Imagine this: you’re out on a playdate and your baby signals potty, so you take him/her to the bathroom. When you come back, you get a load of uninvited opinion from your “friend” suggesting that you’re harming your baby somehow. Ever been here? Its called parent shaming and it’s a hot topic right now.
what is parent shaming?
“Parent shaming” is described as as “the act of criticising parents, even calling the authorities, for actions that meant and caused no real harm”1 and is something parents who help their baby use a potty (elimination communication) are likely to be familiar with.
This week I’ve been called twice to speak on the radio about news stories that were fundamentally about parent shaming. BBC WM wanted to know what I thought about a cafe owner telling the mother of a 3 month old crying baby to take him outside. BBC 3 Counties wanted to know whether I’d let my toddler scream for 8 hours on a long-haul flight. You can hear my answers via ‘listen again’ here and here. The underlying theme behind both news stories really comes down to how we parents (as a collective group) treat each other.
PARENT SHAMING about elimination communication
Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” argues that parenting shaming incites fear which stops parents letting their kids fail, and forces them to hide their kids’ mistakes2.Put this in the context of potty training and you’re potentially brewing a Freudian disaster.
Helping a young baby use a potty (pre “expected potty-training age”) is certainly not a mainstream parenting choice, leaving parents vulnerable to being criticised. This is especially true in social media exchanges. When my youngest baby was 3 months old, I did a BBC documentary on baby pottying and some of the comments were definitely in the realms of parent shaming:
“Oh FFS. Some people are ridiculous!!”
“Omg, the bloody white sock sandal wearing brown rice brigade strike again”
“This is dumb. Get in the bin”.
“Sigh… just another opportunity for smug parents to show off about their Wonder Kids and to make mere mortal parents feel inadequate”.
Thankfully these comments were in the minority, but they still had an affect. Whilst I don’t care what other parents think about me, I was upset by how much mis-understanding there is about elimination communication. Part of me wanted to react to these comments and correct them and part of me knew I’d be fighting a losing battle if I did.
So what can we do when someone puts us in this position?
Strategies for dealing with parent shaming are varied, but here’s a few I’ve tried and felt OK about:
- Adopt an “I don’t care what you think” attitude (without being aggressive). So be polite, e.g. say something like “thanks for your input” and walk away.
- Say something along the lines of “it’s working for us”. Keep in mind that you know your child better than anyone else, so be confident about it.
- Use your sense of humour (when you think about it, there are many ways EC can create a joke or two!!).
- Remember the person is likely to simply be ignorant about baby pottying, or perhaps they are struggling and feeling defensive. Acknowledging that parenting choices can be hard can sometimes lead to a more empathetic exchange.
- When responding to a “we did this/we never did that” sort of conversation, I have found that asking them how it’s working for them instantly turns the conversation around. By focussing on them, you can help the other parent feel validated and they go away feeling heard. Later on, they might think about your ideas more sympathetically.
Today, anyone can have their say, regardless of how it may impact on the other person. But remember that a lot of what we see on social media is simply a smokescreen and rarely reflects the reality of how we think and behave. If we start from an assumption that everyone is doing their best, it’s easier to respond supportively to other parents, whatever their parenting choice. A good friend of mine commented: “The world is a nicer place for everyone when we all help each other” (thank you Ruth).
If you can get any exchange away from negative and towards something more open-minded, you’re onto a winner. If you achieve this, you may even get to tell them a little about what you’re doing and this might just sow a seed in their mind. In particular, Andrea Olson ( Go Diaper Free) suggests that you use exchanges as an opportunity to help people understand their options. For the naysayers, she recommends simply saying “it works for us” and leave it at that. Or you might even ask them what they think people did before nappies and see what they say. I’ve not tried that last one (yet), but I like the idea.
We need to model a way of responding without judgement, but instead with interest and open-mindedness. As a wise man once said, “the mind is like a parachute: it only works when it’s open”3.
Lastly, remember to build your own confidence and celebrate your strengths. Forgive yourself, regularly. No parent is perfect and its the connection you have with your child that matters.
did it happen to you? Please share your stories and thoughts…
- Dalai Lama