It takes a village to raise a child.
Um yeah. And sometimes I could really dispense with that village and wish I could retreat into the hills. I think for me it’s a cultural thing.
Those people who keep quoting that lovely quote up there, are you part of a culture that actually does that? Are you prepared to deal with the stress, anxiety, annoyance and polite meanderings that comes with every one around you (family, friend, stranger on the street and Mommy group facilitator) telling you what they think your kid should be eating/drinking/not eating/not touching/wearing/and more?
My parents raised me pretty “white”. North American, live and let live, with very North American beliefs in health philosophy. But I look Chinese. Most people around me are Chinese. Those who know me well, generally, share my beliefs in (a) advice is best not given, unless asked for, and (b) general beliefs in kids eating, feeding, sleeping, in whatever way the family wants.
Not so, my lovely “birth” culture into which I’ve thrown myself by virtue of geographical locale (and marriage, I suppose). Sometimes it’s extremely funny, to be scolded on the sidewalk by a stranger who thinks my daughter is underdressed for the weather. In my head I respond, “If you had spent time in Winnipeg, MB, you would know this is not cold. You would not be bundled up head to toe in a full-length down jacket and boots in above-zero weather. My kid is having the time of her life right now and is way warmer than you will ever feel in Canadian fall weather.” But by then, she’s walked on, somehow feeling not weird at all for having lectured a perfect stranger on the street about whom she knows nothing (and in a language she could only assume I understood).
It’s a funny story I tell people, but to be honest, that initial interaction was offensive and kind of hurt. I put a smile on it and walk on, because I’ve learned some things now. Like how, in her culture, it’s normal. That’s what you do. It’s because you mean well, and you stick your nose in everyone’s business because you’re concerned.
The part I haven’t learned yet is how people accept this unsolicited advice. At the mommy-baby-playgroup, I often see the same people week after week, so I’m starting to get it. They really, genuinely, care. They start explaining my kid to new folks who have questions about her small-size-regular-milestones (is she 9 months old? 18 months old? wait…she’s running?!) and her eczema. They exchange tips on dealing with eczema, and kids who don’t eat. But the ones who are still moms, they also get it. We accept the kids who endlessly breastfeed, who won’t sleep through the night, who only eat on their own terms. More importantly, we accept their parents. We acknowledge how hard they try, and the fact that, they’re doing their best. We try to help by holding the new baby while she deals with the jealous older sibling. And I like how in this culture, it’s entirely accepted and okay to rock someone else’s newborn back to sleep. Appreciated, even.
But those first few months, I was in total culture shock. It was hard, so hard to have 10 different people show extreme concern for what was pretty normal in my books, and then to tell me about the herbal medicines/fancy expensive creams/anecdotal evidence they’ve seen work on someone else’s sister’s kid.
And even now, I can’t always deal. Just because I listen, doesn’t mean I agree. At what point do they understand, in this village, that I’m not going to do it just ’cause you believe it? When you stop a mom in the changeroom at the local pool to tell her her kid with eczema shouldn’t be swimming, what do you expect her to do at that point? Why do you bother her with your unwarranted and unsolicited advice if you know she isn’t going to be able to follow through with it? The bathing suit’s on and the Vaseline’s going on and I didn’t drag my baby into the carseat for a morning drive just to turn around and go home because a stranger stops me in the changeroom. Damn it, do you know how much reading and research has gone into this moment that you’re just devaluing with your words?
I’m not saying I’ve got it all down pat. I’m not even saying I know how to parent. I don’t. I’ve made so many mistakes already and I’m only about to make more. I know you all mean well. But you know what? I know bloggers who blog about parenting for a living who extend me a lot more grace than you, stranger at the pool. I have a small group that is only supportive, offers to babysit entirely on my terms, and prays for us to not just survive, but thrive.
Lord teach me. Not just to extend grace to others (which I am still learning and wow I didn’t know how much I had to learn about this), but to learn how to accept the words that hurt. The kind, well-meaning nose-in-my-business that I don’t know how to deal with. To continue to pursue relationships that only seem to get worse with time, relationships to which I am committed to better, for better or for worse. God, it’s annoying and painful and time-wasting it seems. When “smile and nod” doesn’t cut it, what do I do next?