-washy when I don’t have a strong opinion about something. My kids, by design, know they can talk me into most things with little effort. They also know if they lie to me they will have fewer privileges than someone incarcerated in a supermax prison.
The point is, with few exceptions, every parent falls somewhere in and out of these labels during their parenting career. I’d never been judged so harshly about my personality, which is in essence my parenting style, until I had kids. Being indecisive used to be charming. Now it’s considered by most parenting “experts” to be a liability in raising a healthy child. So why do we judge other parents so harshly? I understand that I am now in charge of raising a human being, but who says your way is any better than mine?
I tend to learn the most from parents whose styles are not at all like my own. Don’t get me wrong, I love to commiserate with the ones who parent exactly like I do, but that doesn’t challenge me as a person or a parent. The au naturel moms have made me more conscious of what is hidden in foods. That may drive me to make a better choice for myself or my child some of the time. Or the helicopter moms shadowing their children’s every move at the park? Sometimes they motivate me to get up off my butt and play. I’m not going to change who I am as a person because of them, but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow.
Judging someone when you don’t know their situation can be a lesson in humility. I heard an old nosey neighbor ask a friend of mine, “When are you guys gonna have kids already?” My friend smiled and said, “I just had my third miscarriage.” The same lesson goes for parenting styles. That helicopter mom’s child could have survived cancer. The working mom could be the breadwinner of her family. Parents’ motivations are driven by choice, circumstance and a million other nuances we know nothing about.
I think if we practice a bit more kindness, the sandbox may be a safer place for us to all play. I don’t need to agree with you to respect you as a person and a parent. And really, if we all agreed on everything, how completely boring would this world be?