Accepting the Differences
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22, No. 3 May-June 2005 pp. 124-126
"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
Since I have been home with my children, some of my old friends have drifted away. I am so pleased with my parenting choices, which include breastfeeding and gentle discipline, but some of my old friends are not comfortable with those choices, and we're having difficulty not feeling judged by each other. I would be sad to lose these friends. Have other mothers experienced this? What can I do?
This is a tough situation. Do your old friends have children? Sometimes old friends who don't have children understand you much better when they become parents themselves. To stay connected, a childless old friend can be met for coffee or a quick lunch at a time when your partner is watching the baby. While an entire evening out is sometimes hard to coordinate and stressful for me and my child, a brief time away to meet up with an old friend is restorative and refreshing. It helps me to be a better mother.
For my old friends with children, I've found a few ways to spend time with them without getting into conflicts about parenting. First, I try to create play times and other activities that minimize our differences and emphasize those areas where we still click. Activities where the children can play happily, such as a zoo or science center, work well. During these outings, I keep the conversation focused on lighter topics and save nutrition and sleepless-night discussions for the friends who are more like-minded.
Second, I have found that most of my current friends have come from La Leche League. We are not all exactly alike in our parenting, but I feel comfortable mothering my babies around them. Interestingly, when we talk about our lives before we had children, I realize we might never have been friends years ago due to different ages, professions, and past geographic locations. Perhaps your old friends have only drifted away while your children are young and your differences seem the greatest.
La Grange KY USA
I commend you for feeling good about your parenting choices. I am now a grandma of four, but I still remember what it was like to make different choices from my friends about how I would feed my babies. I had many friends back then who did not make the same choices I made, but most of them respected my decisions and did not make me feel uncomfortable around them. If my friends didn't agree with me, we tried not to talk about it. It's similar to politics. I don't talk about politics with my friends who I know are on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Keep in mind that some of your friends may regret that they didn't choose to breastfeed or that they didn't seek help when challenges arose, and may be feeling a little guilty or envious of your success even though they don't verbalize these feelings. Sometimes, you set the best example just by living life instead of talking about it. If you don't "get on your soapbox" too often, do what is right for you, and raise wonderfully healthy happy children, others will notice.
If you keep in touch with the friends that you don't necessarily agree with on breastfeeding and parenting styles, you might find that you will still have much in common as you mature. You will be glad that you stayed connected.
Newton KS USA
As time goes on, it's normal for friendships to evolve. We make new friends and move away from old ones. With certain friends, you will be able to explain how you feel, what it is that makes you sense negative judgement, and try to reach an agreement. Simply agreeing to disagree is sometimes enough. With other friends, you might have to avoid the topic of children and child rearing all together.
Be prepared to take a look at your choices and how they affect others. If your friends think your children are undisciplined, ask yourself why. Although it may be the unrealistic expectations of your friends, it may also be something your children are doing. I took my youngest son to many adult activities when he was small, but always positioned myself for easy escape if he became restless and noisy. Allowing children to run riot in restaurants or at public meetings has consequences for all parents who would like to see children excluded less from the adult world.
Remember that not all homes will be child proofed, either. Be aware of your host's anxieties and vigilant about where your children go and what they touch. Even small children can quickly learn that what is acceptable at home may not be acceptable in someone else's home.
True friendship is based on respect for differences as well as on shared interests and values. Give your friends every chance to understand and respect your choices. On your side, show respect and teach your children to show respect for others.
My family moves a lot, so I've had plenty of practice finding new friends. In each area we've lived, places varying a lot in culture and style, I have found amazing inspiring mothers, whose mothering styles I relate to and learn from, at local La Leche League meetings. I was recently joking with one of these friends, who is facing a move herself. I told her that, when she gets to her new location, she should call the local LLL Leader to find out when and where the next meeting is, and then call the phone company and power company to hook up power! I was only partly kidding—having friends who understand and value my parenting choices is just about as basic a need as functioning appliances! All best wishes to you in your journey toward a new circle of friends.
Tacoma WA USA
One of the most difficult things I faced as a new mother was finding other women who mothered the way I did. At the same time, I was saddened that there were friends with whom I no longer shared a lot in common. Attending La Leche League meetings and other groups helped me establish a supportive group of like-minded women who became a lifeline during those difficult months. Once I felt supported by new friends, I found I was more understanding of friends who didn't necessarily parent the same way.
Trying to see the humor in our situations helped, as well as downplaying our differences. Being complimentary about each other's mothering helped some of the walls come down, too. Every woman I know wants to do the very best for her children and really wants to be a "good" mother. I trust that all my friends are experts on their own families. Once children are older, the differences in parenting don't seem to be so glaring. If it's a friendship that is worth maintaining, then seeing the very best in each other's mothering, no matter how different, goes a long way in keeping the friendship alive.
Shana Brown Colfax CA USA
This is, unfortunately, a situation many of us find ourselves in. Often, mothers on both sides of the fence will see that time and experience in parenting make them less defensive about their own mothering and less judgmental about the choices of others. Your friends may become more tolerant of your mothering style as they become more confident and at ease with their own. This can help relieve tension in some relationships and allow you to maintain a close bond, regardless of differences.
On the other hand, you may find that you really can't work past the differences and may have to resign yourself to the idea that you are better off with other friends with whom you have more in common. In addition, you might not want your children exposed to parenting and discipline styles that you believe to be harmful. I think it is important to give yourself permission to let go and move on to more constructive relationships.
Whatever the case may be, it is important to work on new friendships. Many women find that some of the friendships they cherish most are those made in the first years of their children's lives. We share special bonds with other mothers who supported our ideals and feelings as we learned more about parenting. This kind of support is very important.
Don't be shy about inviting mothers and children from LLL meetings or other support groups out for coffee or a play date. You can even establish a playgroup if you have enough mothers who are interested. Most mothers of young children welcome the company. It will be worth it to you in the long run!
Kelly Warner Kennesaw GA USA
About a year ago, my husband and I went on a trip with our two-year-old daughter to visit my former college roommate and her family for a fun weekend. My friend knew that we co-slept and that I "still" nursed my daughter. In contrast, she nursed her babies for only a few weeks, never co-slept, and is very regimented in her home.
That weekend, her "disgust" that my daughter was not fully independent of us came across loud and clear, culminating with a loud declaration on her part that my parenting choices were "ridiculous." She kept trying to debate with me about my "bizarre" choices. I left in tears and never looked back. While this friend did do things differently from us, we had always been respectful of her choices. I did not feel she was respectful of ours. Being respectful of different styles of parenting is key to continuing as friends.
I ended the relationship with my friend and feel it was the right thing to do. Being around that kind of negativity and judgment can really upset the balance of life. Remember to follow your instincts. If friends are critical, let them know that it's very hurtful when they judge your parenting choices. Don't write everyone off too soon, though. If they are truly your friends, they will be respectful and appreciate your honesty.
Kimberley Brown Los Angeles CA USA