Venturing Into The Parenting Minefield – Ker-Pow!

You may think that kids are great ice breakers but, beware, any topic could lead to a social explosion.

If you’re a parent, I expect this too has happened to you.

You’ve wandered up to another group of parents on the playground or soccer field with the hope of chatting pleasantly to pass the time. For a while you stand there. You listen, smile, nod, all the while keeping a responsible eye the kids.  These folks seem nice enough, you think, maybe I’ll actually wade into the conversation.  After a long morning with your little ones, the idea of talking to other adults is enticing. You wait for an opening, then you offer a comment or share a perspective.

What unfolds next, however, is not the sweet, tentative beginnings of a relationship with someone new.  Not only is your little conversational offering not received in the spirit in which it was offered, you actually get emotionally blasted by a salvo of judgment.

Of course, sometimes this blasting is subtle and takes the form of an uncomfortable silence, but sometimes it’s cutting.  If you’re like me, you’ll just stand there stunned, thinking: what did I say? They seemed like such nice people, it seemed like an innocuous topic.

In the world of parenting, however, there is no such thing as an innocuous topic; all topics are dangerous.  There are minefields everywhere and they begin to pop up long before the baby is even born.

1) Pregnant? Great! But will you abstain from cold-cuts, soft cheese, processed food, GMOs, saturated fats? Will you have an AFP test? An amnio? Will you find out the gender? Midwives or an OB? Home birth or hospital? Natural or epidural? (Oh no, not a C-section!)

2) A baby? Wonderful!Will you circumcise him? Will you let him sleep in the nursery? Will you breast or formula-feed? Will there be a family bed, a bassinette in your bedroom, or (gasp!) a crib in baby’s own room? Will you Ferberize? (You haven’t heard of Dr. Ferber?) How many teeth does your little darling have? Is she reaching, crawling, sitting up, standing, walking? Will you make your own food or will she eat 'Earth’s Best' only?

3) Employment? Will you work part-time, full-time, from home? Or, not at all, is it?  How nice for you.

4) What a cute toddler! But is he sleeping through the night? Off the bottle yet? (Not you, the baby – but that’s another topic ...) Oh, still using the sippy cup, is she? Verbally precocious? Wearing pull-ups? Potty training? Identifying numbers, letters, colors, and continents ?

And that’s just for the early years. The kids get older and you hope there are fewer pitfalls because this vow of silence is starting to feel unnatural. Just maybe, you think, things will have lightened up. But the minefields are pervasive.

5) Food: Is it organic? Is dessert served nightly?  Are sports drinks really OK? Is soda sometimes OK? White bread or wheat?

6) Cell phones: Who gets one? (No, not a smart phone!) What is the appropriate age? Limited or unlimited texting? Who pays?

7) Screen time: Who has Gmail? (She’s on Facebook!? Are you her ‘friend’ at least?) How much TV is too much? (You let them watch that – not 'The Simpsons!')  Who has an iPod, a Gameboy, an Xbox? Is PG-13 OK? (Never R, unless it’s a third born.)

8) Sports: In-town or travel? Can we afford to do club? Can we afford not to do club? How many sports per season?

9) Education: public, private, Catholic, charter, home schooling? Tutors?

10) Chores/Allowances: Who does what chores for how much money? (Oh, you don’t pay for chores, but they get an allowance? family responsibility, is it?)

Tread carefully, the beat goes on: college, gap year, semester abroad? In fact, I hear it starts all over again ... with the grandchildren!

Robin Cushman Phillips May 11, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Love your articles, Lisa! Your sense of humor really comes through...a wee bit dry, like mine. Keep up the good work.
Johanna Swift Hart May 11, 2011 at 05:02 PM
So true! I have two theories about why the claws come out so fast and sharp when it comes to parenting discussions. First, there's the biological tendency to be protective of children -- whether they're your kids or someone else's. This could explain the steady stream of well-intentioned but often incredibly inappropriate comments directed at pregnant women every time they leave the house. Second, most of us parents are either admittedly imperfect or at least aware that there's more than one way to do things, but there's so much pressure to DO EVERYTHING RIGHT for our kids that some defensiveness is probably inevitable. If it's "the most important job you'll ever have," what would it mean if you were screwing it up?? Anyway, this is why I'm so grateful to have a few good mom-friends who can debate and disagree without being mean about it.
Kim Messenger May 12, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Wow! I think the questions/topics that you list here really point to the hyper anxiety that many people feel about their own parenting. So going into conversations like the ones you describe, makes me wonder how can I help reduce the anxiety level? Strategies anyone?
Julia Blatt May 13, 2011 at 05:54 PM
I love this! It's funny, though, how each of those things that seem so important at the time (what the baby eats, how long he sleeps, whether they start soccer at 4 or 6 or 8) eventually come to seem like trivia. But by the time you realize this, it's too late - you're stressing about the next decision (that you will eventually realize was also not terribly important). Now that my first-born is about to turn 18, I think the most important lessons we taught him were: 1) always say please and thank you, 2) learn to feed and clean up after yourself, and 3) be nice to your sister. I sometimes think we spend too much time on inputs (what's he eating, what is the quality of his education, what sport is he playing, are we giving him a top-notch, high quality childhood and dressing him in organic cotton) and not enough on outputs (is he growing into a kind, considerate person I'd want to spend time with?)


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