I’ve never had to be so opinionated until I became a mother; and at the same time, I’ve never encountered so little tolerance or empathy.
I joined one of the hundreds of Facebook group on co-sleeping many months ago, hoping to find it a resourceful place as bedsharing mama myself. Immediately upon joining, my heart broke for this tired mama who posted a plea for help. She was exhausted, admitting depression and feeling so guilted at the desire to stop co-sleeping which had become a source of anxiety for her. Many people immediately commented some form of “Hang in there, you’re doing the best thing you can. Keep trucking through the sleepless nights!”
Well that’s ridiculous, I thought. Co-sleeping only works when it’s a mutually-safe arrangement. I commented an unpopular opinion, telling her that she should never feel guilty for making a choice that would make her a stronger mother – and prioritizing her depression over co-sleeping would absolutely make her a stronger mother. I encouraged her to look into gentle sleep training methods if that’s what she felt was truly best for her and baby. GASP!
An admin stepped in and boasted rule No. 345,657,490: “NEVER SPEAK OF SLEEP TRAINING OF ANY KIND ON THIS PAGE.”
Really? Even when a woman is dealing with depression, anxiety and sleep-deprivation? At what cost do we promote our beliefs?
While I love bedsharing and believe whole-heartedly in the evidence-based benefits of co-sleeping, I don’t want to be associated with a group of mothers who use their opinions and parenting choices as barriers. I want to be associated with a group of mothers who use their opinions and parenting choices as open doors – ones that empower other mothers to form their own opinions rather than pressure them to draw the same conclusions.
I believe part of the reason so many things have grown controversial in parenthood is because of this self-destructive repertoire that paints such parenting-style decisions as make-or-break moments. Yet, it is hardly sleep training vs. co-sleeping that makes or breaks the kind of parents we are. It is hardly breastfeeding vs. formula feeding that makes or breaks the kind of parents we are. It is not staying at home vs. enrolling them in day care that makes or breaks the kind of parents we are. These are all big decisions in an otherwise tiny chapter of our lives as parents.
Many of us turn to others with a need for solidarity and second opinions, but all too often we are also met with intolerance and a lack of understanding. We’ve grown so segregated in our parenting choices today that we have lost the ability to relate over our differences.
We can see the downfall of this most notably when a family suffers an unthinkable tragedy. In past generations, you saw communities rally around a family’s tragedy. In today’s generation, you see strangers across the world actually blaming a family for their own tragedy. Accidents aren’t allowed to happen anymore. You are either a perfect parent or you fail.
I’ll never forget our very first flight with the baby in tow. We were stressed to the max, unsure how he would handle the drastic change of scenery. On the way there, we lucked out. He slept through most of it, and we laughed off any stress we had to begin with. Unfortunately, a baby directly behind us wasn’t having it. He cried through most of the ride.
As we prepared to exit the plane, an older gentleman leaned in and said to us, “You guys are good parents. That baby is well-mannered.”
I smiled and said, “Yeah, he was great this flight, but really, we just got lucky.”
He shifted his eyes to the crying baby behind us and said, “No it’s not luck. Babies feed off their parents’ energy.”
I hate when people say this, and I felt horrible for the parents behind us who most definitely heard it. I’m sure those parents behind us were devastated that their baby was having such a hard time. I could see them doing all the tricks in the book to try to calm things down. How different would that guy have felt about us as parents had he happened to be on our return flight, in which our “good baby” screamed and kicked nearly the whole time?
The way in which our society judges what constitutes a good parent and a good baby has grown absurd. Babies don’t have room to be babies anymore, and parents don’t have room to be human anymore.
We’ve grown so opinionated, but our opinions mean nothing without empathy.
I can only hope that by exuding these qualities myself, it will be enough to catch on to those around me. I can only hope that my son picks up on these qualities, and in turn, helps shape his generation to be one where support and love trumps judgment and blame.
The ironic part is, it’s actually really, really hard to fail as a parent. Most of us are incredible parents, but we’d never know it by today’s standards.