Finding a thick skin

When I first started writing my blog, the only people reading it were my close friends and family. As I gained traction in writing, I also slowly gained followers – more friends, friends of friends and absolute strangers. I love writing about my adventures in parenting and sharing my insights and vulnerabilities through my posts. And I love hearing people’s reactions – positive and negative – to what I write about. My blog is a wonderful outlet, and a great way for me to capture today’s moments that will become tomorrow’s memories.
mama and girls
So, each time Kveller picks up one of my pieces and publishes it on a national platform, I feel giddy with excitement that something I wrote is getting shared with a much broader audience. They’ve published pieces I’ve written ranging from kugel to missing my oldest’s dance recital. It’s a very empowering feeling.

Then, last week Kveller published a piece I was particularly proud of – a diatribe on our family’s rules which stemmed from an argument with my 4 year old about having to wear socks. The piece is playful and ends with a lists of 16 family rules – some of which are serious and others that make me giggle from the broken record I’ve become saying them. And this piece, more than any other that I’ve written, elicited a lot of commentary from a broad audience on Kveller’s website and Facebook page.

Two rules, in particular, struck a chord with the Kveller readership – leave a house that has a gun in it and kiss your grandparents hello and goodbye. Who knew that these would cause such a stir? That by writing that my kids should leave a home with a gun in it, I wasn’t properly educating them about gun safety? And that by telling my children to kiss their elder relatives as a sign of respect, I was exposing them to a future of abuse and body confusion?

I understand the arguments the readers were making and I appreciate that people took the time to read my post and share their opinions. I welcome feedback and comments – it’s fun to see how my writing impacts and influences others. But some of the comments on my last post made broad judgements about my parenting and ventured to say that I was wrong for having some of the rules that we do. While one reader said that each family’s rules are unique to them, other readers said things like I’ll make my kids a doormat by encouraging them to be nice to everyone or that I should never ever tell my kids to kiss a relative. By making such strong statements in response to the rules in our family, I can’t help but think about the litany of arguments, judgements and lines in the sand we draw in these ever present mommy wars.

mama and babeBreastfeeding. Bottle feeding. Formula. Breast milk. Pacifier. Thumb sucking. Attachment parenting. Cry it out. Organic food. Non gmo food. Regular ol’ food. Extracurricular activities to provide structure. No extracurricular activities to provide freedom. Stay at home mom. Professional mom. The list goes on and on. We all have such strong ideas, ideals, and approaches to parenting. We can read books about it. We can quote studies. We can wing it. We can do our absolute best and still feel like it’s not enough. And, although we are our own harshest critics, the commentary on my latest post reminds me that we can be each other’s harshest critics too. Instead of drawing a line in the sand of what we believe to be the right thing, why not open a dialogue in which we each speak out own truths while accepting those may not be the same truths for somebody else? I’m not upset or offended by the comments readers made, but am more so inspired by what the readers could have said.

We all know that raising kids takes a village, and in my experience that’s absolutely true. But the definition of village is loose and long, extending from our inner circle to the adult who attempts to discipline our kids on the playground. We need to find a way to lift each other up and support each other as we forge our own path, whether or not it’s the one we would take ourselves.

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Finding my inner mama bear

My inner mama bear came out at the new park playground near my house last weekend. With claws out and teeth snarled, I was a sight to be seen. It’s incredible how quickly and naturally a mother’s instinct to protect her young springs into action.

Just before the "incident"

Just before the “incident”

While climbing the stairs to the new toddler slide, a little girl blocked the way so my nearly two year-old couldn’t pass. When my sweet baby tried to get around her, the girl put her flattened hand straight on my daughter’s chest and shoved, pushing my daughter backwards off the steps, causing her to fall onto her back and head on the turf below.

Completely rattled, I grabbed my baby and looked around for the pusher’s parents who were nowhere to be seen. Not wanting to leave the scene of the crime without making sure that this kid had proper supervision, I told the little girl “sweetie, we don’t use our hands to push.” Suddenly a woman was in my face, harshly telling me she saw the whole thing and that her daughter didn’t push mine. I begged to differ and told her so, to which she yelled at me and started to walk away. I wished her luck raising her daughter with such a skewed value set (okay, I might not have said it quite like that). Meanwhile, as my daughter cried on my shoulder I found my husband and older daughter by the swings and breathlessly recounted the entire story, holding back tears myself.

Luckily, my daughter is fine aside from the emotional scar she is carrying with her as she continually repeats, “girl pushed me.” And, though I really wanted to give that mother a taste of her daughter’s own medicine, I took the high road and instead talked to my little one about being kind, even when others aren’t kind to us. She understands, as best as a two year-old can, that hands are not for hitting and that it’s important to treat people the way we want to be treated.

As I’ve reflected on that moment over and over again for the last 48 hours, I’ve grappled with what else I could have done. Should I have been standing closer to my daughter on the steps and caught her before she fell? Probably. But, at the same time, I believe a little independence in a safe setting is an important stepping-stone in growing up. And, the three feet distance that I stood away from the stairs was enough for my daughter to feel accomplished in getting to the slide “all by myself!” while still keeping me engaged in her exploration. Should I have said nothing to the child instead of trying to use her action as a collective teachable moment? Probably. But, at the same time, don’t we all want our kids to grow up in a world where they are taught right from wrong, even if the lesson is coming from a source other than a parent? I do, but I guess that other mom would disagree.

friendsThat moment on the playground shows me how important having a “village” is. My husband and I are blessed to have made a connection with a few other parents from our daycare, allowing us to spend time with the eight adults and seven kids with some interchangeable parenting. The kids listen to each of us. We are all comfortable with each other’s parenting style and trust each other to right one of our children’s wrongs. I took this for granted on the playground, assuming that this other mother would be appreciative of me using the altercation between our girls as a teachable moment. Or that she would have had the grace to apologize, or make her daughter apologize because it was the right thing to do. Or, would have even showed a shred of compassion to see if my daughter was okay. Even if her daughter hadn’t pushed her, she was still a culprit in the fall and could have been taught about empathy, grace and apologies. But this mother and daughter duo are not a part of my village, and apparently the parenting code of decency stopped there.

As parents, it is our responsibility to equip our children with the tools and instill in our children the lessons necessary for making the world a better place. We need to teach our children to be kind people who will grow up to make a positive difference. A spat on the playground as toddlers evolves to bullying later on, and how we respond to it sets the tone now and in the future. There is nothing I can do to help that other mother see how deeply she missed the opportunity to role model good behavior to her daughter. But, I can teach my daughters to be caring individuals, and I can continue to role model what I believe to be the appropriate way to treat others, whether on the playground or otherwise. That’s my promise to them.