It is a rare person who has the courage to risk the known in order to live the life that deep-down they feel they want to live. Most of us struggle to even form an opinion that is different to those held by our circle of friends. Not that we are in a bind about that – we tend to hang out with people who are just like us anyway, remaining neither challenged nor confronted in our everyday life.
A friend (I’ll call her Ethel) was telling me this morning that a woman she considered a close friend no longer speaks to her. Apparently Ethel’s parenting style wasn’t ‘supported by the parenting beliefs’ held by our mutual friend (I’ll call her Pearl), so Pearl chose to not associate with Ethel at all. This struck me as both sad and expected; so many people close down when their beliefs aren’t shared by other people in their life. A variance in parenting styles is all it takes to pull a friendship apart.
“What did you do?” I asked Ethel, knowing that she has a strict, disciplinarian approach to parenting while Pearl is an attachment parent to the core. I fully expected Ethel to own up to disciplining Pearl’s child using her own punishment style (which includes a light smack from time to time) or something equally intrusive.
“I asked her child to apologise to my child for repeatedly hitting him,” Ethel said. “And Pearl said ‘we don’t ask our children to apologise, Ethel, we wait for them to be ready to say they are sorry in their own time’ and I said, ‘okay, so do you think your child could tell my child when they might be ready to say they are sorry or is my child expected to wait?’ and that was that.”
Can we co-exist with people whose values differ from our own?
You’ll no doubt have heard a story like Ethel and Pearl’s over the years, indeed you might have been involved in a similar situation. Moments like this one are happening right now all over the world. If you have a strong parenting philosophy it’s natural that you will try to honour your parenting values in every interaction with your child. When you come up against a different way of parenting it can feel intrusive and offensive and your number one objective is to protect your child from being influenced in a negative way.
I get that, I understand. But I don’t agree.
The influence that Ethel had in Pearl’s kids’ lives is invaluable, but Pearl refused to see beyond the challenge to her parenting beliefs. She whisked her kids away at the slightest hint of diversity and refused to engage them any further. She blocks Ethel from the social calendar, she meets with the school to swap her child out of a certain teacher’s class, she won’t let her in-laws babysit their own grandchild, she encourages her child to play with certain children and not others. In her eyes she is ‘rescuing’ her child, but in reality she is depriving them of an opportunity to learn that not everyone does things the same way we do and that’s okay.
“It takes a village to raise a child…”
In recent years there has been much discussion that the “village” that has traditionally helped to raise our children has dwindled due to societal and geographical factors, but I would suggest that personal factors dismiss the village faster than anything else. Our generation has the mentality that children need to be raised “correctly” and we research what we believe that correct way is and then we engineer the variables surrounding our kids in order to allow that correctness to foster. We join the “right” groups, we live in the “right” area and we do the “right” things to grow the “right” kids.
Naturally, knowing the “right way” to parent means that we buy into the notion that all other parenting styles are the “wrong way” to parent. We are horrified by differences that challenge the correct way of doing things and assume that any other way is a fast-track to raising the next generation of hooligans or the homeless. This is despite the fact that we genuinely like the person who is parenting the “wrong” way and despite the fact that intellectually we know that there are many, many ways to raise a good and honest citizen. Doesn’t matter. Instead, we whisper to our fellow-correct parents about the Ethel’s of the world and we stop inviting Ethel’s kids over for a play. We stop inviting Ethel over for a play too.
What does a vanilla life do to our kids?
Once we’ve established the correct vanilla lifestyle for our children and have effectively barred intrusion by anyone with a contrary opinion to that lifestyle, we set about raising our kids to… do what exactly? Exist in a bubble? This has always been the part that I can’t figure out, because life is not about being “correct”. When it all boils down to it, life is often about dealing with all kinds of wrong and I do worry that Pearl’s kids are not going to be equipped to deal with any of it. Mind you, because Pearl refuses to allow the Ethel’s of the world access to the way she parents or even to her children, Ethel’s kids aren’t going to be exposed to the diversity of opinion that they need to learn and develop either. When we don’t collaborate, communicate and agree to disagree about the way we raise our children, it’s our kids that miss out in the end.
So, yes, it “takes a village to raise a child”, but that’s not just referring to the support and time that we can give to each other. What I think that saying actually means is that it takes a wide diversity of people to influence a child to develop their full potential. It takes exposure to a whole village to show a child that tolerance, acceptance and collaboration are far more important that being right. Exposing our children to differences – in opinion, lifestyle, culture, physicality, sexuality, values, beliefs and choices – is one of the best things we can do to raise them to be the best they possibly can be.
We need to show our kids that there are lots of ways of achieving the same outcome and therefore lots of parenting styles that may outwardly seem to be polar opposites of each other, but are actually working towards the exact same thing. It’s not how you raise your kids that matters, it’s what kind of kids you raise: good people who do good things.
What’s your parenting ‘style’ and how open are you to a different approach?