Parenting with an Audience: Only Two Paddles in the Boat, Please!

“I can’t believe she still wears diapers.”

“Are you still breastfeeding?”

“Do you have to stick to a schedule?”

“You mean he still takes a pacifier?”

“I never did that with my kids.”

I could add a few more “helpful” comments to the list. Have you heard any of these before? Unless you are living in a bubble, chances are someone has dipped their proverbial oars into your parenting waters. More than likely, you’ve been paddled downstream by a family member who doesn’t quite parent like you. Often times, what begins as an attempt to help leaves you frustrated and in question of your own abilities and choices. Do I believe our siblings, aunts, parents or even friends purpose to discourage us with their “help?” No, I don’t. (Do I think their silence can be golden at times? Absolutely.)

Some of you may receive unsolicited advice from others and it rolls right off you like water on a duck’s back. Wow. Great for you! Boy, do I have my days when I wish I were like you, but alas, I am not. Although I must admit, it rolls off a bit easier by the third pregnancy. Of course, I am sometimes peeling it off my back – much like an old bandage at times! I wonder if people forget how hard it is when you are just starting out at the whole parenting thing. That’s a definite possibility. Maybe they don’t remember that behind that Mama glow and Daddy pride there is an unexpected uneasiness. Maybe people don’t remember how sensitive you are to their observations during pregnancy.

I still remember some of the comments from my first pregnancy…

From the girl at the gas station (who I’d never seen before): “You’re due in July? It’s gonna be a long summer for you.”

Two weeks before my due date: “You haven’t dropped yet. It’ll be a while.” (Don’t say that to a woman 38 weeks pregnant in a Tennessee summer!)

But I have to admit, that I’ve had friends who’ve heard some doozies.

“You don’t look pregnant, you just look chubby.”

At 30 weeks: “You’ve got two months left? You’re huge!”

Those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. You can probably think of more – maybe a lot more! I didn’t include the things said to my friends waiting to adopt and how it must be so much like pregnancy and waiting to deliver. Uugghhh… That makes my heart hurt. I must admit that a lot of the things people say are so inappropriate it’s funny as I look back. But in the middle of hormonal overload, the humor is a bit harder to see.

It just goes to show you that people (and I mean all of us) say things without always considering the heart of their audience. It’s not that what they’re saying is intended to discourage, frustrate or hurt. (At least I hope not!) I think what often happens is this. People want to pass on their wisdom and want others to learn from their mistakes and their successes. A commendable desire. It’s just that in their desire, friends and relatives can occasionally lose sight of our hearts. And sometimes, I suppose they may have forgotten that we need to find the way that works in our family.

I’ll be vulnerable here. This has been a source of friction between my husband and me in more than one instance. Here is what happens. My husband and I will make a decision about discipline or feeding, or something like that. I will have confidence in our choice… until someone expresses a strong difference of opinion. (Notice I did say strong!) I then come home lacking confidence in the choices we’ve made and questioning myself. I’m not saying this is all the other person’s fault. Huh-uh. You’re dealing with a co-dependent in recovery! And we’ve also noticed that my confidence seemed to go down the drain when I was around family. I would turn from a capable mother into a young girl, or baby sister.

Three pregnancies and two toddlers later, I have matured some in my reaction. I am finally learning that I should listen and believe the people who remind me that God was purposeful in choosing me as my babies’ mother. People can have their opinions about my child-rearing choices, but they have no right to make them for me or my husband. And, every child is different. There is no science that will work exactly the same for each of my tiny tots. So when I see the instructional oars dipping into the waters of my parenting, I have the choice to jump in their boat or stay in my own and paddle with the Fisher of Men as my guide. Only two paddles are needed for one boat!

I would love to hear some things that have been said to you as a parent, or as a pregnant woman. How have those comments rested in your heart?

-Shelby Rawson

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