Opinions, Opinions, Opinions! How to Handle Parenting Pressure from <i>Everyone</i>

When it comes to parenting decisions, there’s a lot to consider — like your child’s personality, your family and work situations, and your own childhood memories and experiences. But there’s another factor that unfortunately weighs in more heavily than it should on a lot of parents’ choices: outside pressure to pick the right thing. And by the right thing, I mean whatever random decision that Mary Jo down the street, or the women at your church, or that lady who writes that parenting column said is the right thing. Because of course, what’s right for someone else must also be right for you!

Face the Facts: Opinions on Parenting are Everywhere
No matter where we go, bold opinions on parenting topics are being blasted from our surroundings. From the grocery check-out lane where “Why Breast is Best” is stamped in giant hot pink letters next to the happy pregnant lady’s face on the cover of the parenting magazine, to the landing page of your e-mail where the intriguing title, “7 Reasons Why Your Kid Should Attend Preschool” is just waiting for your click, to the other mom in your childbirth class who declared, “I can’t believe you’re considering circumcision. You’re going to regret it.”

Everyone deserves to be passionate about an angle, but what happens too often is that passion turns into judgment, throwing more guilt and criticism into motherhood — a role that even without the outside pressure elicits a ton of self-analyzing and spotlights the enormous weight of doing a good job.

Do What Feels Right for You
A friend of mine recently felt this pressure in making the final call on breastfeeding her 7-week-old. She gave it her all­, worked through the challenges, pumped bottles, stuck with it for seven weeks even though her son wasn’t getting enough and yet she was constantly frustrated.

“Do you love breastfeeding?” I finally asked her. “No,” she answered, “but I feel like I owe it to him, and there’s all this pressure about breastfeeding being best.”

“Listen to yourself,” I added. “You’re trying so hard, and you’re not happy. You did it — you gave it your all. You’re still frustrated and exhausted. Who cares what anyone else says? If you’re not happy, it’s affecting your parenting. You have to call time of death on this decision and stop beating yourself up.”

That friend called me this week and reported that she moved on to formula, saying, “I’m happy, I’m over it, he’s happy, my husband’s happy. I called it, we’re done, this feels really good.”

Now I loved nursing and breastfed my second daughter right into my pregnancy with my son, but when it comes to supporting my friends’ decisions regarding breastfeeding, I care most about what works for them — what makes them happy as moms.

Keep Judgments in Check — Parenting Decisions are Unique for Every Family
Sometimes labels like “breastfeeding proponent” or quit-your-job-and-stay-home-with-your-kids proponent, pro preschool, pro midwife, pro hospital birth, or pro sleep training distract us from what’s really important. We have to remember that these are just subcategories that fall under the greater bracket for which we should all be most passionately lobbying — the happy mom proponent. First and foremost, I support the happiness of my friends and other mothers — the parenting decisions that reflect the best-case scenario for their very unique personalities, styles, backgrounds and family situations.

That isn’t to say that I don’t find myself wandering into “that’s different from what I would do” territory sometimes — we’re human! But I’ll be darned if I don’t try to keep those observations reigned in before they turn into judgments — especially ones my friends can feel (you know, with the secret x-ray judgment sensors you get when you become a mom).

Feeling Happy with Your Own Choices Reap the Greatest Rewards
We can research opinions, listen to others’ stories and weigh in on what the books say regarding parenting choices whenever we like, but we have to approach these with the understanding that our happiness and comfort with our own choices reap the most powerful rewards in parenting. It’s called triage. Sure you can make that by-the-book choice that, according to some 2006 survey, shows that maybe your baby will have a 4.3 percent leg up on the other babies of the world. But if the cost of that decision is your frustration, your exhaustion, your constant pushing yourself to be that perfect parent, to please those people, to get the gold star from the other preschool moms or the pediatrician or the lactation consultant who compliments your nipple-shield wearing as if by mastering it, you saved your baby from the claws of death, you lost your 4.3 percent — I guarantee it.

Trust Your Instincts
There are far more gray areas than black and white ones in parenting choices and questions that can’t be answered with percentages and surveys. Sometimes, a simple “This feels really good for our family and we’re happy” is what you have to go on — even if Mary Jo down the street disagrees. Listen to other viewpoints, stay open to learning new ways of doing things, but stay true to yourself. When we trust our own love and concern for our children’s well beings as enough incentive to help us make those good choices for them, we can release a lot of the outside pressure. Poof! Be gone.

My friend said it best today: “I was feeding him a bottle, looking in his eyes and loving that moment, and I realized how happy and relaxed we both are with this new choice.” Trust your instincts, don’t discount your own happiness and know that happy mamas are the best kind.

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