I’ve learned in the past five years of motherhood, there is an endless number of parenting styles, opinions, and beliefs. People of different cultures (age, socioeconomic status, education, occupation, race/ethnicity, geographical location, sexual orientation, religion, etc.) tend to have a “normal”, and within each category, there are expectations for how you “should” be parenting. Even on a national level, the American parent has unspoken rules around what is “normal” parenting. Normal is a trap.
I’m not advocating for parents to be weird (as is the Portland motto: keep Portland weird) or abnormal. I’m advocating for parents to be themselves even if it means not fitting in with the norm or the perceived norm. When we fall into the trap of being “normal” our internal anxiety meters increase. That voice that questions ourselves starts to talk more and gets louder. Suddenly every decision is based on the thought, “what will the other moms/dads/parents/ think?”. This is followed by feelings of guilt, because perfection is impossible.
If you list all of the unwritten rules about parenting for each culture you belong to, you will find rules which conflict. For example, maybe you feel strongly about non-gender stereotypical toys (e.g. boys get trucks, girls want dolls), but you also feel strongly about a child being empowered to choose for themselves, and your daughter is in love with a brand which markets toys by gender. Do you give in to make your child feel happy and empowered, or do you hold to your belief system? Another example is that maybe you feel strongly about eating organic foods, but fast food and chicken McNuggets are a staple in your family. Do you rob your child of the experience with family, or do you hold to what you believe is healthy for them? No matter what you choose, you lose. You must make a choice that goes against one of your cultural values, and this is hard.
As much as we would like to say we don’t care what other people think, it’s just not so easy. No one likes to be judged, labeled, or stereotyped. No one hopes that people will see your parenting choices and then think, “now there’s a bad parent.” Even though this is hard, I want to challenge parents to do what is right for themselves despite what others may think of their parenting choices. (I hope it’s a given to keep it legal). Someone is going to judge, sometimes you will be the minority, and there will be pressure to give in to what is healthy for someone else’s children. Resist what appears to be normal and instead do what feels right. The guilt that comes from not holding to the parenting norm is nothing in comparison to the pride experienced from consistently making a conscious choice which fits one’s own parenting lifestyle.