After talking to many parents over the years, there is always one thing that holds them back from feeling like they are doing a great job of parenting: other people’s opinions.
Case Study Using the Pushchair
I remember having an unpleasant experience when walking down the street with my son when he was in his pushchair, several years ago. I was made to feel like I wasn’t a good enough parent. My son had been in a seat that had faced me until he was about 1 year old. We walked along and I spoke to him as we went. As he got older and taller, I used a pushchair that faced outwards. In my mind, he was then able to look around at the environment to learn more about his surroundings.
I consciously made sure that I stopped the pushchair to speak to him now and again, pointing out things that he might not have seen before. We were always chatting! I was quite confident with this method of walking around town with my son. That was, until a man and a woman stopped me in the street to tell me that, in their opinion, I shouldn’t be using this type of pushchair. At that point, parenting still felt quite new. I was learning all of the time and taking advice on board. All I wanted to do was be the best parent I possibly could be.
When Opinions are Unwanted
These people told me that I was damaging my son by having him in an outwards facing pushchair. They told me that because he wasn’t seeing my face then it would hurt our relationship in the future. I was told, rather firmly, that it was obvious that my son was being ignored by me and that it was neglectful for me to be pushing him around in his pushchair in this way. Their solution was for me to change my pushchair so that he was facing me or get rid of the pushchair completely as he should be walking by now. Apparently, he should be walking (he was only just two years old at this point) everywhere we go. I was being irresponsible by making his muscles waste away being sat in that ‘contraption.’
How I Responded
I was totally taken aback how two strangers could be so judgemental. How they could be so forceful in the way that they spoke to me about how they perceived the relationship I had with my son and my lack of ability to care for him properly. To start with, I was dumbstruck. I had no idea how to respond to their scathing accusations. All I was doing was nipping to the market to buy some fruit.
Questioning Myself to Justify my Actions
I started to think about why I had pushed him in his pushchair. Why was I doing it? These people were obviously older than me and they had more experience in raising children than I had. I was only just starting out on my parenting journey, what did I know? So I started reeling off my excuses as to why my son was in a pushchair, why the pushchair was an outwards facing one and how I was not neglecting or damaging my son by having a walk around town.
What I Said to Them
After I had gathered my thoughts, I started to offer excuses to them as to why I was using this pushchair to transport my son around town. The reasons I gave were:
- He has outgrown his seat that faced me, after being in it for almost two years.
- Being a very tall two year-old, he looks older than he is.
- He does walk and has been doing so since he was nine months old. He walks almost everywhere, usually.
- We have been to a busy playgroup this morning as well as to the park. He is tired but I needed some fruit so rather than have him upset walking around town, I put him in his pushchair. (I’m sure they’d have had something to say if I’d been trying to keep an exhausted two year old calm after a busy morning. Maybe they’d have told me that I should be able to control my child?).
- It was quite a walk from our home into town.
- My son looks at me all of the time; I think it is nice for him to get to know his environment more.
- I do talk to him: I consciously stop and talk to him quite often. He knows I am close by.
- I was hoping that he would have a nap in his pushchair after a busy morning.
Disapproval, no matter what
They looked at me, disapprovingly. Their opinion was set and that was it. They ‘knew’ I was neglecting my child and they ‘knew’ that this pushchair was the wrong kind for him. They also didn’t believe that he was two years old. I obviously wasn’t a good enough parent. I carried on questioning myself about this unwanted interaction for a long time. As a person that wants the best for her son, I took a while justifying to myself that I was, indeed, doing the right thing by walking with my son in a pushchair to buy fruit.
I couldn’t understand what had prompted them to come over and start their lecture in the first place. Did I really look like I was doing something wrong? Did my son look distressed and I couldn’t see his face to be able to tell? Was I being a good enough parent? How could I improve my parenting skills? Was my son getting what he needed from me? Would his muscles waste away due to being in the pushchair now and again? Up until the point of them speaking to me, I was feeling very confident. I enjoyed our walks into town with the pushchair. I loved stopping to chat to my son and for him to point at things as we passed them. This all put a negative spin on things that I thought I was doing well.
How I Should Have Responded to Them
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if I was able to replay that moment, with everything I know now, I would have responded in a different way.
Things I could have said to them, rather than trying to explain away my reasons, in detail, for this simple situation:
- Thank you for sharing your opinion with me. I shall have a think about it.
- Thank you for your concern, I think I have made the right choices for my child.
That is it. I feel like I should not have given their opinions the importance that I did give them. Maybe they were trying to be helpful. It didn’t come across that way though. Instead, they just made me feel guilty about my choices. They made me doubt myself, my parenting skills and whether I am a good enough parent. I felt pretty rubbish for a while after this. It was not helpful, constructive criticism. The advice was more like telling me I was doing everything wrong and hurting my child. I wasn’t. These people didn’t know our background and they didn’t know us. They had made a quick judgement in the street and proceeded to share their judgements with me.
What I Learnt from this Experience
I often wish I hadn’t have let this moment bother me so much but it did. I do feel like I learnt from it though.
- People like to share their opinions of parenting, whether you want them to or not. This wasn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time that anyone has given me advice such as this.
- My parenting style is my own. I know the needs of my child and myself as well as how to respond to these needs.
- I shouldn’t dwell on other people’s opinions. If I’m doing the best I can, I shouldn’t have to feel guilty about doing it the way someone else thinks I should be doing it.
- Trying to explain myself and my actions is not the best way forward. Overthinking it all while trying to explain to someone why you have done what you have can make me feel pretty awful.
- I shouldn’t doubt myself so much. It is great to try to think of better ways to do things but parenting is something you learn to adapt to every day. There is no one way of parenting. Not all children are the same and not all children are the same. I should feel more confident in my own abilities as a parent. I am a good enough parent.
Overall, I wish those people hadn’t stopped me on the street that day. We were having lots of fun up until then. After buying the fruit, we went home for cuddles. I also checked my son’s legs to see if they had wasted away from our half hour walk. I am pleased to report that they hadn’t.