I hope the title statement sounds intrinsically wrong to you, it should. Yet, this is a culturally accepted idea, I hear it all the time, don’t judge other parents, mind your own business, do not question a parents choices on how they choose to raise or discipline their “own” child.
The problem is, children are not possessions, they are people. Not so very long ago, we took a similar view to how a man chose to treat his “own” wife, thankfully we progressed and would not stand such nonsense now. A woman is a person, with human rights and anyone would speak up if they witnessed ill treatment of a woman by her husband.
Why on Earth would we exclude children, the most vulnerable and impressionable people among us, of the same basic rights?
“It takes a Village to raise a child”
There is a vital truth to those words. Becoming a parent does not magically bestow on us some infinite wisdom, the truth is most of us feel overwhelmed by the enormity of responsibility for this tiny being and our own lack of experience and knowledge. But we strive to do the best we can.
In the animal kingdom, parents nurture their young by the call of instinct, a voice often faint to our own ears, drowned beneath sponsored corporate instruction and persistent damaging myths of parenting tips to help you control these little humans. So detached are we from trusting our own inner guidance, that we often go painfully against it, hurting ourselves and our child in the process.
Too many children (and adults) suffer not through neglect or wilful abuse but because of well intentioned parents acting on the harmful advice of so called “experts” and meanwhile the villagers have been silenced. The idea that a baby must be “trained”, learn to be alone, left to cry it out, sadly still today undermines the intuition of many a parent. When we, the friends, neighbours, brothers, sisters, grandparents; the villagers, remain silent out of misplaced integrity, there will always be those less scrupulous to add sound. More often than not in the pursuit of monetary gain!
“It’s wrong to judge other parents”
When we hear of a mother yelling at her kids, we are encouraged not to judge; we all have bad days. True, we should not condemn but actually judgement is a vital component of our moral code. Yes we should be compassionate and supportive but why shouldn't we have compassion for the child too? Certainly it’s more socially acceptable to judge another person on how they treat a dog than a child!
This idea that children are the sole responsibility of their parents is just plain wrong. We are all part of the environment that determines the outcome of our younger generations, we all have a part to play, whether we are mindful of it or not. If we choose apathy, that has it’s own consequences.
I wonder how many parents can honestly put their hand up and say “I know exactly what I’m doing, I have absolutely no doubt that every single decision I have ever made as a parent is 100% right” (hopefully, not even one!) When I had my baby I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing, I proceeded with a combination of instinct, learned habits and mainstream parenting tips. Those few brave caring souls who openly questioned my choices helped me become a much better parent! I remain eternally grateful to them and for that opportunity to pause and think about the choices I was making. Just because something is common or popular or traditional, doesn't mean it’s right. And often the most valuable thing we can do as parents (and in all aspects of our lives) is to stop, think and question the norm.
Don’t shush the villagers!
I’m not proposing we all start offering unsolicited advice to other parents, after all, what is right for one is not always right for another, but I believe we need to allow space for discussion, to be open to the chance of doing better. And if we are uncomfortable with the way a child is being treated, we should respond; just as we would for an adult or an animal.
Perhaps we could start by toughening up a little; being offended is uncomfortable but it doesn’t hurt! When our parenting is questioned, even indirectly, it can be very triggering (probably because deep down we are all terrified of fucking it up!) and it’s natural to feel defensive but we can allow ourselves to examine these questions and it will either affirm our choices or it will lead to better ones. It’s healthy!
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” Kahlil Gibran
Lets stop shooting each other down. Lets speak openly. If I believe (for example)that breastfeeding is the best choice for mother and baby and that more support should be offered to new mothers to encourage it, I should be able to speak my truth without fear of offending someone who chose formula for their baby. Discussion is healthy and it leads to better choices because we follow the paths that are visible to us; the more we can see (the more voices we hear) the better equipped we are to choose the path that feels right for us and for our children.
By allowing more natural communication, we also open the opportunity to help each other, because sometimes we do need help, and perpetuating this idea that parents should be left alone to take sole responsibility for their child is harmful at best.
In this fragmented society, let’s try to be the villagers that care for one another.