Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Explain, Smile, Escape

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions with Other Parents

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.

I was seven months pregnant with Daniel, and Jaymz and I were visiting some of my extended family in Louisiana. It was warm and humid (as it usually is there) and my family had a bunch of guests over to celebrate my grandmother's birthday. As I sat inside in the air conditioning with my swollen feet propped up, a family friend (I'll call him Mike) approached me and sat down next to me.

"You know," Mike began, "there are a few things you need to know about having a baby. ...I've had three kids, so I should know!"

By that point in my pregnancy, I had become accustomed to receiving unsolicited advice and judgment just about everywhere I went. I got comments from people about everything: from how I would most certainly yell and curse at my husband during labor (on the contrary: I was very gentle and loving toward him), to how I would definitely need to birth at the hospital/get an epidural/have a Cesarean section/etc. (I birthed at home, in water, with minimal intervention), to comments about my weight and appearance (it's never nice to call someone "chubby"), to declarations about the sex of the baby (80% of those polled were wrong). I got so used to having these kinds of conversations (like the one I was about to have with Mike) that I had developed a three-step strategy for getting through these awkward situations:
  1. Gently explain my feelings on the topic, and continue a thoughtful discussion if the other person is interested;
  2. If they're really just out for a fight (or I'm not in the mood to justify my choices) I smile and nod, then
  3. I end the conversation as quickly as possible.
So, a near-stranger (Mike) had approached me while I was resting and confronted me with an offer of advice. I was too tired to get up and leave, so I decided to humor him and hear to what he had to say.

I raised my eyebrows (a bit skeptically, I admit) at Mike and said, "Oh yeah, what's that?"

"Two things," he stated confidently, "One: don't let your kid sleep in the bed with you; they'll never sleep on their own. And two: You can never have enough formula; babies eat so much!"

"Actually, I'm going to breastfeed," I stated calmly.

Mike countered, "Yeah, yeah...my wife tried to do that too, but it didn't last long. Trust me—you'll need lots of formula so Daddy can take his turn with those 3AM feedings! Oh—and diapers, that's the third thing: you'll go through so many boxes of diapers, you won't even believe it; you might as well buy stock in Pampers!"

In a two-minute conversation, Mike had discounted three (fairly major) parenting decisions Jaymz and I had already discussed and agreed upon: we would sleep with our baby in the bed with us, I would breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, and we would cloth diaper our baby.

I recognized that Mike was not interested in having a discussion or understanding my perspective. So instead of continuing the conversation, I smiled at Mike, nodded my head, and said, "Thanks, Mike. I'll keep that in mind."

I managed to get out of the conversation relatively quickly and without having to justify my parenting decisions to someone who obviously has a very different belief system than I do. I also walked away from it without feeling judged or criticized, because I didn't entertain further discussion. I'm not saying that all my interactions with others who disagree with me have gone this smoothly, but I find that if I stick to this three-part strategy when I'm entering iffy conversational territory, things usually turn out fine.

My method has three main steps: explain, smile, and escape. Since visual aides help me out a great deal, I've made it into a handy flow chart/decision graph to help with these kinds of situations. The chart is geared toward a conflict or confrontation between parents about parenting practices. However, it can be useful in navigating other tricky conversations you might encounter with strangers or extended family members.
(Click to enlarge.)
It's not a totally perfect, 100% fool-proof method, but it works for me most of the time!

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.


  1. Love this post! I have a lot of Mikes in my world. ;) And your chart? Absolute genius! <3

  2. I love your chart :)
    We too did many things the "Mike"s in our life warned us against. Smile and nod can be a wonderful tactic sometimes!

  3. Thanks for your suggestions! It's a great strategy for raising-children discussions as well as the other iffy topics like religion, politics or just plain life philosophies. I'll have to try this with my sister-in-law whenever I talk to her I can't roll my eyes inside my head enough!

  4. Love the chart! This is a great post I feel like at some point in every pregnancy I think all women are faced with this, great advice.

  5. It's funny how people wanted to give me tons of parenting advice with my first and second children, but now that I have 4 children and I am so clearly DIFFERENT from the mainstream, people have nothing to say. I figure either I have some great confident aura around me (LOL!) or I look pretty scary! Either way, it has been an enormous relief to avoid those awkward conversations.

    Joy to you!

  6. Yeah, gotta love the flow chart, Amy! Lovely to hear that you were able to do what works for you in the face of advice you were certainly not going to use. :)

  7. I love the flow chart! We have the employed the "thank you" method as well.

  8. LOL I love your flow chart!! I'm pretty amazed you could be so calm about someone telling you that you'd definitely need LOTS of formula. That for sure would have gotten me on a soap box, lol. I'm a little calmer now than I used to be, thank goodness.

  9. This is excellent! I'm keeping your three-prong strategy in mind for our family trips this summer. I was already a little apprehensive, but now I can just print out your flow chart, laminate it, and keep it in my pocket to refer to. ;) Seriously, it's great and very helpful!

  10. zomg I love this flow chart. Smiling and nodding can be such a great deflector - and most of the time, it simply does not matter what someone else thinks of our parenting decisions.

  11. Love the spreadsheet. I think "OK, I'll keep that in mind" is a really great conversation ender in such situations.

  12. Your flow chart is excellent! Argh... I remember all the advice when I was pregnant, I had the smile and nod routine down to an art :)

    That pregnancy pic is just gorgeous!

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