I get this question a LOT. A lot lot. Someone asked again on Tuesday at the evening Babywearing meeting. Here’s my secret. I don’t.
Here’s something to think about. The people in your life who continue to try to engage you in discussion about the choices you’re making do so because they continue to believe that you care what they think, and that they might be able to convince you. They continue to believe this because you continue to engage in conversation with them about it.
Stop talking about it. Problem solved.
“But, Sarah, I don’t bring it up! They do!”
Right, but do you answer? Stop. Don’t be rude, just don’t engage. “You know, that baby’s never going to learn to sleep on his own.” “Oh, we’re not worried about it. Hey, that reminds me, we’ve been hoping you’d share your recipe for corn salad. Do you happen to have that handy, and I can jot it down while I’m thinking of it?”
I’ve found that children are particularly good for these sudden subject changes. “What, are you still going to be breastfeeding when he’s in college?” “ha ha, maybe. <turn to child> Uh oh, I think you need a clean diaper!”
A recent one from my life. “You should coat a pacifier with honey to get her to take it.” “Hm. That’s something to think about. Oh, hey…(on to another subject).” And I did think about it. For like 2 seconds.
This is how I do it, personally. My family and friends stopped commenting when Wally was about a year old. I know they comment to themselves. That’s fine. They don’t comment to me. They know it is pointless.
Some people (like my husband) take a different approach. It works for him, but I don’t think everyone can pull this off. Randy’s snotty. “What are you still going to be breastfeeding when he’s in college?” “Well, we hope he goes to Drake, so he can pop over between classes for a snack.”
“But, Sarah, isn’t it better to try to educate those around me?”
Of course. And certainly give it a try, at first. I don’t suggest disengaging from the get-go. When you first make a new, controversial decision (like cloth diapering, you wild and crazy parent), people are bound to express their opinions, and most of these opinions will be based on misinformation. Absolutely, giving correct information is a good idea. Answering questions is a good idea. Many, many customers have been pleasantly surprised to find that family and friends were supportive of their decisions (including cosleeping or not vaccinating) once they understood the facts and/or the reasons.
But there are always going to be those people who won’t listen, or who don’t care, or who are just certain that their way is the right – the only – way. And that’s fine. We all have things we’re not willing to bend on. Then there is the small percentage who not only are convinced that you’re crazy, but who feel the need to constantly remind you of that. That is NOT ok. That’s when I recommend the “Oh, ok, thanks for your thoughts, change the subject” approach.
“But what if that doesn’t work?”
If you’ve tried talking reason, and then you’ve tried just disengaging, and it’s still not better after a while (at least a few months – it took some people in my life nearly a year to give up), perhaps you need to sit down and talk about setting limits. “I really love how much you care for the kids. (insert related compliment here.) But…” then talk about how their actions make you feel, and ask for their help in settling on a solution. Maybe they could agree to try to keep their comments to themselves. Maybe it gets to a point that you have to limit contact.
“But I really want to convince them! If only they would see how awesome babywearing/cloth diapering/cosleeping/whatever is, their lives would be changed for the better!”
Yes, maybe. But I personally think that this goal is unreasonable for at least 80% of relatives and probably 50% of friends.
Also, this should go without saying, but needs to be said. Do NOT complain about sensitive things to these people. If someone in your life disagrees with cosleeping, then don’t tell them that you’re tired because you were up all night with the baby. If someone in your life wants you to stop breastfeeding, don’t mention that your toddler recently started biting and you’re frustrated.
The reasoning here is two-fold. First, you’re probably seeking support in these situations, and you’re not likely to get it. Instead, you’re likely to get criticism. Second, if you’re really frustrated by the situation, you might find yourself starting to be swayed by this criticism, or well-intended but bad advice. “Oh, honey, just put him in his own bed and let him cry… you’ll feel so much better with a full night of sleep.” It can start to sound pretty good to a tired mom when presented by someone who really believes this is a great idea. You might decide to try it. You might hate yourself in the morning.
I think this might be the other half of my successful formula. One half disengaging, the other half showing no fear and absolute confidence. Part of the reason that my parenting choices don’t come up is that I never, ever discuss them.
Now, let me note that this is also a LOT like parenting. When we are having some difficulty with our children, one of the first things we should do is check to make sure that our expectations are in line with reality. It is not realistic to expect a 2 year old to sit still through an hour-long wedding, for example. So the first thing to do is adjust your expectations. It IS reasonable to expect a 2 year old to sit still for PART of the wedding with quiet toys, and then maybe need a bit more interaction from you to make it through the rest of the service. This is called being realistic.
It’s the same thing here. With some people, it’s not realistic to believe that you’re ever going to convince them. So you need to adjust your expectations.