Alternative-style parents have usually chosen their methods for good reasons; very few people would purposefully choose a parenting style that is all but guaranteed to garner criticism, difficulty with finding “compatible” friends or institutional supports, and involve more thought and preparation for each aspect of their lives than following the norm would allow. I don’t suggest that “mainstream” parents don’t have their own struggles, but alternative-style parents have a unique set which friends and family may not understand. We encounter differences, and sometimes difficulties, in many situations which others might take for granted. We spend a disproportionate amount of our time advocating for and defending our methods, with doctors, teachers, caregivers, social workers, restaurant owners, sport coaches, etc, and many of us spend a great deal of time and care researching, formulating, and applying our parenting methods, because unfortunately, information regarding alternative style parenting can be hard to obtain.
A lack of respect underlies most criticisms that I encounter, specifically, the lack of respect for my ability to gather information, understand the “bigger picture,” and analyze those various information streams… or the lack of respect for my ability to separate thinking from emotions. And, while I do have friends who have a harder time separating emotional impulses from cognitive thinking (i.e., allowing their child to carry on behaviour that is blatantly destructive rather than upset the child), that is markedly different than a parent authentically choosing (well thought-out) alternative parenting methods. I can’t see how any healthy relationship can exist without respect.
From a place of respect, and endeavouring to understand, one can engage in honest conversation and open questions; my best supporters are friends who are genuinely interested in understanding my parenting approach. There is a huge difference in aiming to understand someone’s parenting rather than pretending to ask questions for the purpose of objecting or pointing out what one perceives as flaws. Asking questions that were clearly formed to gain a better understanding of my methods, values, and goals, rather than to try to poke holes in my logic, alternative parents are better able to open up and give those friends the information to allowed them to see the amount of thought and information that goes into nearly every parenting decision, and also provide better support in parenting objectives. This is very important to me as a single mother — I don’t have a partner at home who is supporting my parenting choices and holding me accountable to my family, which is something I think all parents need, so that role is filled by trusted friends and family.
My personality necessitates authentic relationships with those friends who hold me accountable to my goals and commitments, and, while respecting me, share themselves. This doesn’t look like questioning my choices, but sometimes it looks like pointing out when my choices don’t support what they know my parenting goals to be. For example, while on a roadtrip with a good friend who respects my parenting style, Miss G decided to respond to my “no” in a store by quietly sitting down in disagreement. This was a new behaviour and my first impression was to allow her to silently dissent since she was not disobeying, but my friend pointed out that the behaviour struck her as disrespectful. I appreciated that honesty and that input; it wasn’t a criticism of my approach to natural consequences or positive discipline, but pointing out a behaviour that I wasn’t giving enough consideration. While I didn’t find the behaviour obviously disrespectful, I recognized that the behaviour may appear disrespectful to Miss G’s alternative caregivers and I realized that it had a good chance of developing into a more serious behaviour that I would object to, and that by addressing this “starter” behaviour, I could reduce the likelihood of a more severe protest later on.
How have you navigated relationships either as an alternative parent, or with alternative parents?