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Peace, Compassion and Parenting Advocacy

It’s an uncomfortable situation, and one that I’ve found myself in on more than one occasion. A parent nearby is parenting their child in a way that makes you cringe. Perhaps it’s the parent’s raised voice, the “You are making me…” statements, or the ineffective threats and bribes. Maybe it’s a parent leaving their baby to fuss in the stroller or someone getting angry with a toddler who’s having a tantrum and can’t be consoled. Watching other people parent can be really tough.  Watching myself parent can be tough sometimes too.  I don’t always feel fantastic about the way I parent, even though I have a pretty clear idea of what I want my ideal parenting to look like.

It’s especially tough to watch myself or someone else parent badly when I’ve got the attitude that there is a gold standard of parenting that all parents must be held accountable to.  There may be certain parenting practices that are widely accepted but potentially harmful to babies and children, such as leaving a baby to cry to sleep or formula feeding without any attempt at breastfeeding.  But even if we are absolutely certain that our parenting choices are better than others in some way, that doesn’t give us the right to harshly judge, criticize or put down parents who make different choices or who slip up and make mistakes.

Right now I’m reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Creating True Peace, and as he says, the only way to end war and confrontation between groups of people is by first ending the violence in ourselves.  Outer peace flows from inner peace.  Peaceful parents create peaceful parenting.  An angry activist isn’t doing anybody any good if what we really want to see in the world is more peace.  Being an advocate doesn’t mean it’s ok to be condescending or harsh with people who choose to parent in less-than-perfect ways.  There might be situations where we need to speak up for the child’s safety, but most cases of poor parenting are not cases of serious child abuse.  Even when we do need to speak up immediately for the child’s sake, it is possible to do so in a compassionate, mindful way.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation: I’ve certainly witnessed some uncomfortable parenting in public, and I know I’ve parented my kids in ways that other people would rightly find fault with.  I’m not perfect.  My kids aren’t perfect, and I can’t expect other parents or their kids to be perfect either.  Nobody is perfect, so let’s stop pretending that we all have to live up to some platinum parenting yardstick in the sky.

Instead of criticism and anger, let’s try compassion.  Compassion for our own suffering when we make parenting mistakes, compassion for our kids when they make their own mistakes, and compassion for other parents, who are just doing the best they can with what they’ve got and have their own burden of suffering to carry.  Let’s offer peace, quiet listening and a helpful hand.

What do you do when faced with less-than-ideal parenting – your own or other people’s?  How do you help without blaming, attacking, criticizing or passing judgement?
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