It takes a village to raise a child.
It’s a statement we’ve all heard plenty of times, sometimes talking about our mom tribes, or the many “aunts” and “uncles” in our children’s lives, or the teachers and coaches and babysitters and friends who help us turn out little bundles of potential into active, contributing members of society.
So, what do you do when your ideas for the village don’t quite align with your fellow villagers? How do you handle it when you’re spending time with grandparents who repeatedly correct your child for infractions that aren’t a topic of contention in your own home? How do you handle it when a friend’s child has different rules in their home, and your child wants to enjoy that same level of freedom when they return from their visit? How do you deal with the disapproving glances from other grownups when you let your kid run free in a park or not share at the library or eat as many samples as they want in HEB (OK, let’s be honest, by samples, I mean opening the bag of Goldfish and devouring them mid-trip)?
As a family who tries to practice connected parenting, my husband and I often seem a little more free than many other parents we interact with, including our own parents. We’ve heard comments about sterner discipline from older family members and friends who grew up in authoritarian households and raised their children in them as well. In those situations, we have to agree to disagree while acknowledging that these people raised or are raising children who turned out really well (particularly ourselves and our siblings!).
So with those things in mind, how can you leverage the strengths of your village without either tuning out the dissenting voices or allowing them to undermine your parental philosophies? I’ve put together a few tips I’ve found useful throughout our parenting journey.
- Not everyone has the same strengths as you. A village can’t have all hunters. You need weavers; you need gatherers; you need craftsmen and guardsmen and water-carriers. Every person in your village brings something different to the table, and you can give them the chance to build a relationship with your child that capitalizes on that strength. If your child is fortunate enough to have multiple grandparents, you may have one who loves to be silly with your child, while another excels at providing educational experiences, and yet another who is the cuddly one to whom your child runs when she needs extra hugs. Don’t force the stern, commanding grandparent to be nurturing or fault him/her if he/she isn’t. You’ll miss out on all the information and knowledge he/she can provide and the unique relationship he/she can build with your child.
- Everyone has a different worldview, and that’s a good thing. Even among the people to whom you are closest, your views and opinions are going to be different. I have three sisters. We all grew up in the same household with the same parents in the same small town and attended the same university. With this remarkably similar background, we are still very different in our approaches to life, goals, strengths, and successes. I wouldn’t expect them to raise their children in the exact way that I’m raising mine, but I can appreciate the areas where we differ and the decisions they make. I have empathy about where they’re coming from, then see where I can learn from them and incorporate the best parts of their philosophies into my own parenting experiences. As an example, one of my dearest friends has a daughter just six weeks older than mine. We don’t parent in the same way, but one thing I really admire about her parenting is how she encourages her children to be really hands-on and kinetic. Her daughter is far ahead of mine developmentally when it comes to climbing, running, and “driving” toy vehicles (we’re totally looking forward to seeing what kind of trouble this gets the two of them into in about 14 years!).
- Let people in. You have a ton of people in your life who love you, love your child, and want to play an active role in your life. Give them a chance. If your friend offers to host a playdate, agree and give your child a chance to build that relationship, even if they might serve a different snack or do different activities than you would. Extend trust, and you’ll be excited about the benefits you reap. Many kids love the novelty and excitement of new activities, and by letting them build relationships with people you trust, you’re giving them opportunities to absorb a new point of view and learn from people whose opinions you value.
- Pick your battles. Is it the end of the world if a friend or relative gives you an electronic toy if you’re a limited screentime family? Will your child’s digestive tract be permanently scarred if he/she is allowed to have ice cream and a cookie? In some cases, the answers to these questions might be yes—say, if your child has a serious allergy or condition. In those instances, standing up and being firm is your right and your duty as a parent. However, if it’s not the end of the world, is it worth creating conflict over? Will one night of staying up late to watch movies destroy your child’s sleep habits, or will it provide an opportunity to make memories of sleepover fun with aunts and cousins?
- Remember, you’re the chief, the mayor, the leader. Whatever you want to call it, you, as the parent, are the one in charge of determining who resides in your child’s village and what role they play. If you’re not comfortable with leaving a child with a flighty relative, you don’t have to do that. It doesn’t mean you’re severing the relationship. If your village is pushing you to make a decision that’s outside your beliefs and comfort zone, know where your boundaries are, and don’t let dissenting voices from your village change your mind. You’ve researched, read, lived, and most of all, you know your child. There’s something to be said for a mother’s (or father’s) intuition when it comes to these situations, and your tribe should love you, respect you, and want the best for you and your family. After all, that’s the end goal, right? A strong, nurturing environment to raise your child, surrounded by people who know, love, and want the best for him/her.
Let’s face it: you’re not always going to agree with all the other parental figures in your life. If you did, it’s likely you wouldn’t be true to your own parenting ideals or providing the best experience for your kids. The important thing to remember when parenting styles collide is that all the members of your village really and truly want the best for your child and your family. It’s up to you to communicate with them and ensure the boundaries are set and the focus is on creating the best environment for yourself, your partner, and your child within the village you’ve created.