Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Compassionate advocacy: Compelling without repelling

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they advocate for healthy, gentle parenting choices compassionately. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

The cutest know-it-all ever

Recently, I was raiding my family's personal blog for some of the pictures we put up during my pregnancy and birth with Mikko. I had a thought I could post my birth story with him on Hobo Mama as well, since I strangely never have.

So I was glancing down the birth story I'd published and sent out to all my friends and family a couple months after Mikko's birth, and I almost choked. There at the end was a list of "tips" for birthing and new parents.

They were obnoxious.

I seriously wanted to reach through time and the computer screen and slap myself.

It wasn't the subject matter: They were about natural birth and breastfeeding and staying home for most of the labor (if not all), and I still agree with myself on all the points. It was my way of presenting it, like a snotty backseat driver who had just gotten her license two months before. There was this air that I knew better than everyone else, despite not knowing their stories, their struggles, their particular guilts and regrets and the forces working for or against them.

For instance, the one person who sprang to mind when I was rereading my assertive condemnation of formula feeding as inadequate was my cousin, who recently adopted two sweet boys after a long bout with infertility. I know she babywears, so it's quite possible she would have breastfed if possible. I'm ashamed to think she read my words and now feels like I think she's inadequate for feeding her babies formula, when human milk donation and — heaven forbid — cross-nursing is still extremely uncommon in this culture. Because: I don't.

One thing I've always hated more than anything — more than is reasonable — is being told to do something I already know I have to do.

It reminds me of this quote from Samuel Johnson:

"Advice is offensive, not because it lays us open to unexpected regret, or convicts us of any fault which had escaped our notice, but because it shows us that we are known to others as well as to ourselves; and the officious monitor is persecuted with hatred, not because his accusation is false, but because he assumes that superiority which we are not willing to grant him, and has dared to detect what we desired to conceal."

When I receive advice or criticism, it's almost invariably about something I already know is a problem. There are times when that's not true — when I learn something entirely new by hanging out with new friends, for instance, as happened when I first made forays into the natural parenting crowd.

I think that's actually why I was so vehement in my birth story, because I must have figured no one had ever heard this stuff before, and it was so good. But I didn't do a good job of presenting it, and I didn't realize that probably plenty of my readers had heard just such nagging before.

Let's take a subject where I know I'd like to improve. It's going to be hard to narrow it down, but let's say routines. I'm terrible at routines. This is nothing new. Just recently, I was going through some old boxes of stuff and I found a four-page schedule of duties that Sam and I had put together when we were first married, nearly 13 years ago now.1 I about died laughing.

I flipped through it all and noted that there was none of it we were still following. In fact, if memory serves, we had probably followed it for a day, max. It included a breakdown of who would do what chores on which days (ha! never happened), how many letters I would write per week (ugh, I'm a terrible correspondent — can we make that a goal per year? and then I'll break it anyway?), how many hours we would read the Bible (did I mention we're dorks?). I didn't have to sift much further through the box to find more schedules and more lists, some color coded and printed in neato graph form. Some with stickers! For motivation!

Yeah, we're not routines people. We like to make them, but we don't like to keep them.

So if someone says to me, You really should consider getting yourselves and your kid(s) on a routine, my response isn't, "Oh! I'd never thought of that before! What a fabulous idea! I will implement that immediately!" It's a groan and a nod and a thought back to all the failed routines behind me.

And if someone says, in the obnoxious way I presented the ideas of natural birth and breastfeeding, You know, you're really doing yourself and your kids no favor being so lackadaisical about mealtimes and bedtimes. Your poor kids! You're ruining their lives!!!, my response is apt to be something more along the lines of shutting down and turning away, then seething about it to people who actually care about my feelings.2

Because I know. If someone wants to give me help on the subject — help which I've sought out — that's one thing. But if someone just wants to berate me — well, I haven't changed yet. It's unlikely that heaping more guilt and shame on my head is going to lead the way.

So I'm trying, with all that in mind, to be more compassionate as I advocate. To recognize that people are on a spectrum when it comes to any position. You're unlikely to convince the person on the way far end away from you to zoom over to your position in one step. You're much more likely to have success nudging the person closest to your point of view that one step closer — but only if you're not a jerk about it. This is what I tell myself.

Which reminds me: I really need to edit that birth story. Ugh.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • Natural Parenting Advocacy by Example — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction uses her blog, Twitter and Facebook as her natural parenting soapbox.
  • You Catch More Flies With Honey — When it comes to natural parenting advice, Kate of The Guavalicious Life believes you catch more flies with honey.
  • From the Heart — Patti at Jazzy Mama searches her heart for an appropriate response when she learns that someone she respects wants his baby to cry-it-out.
  • I Offer the Truth — Amy at Innate Wholeness shares the hard truths to inspire parents in making changes and fully appreciating the parenting experience.
  • Advocating or Just Opinionated?Momma Jorje discusses how to draw the line between advocating compassionately and being just plain opinionated. It can be quite a fine line.
  • Compassionate Advocacy — Mamapoekie of Authentic Parenting writes about how to discuss topics you are passionate about with people who don't share your views.
  • Heiny Helpers: Sharing Cloth Love — Heiny Helpers is guest posting on Natural Parents Network to share how they are providing cloth diapers and cloth diapering support to low income families.
  • Struggling with Advocacy — April of McApril still struggles to determine how strongly she should advocate for her causes, but still loves to show her love for her parenting choices to those who would like to listen.
  • Compassionate Advocacy Through Blogging (AKA –Why I Blog) — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how both blogging and day-to-day life give her opportunities to compassionately advocate for natural parenting practices.
  • A Letter to *Those* Parents — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares how to write an informed yet respectful reply to those parents — you know, the ones who don't parent the way you do.
  • Why I Am Not A Homebirth Advocate — Olivia at Write About Birth is coming out: she is a homebirth mom, but not a homebirth advocate. One size does not fit all – but choice is something we can all advocate for!
  • Why I Open My Big Mouth — Wolfmother from Fabulous Mama Chronicles reflects on why she is passionate about sharing parenting resources.
  • Watching and Wearing — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life advocates the joys of babywearing simply by living life in a small college town.
  • Compassionate Advocacy . . . That's The Way I Do It — Amyables at Toddler in Tow describes how she's learned to forsake judgment and channel her social energy to spread the "good news" of natural parenting through interaction and shared experiences.
  • Compelling without repelling — Lauren at Hobo Mama cringes when she thinks of the obnoxious way she used to berate people into seeing her point of view.
  • I Am the Change — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro describes a recent awakening where she realized exactly how to advocate for natural parenting.
  • Public Displays of CompassionThe Accidental Natural Mama recounts an emotional trip to the grocery store and the importance of staying calm and compassionate in the storm of toddler emotions.
  • I will not hide behind my persona — Suzi Leigh at Attached at the Boob discusses the benefits of being honest and compassionate on the internet.
  • Choosing My Words — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares why she started her blog and why she continues to blog despite an increasingly hectic schedule.
  • Honour the Child :: Compassionate Advocacy in the Classroom — Lori at Beneath the Rowan Tree shares her experience of being a gentle and compassionate parent — with other people's children — as a classroom volunteer in her daughter's senior kindergarten room.
  • Inspired by the Great Divide (and Hoping to Inspire) — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis shares her thoughts on navigating the "great divide" through gently teaching and being teachable.
  • Introverted Advocacy — CatholicMommy at Working to be Worthy shares how she advocates for gentle parenting, even though she is about as introverted as one can be.
  • The Three R's of Effective and Gentle Advocacy — Ana at Pandamoly explains how "The Three R's" can yield consistent results and endless inspiration to those in need of some change.
  • Passionate and Compassionate: How do We do It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares the importance of understanding your motivation for advocacy.
  • Sharing the love — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine talks about how she shares the love and spreads the word.
  • What Frank Said — Nada at miniMOMist has a good friend named Frank. She uses his famous saying to demonstrate how much natural parenting has benefited her and her family.

1 We married at age 14. Ok, not really.
2 NB: I chose routines over some other options to discuss because I actually don't feel super touchy about this subject. I'm not convinced routines would magically make us into better people, and at this point I'm willing to admit we're not likely ever to change, anyway. So if you're someone who's recently written about or talked to me about routines, I am not suggesting you offended me — you didn't.


Jenny said...

like you, i cringe when i think about what i previously said to other moms who were having breastfeeding issues or had different parenting styles. I definitely learned from experience and from reading other bloggers' posts. and i now try (hopefully successfully) in editing my comments and posts so not to sound self righteous and obnoxious

Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com said...

LOL! I think we can all recognise ourselves in this post. Thanks so much for bringing a light hearted feel to the topic, which can get rather heavy at times...It's a good reminder to ALL of us, sometimes I think I get way too preachy about the things I am passionate about.

melissa said...

What a perfect title!
I know I said plenty of things when I was on my brand-new-mommy high that make me wish I could go back and erase time, and I still put my foot in my mouth a lot. I'm working on it, however, and trying to be a whole lot more respectful in my approach!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I love the thought of you sitting down and oh so carefully crafting colored charts and graphs of chores and letter-writing. The stickers are pretty priceless too ;) And I am only ribbing you because I've done the same thing - I had elaborate study schedules when I was in school (particularly law school). Of course instead of stickers, I used going out and partying as a study incentive (ahem).
At any rate, you and I are on the same wavelength about not prodding people into making decisions that are right for OUR own families. It does no good to criticize and judge - it wouldn't for me if I were on the receiving end!
And maybe you just needed to have two kids for your routine-magic to kick in. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh man. That's totally the earlier me. Completely! I understand! I'd like to smack myself for a lot of the things I actually published on the internet a while ago as well.

At least we're learning, right?

Hopefully some other moms will read this and learn from our mistakes before they have to make them - and subsequently feel the need to smack themselves for something they've written as well. ;o)

Olivia said...

This is so true. I'm much more likely to change something I do if I just pick something up in the course of conversation or observation, but it isn't presented as advice.

One thing I really try hard to do even when I'm ostensibly giving advice is to use "I" statements*. I don't tell people "you should" or "you do this". I say "This is what I do..." I think it makes a big difference.

*As an aside, I hear "you" statements all the time in interviews even when people are talking about very personal experiences, i.e. [insert personal tragedy] "You feel lost/scared" etc. Annoying.

Kelly said...

Oh Lauren, I adored this post! (I think we used to be the same person ;).

As someone who used to be extremely obnoxious (and probably still is more than she would like to be sometimes!) I'm just thankful that we can learn to be better. Thank you for this! :) (love that quote, too!)

Jenn said...

I laughed, I totally laughed, because I know I have done the very same things. I too have been that backseat driver whose ink was still wet on her license. I think that's part of the growing and learning process too - learning that maybe we aren't nearly as smart as we think.

Wonderful post, as always. A great reminder that we need to check ourselves.

Seonaid said...

Bwa ha ha! Yup. This is why this topic was so difficult for me; I *hate* unsolicited advice, and I find myself deleting, editing, erasing, considering every thing I write or say as a result. Advocacy seems to be a word about being pushy on behalf of those who can't do it for themselves... a useful skill, but difficult to do with compassion for the people on the other side of the situation. Particularly difficult for parenting, where the child/parent needs may be perceived to be in conflict.

Gee. That was more pedantic than I intended. See what I mean? (I'm really tired and sort of incoherent this AM. Hope I didn't offend anybody. :) )

Momma Jorje said...

Compelling without repelling, love it!

As for schedules, I don't embrace them at all! We follow whatever natural routing flows, which may be why I see NP as the lazy (in a good way!) way to parent.

My bedtime follows Sasha's. If she sleeps at 8, I go to bed around 10. If she is staying up til 1, I can work around that, too. I don't fight to change her sleep schedule. I know it will ebb and flow. The only real schedule in my life is work, since we work outside the home. Oh, and our library schedule. lol Darn due dates!

Momma Jorje said...

And in response to your comment on my post, I admit (here, to you, anyway) I still sit on my high horse! I just don't preach it down to those below me. lol I know our choices don't suit everyone, but I still think they're the BEST choices.

And while my mom is quite a bit of a hippie, my dad and his wife definitely see me as the freak of the family. Heck, even my mom knows I'm different, sometimes just for the sake of being different. :-)

I Thought I Knew Mama said...

That picture of Mikko is amazing!

I love that quote by Samuel Johnson! It really resonated with me and put into words the feeling that I have had about receiving advice.

I've definitely had this experience of looking back and finding my past self to be completely obnoxious - LOL. The important thing is we can look back and recognize it, and that we're learning from our mistakes, right? :-)

Jessica | Cloth Diapering Mama said...

LOL!!! Your post made me giggle when you said you wanted to reach into the screen and slap yourself...hahaha!

I feel that way too...

I am proud of my natural birth, breastfeeding, etc...but I certainly don't want to exclude people from my "circle" because they made different parenting choices.

I recently read that ANY criticism (even constructive) is immediately received as an attack on our psyche (biologically speaking). That really resonated with me and I will try to zip my mouth if I ever spew advice at a pregnant woman again!!!!!

I'd love to read your revised birth story...lol...

Unknown said...

I love this post! I also struggle against my less polite, more snarky self when talking about things I feel passionately about. It's hard to not alienate people sometimes when the subject at hand feels personal. Thanks for being so honest, and thanks for the reminder.

Patti @ Jazzy Mama said...

Doesn't it sometimes seem like BIRTH is a competition? And we all want to share our stories as a way of processing our own experiences.

I don't judge you for telling your birth story in an 'obnoxious' way, Lauren. It was your truth in that moment. And now that you have fully processed it, it takes on a new level of truth.

I can hardly wait to read your next birth story!

Luschka @ Diary of a First Child said...

Oh man! I'm with you there! I have learned SO MUCH in the last 18 months. Most of all, how to keep my mouth shut, no matter how much it pains me!

We're the same on routines, to be honest. I don't know what we're going to do in the future!

Great, honest post. And for what it's worth, I appreciate your advocacy.

Kristen @ My Semi-Crunchy Life said...

I love that pic of Mikko!

I am the exact same way with routines and I would react just like you if someone said, "You know..." Good way to look at it. I always say I'm great at planning things, but not so great at executing them.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Momma Jorje: Oh, my gosh, that reminds me — I have 9 books overdue. Oops! ;)

Mary Michael said...

I really struggle with this. Sometimes I am dissapointed with myself for being a "know-it-all" or being judgemental. I try to remember that everyone is on their own path, but I also can't help but think that I am doing things the best way. I am pushing myself to remember that the best for me/my family isn't best/possible for all. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Ha ha, good call, wasn't expecting that at all! The whole advocacy topic got me very nervous, cos I don't do it - birth is the closest I get to it, and its not to tell people that they should do X Y or Z, just that this is possible, and wonderful, to tell some truth which is rarely told...

Rooted Mama Health said...

Oh man, I used to say the stupidest things before I had my son...I was one of those "when they're old enough to ask for it they're too old" breastfeeding naysayers...now I'm a CLC and proudly nursing a 19 month old. I just know that I was uninformed and had no perspective before and I have to cut myself some slack for being obnoxious. :P I also make lists like crazy with every intention of carrying them out and then all I'm stuck with is a list of lists that will never come of anything. Oh well! ;)

Deb Chitwood said...

AWESOME "cutest know-it-all ever" photo! And I love your description of your chart-making attempts at routines! I'm the same with routines - love the idea but I'm just not a list person! What a great way to emphasize that others might already be struggling with an issue and not needing someone's "advice." Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

Darcel @The Mahogany Way said...

Oh when I think about some of the things I said/did post children and then right after my first was born. I am ashamed of myself! Don't be so hard on yourself mama.

mandy @ Living Peacefully with Children said...

Love the photo! Don't those cheeks just beg for mama kisses?

Amanda said...

You know you should try to get yourself on a schedule. Put it on a calendar, make a to-do list for your program, create a timetable for your agenda, a list for your plan and keep it all in a diary that you arrange in a series like a curriculum.

OK I put way too much time into writing that and yes I was absolutely looking at my thesaurus when I did. I feel the same way about myself and the things I have said, which is why I have backed way off and try to speak only when spoken to. :)

Unknown said...

Oh my, I'm blushing, since that was also me ESPECIALLY in those early months - totally self righteous and preachy - it's amazing I still have mom friends!! I too have learned to tone it down (getting knocked off your high horse a time or two helps!)

I like to tell people that our days have rhythms, not routines, I can't do routines either, not really (though I am currently using my daughter's stickers as rewards to myself on the calendar on days I do my scheduled run!!)

Finally, that picture of Mikko is beyond adorable - those rolls, that face, you just want to hug and squeeze him!!! :)

Mama Mo said...

Perfect title... it says it all.

One of the things that jumped out at me from your post is how you wanted to share what you knew because it was so good.

I feel that way about a lot of my parenting choices. And I am really grateful for communities like this one where we can be proud of our choices. Because sometimes you just need to toot your own horn to make the sleeplessness, or the aching babywearing back, or the sore nipples mean something to someone outside your immediate orbit.

I am all for compassionate advocacy, but I'm also for allowing mamas to wear their shiny pride on their (cyber) sleeves :-)

Isil said...

I love Mikko's picture,so sweet.
It is sometimes difficult to remain calm about the things we feel passionate about. It is definitely a learning curve.

Jen Green said...

I completely sympathize. I am an avid planner, a stickler for charts and lists and schedules... none of which ever get followed, or kept, or remembered... You're doing your best and you care enough to be self aware and to try for change. That is important. Thank you for sharing!

MrsH said...

When I catch myself thinking "but it really IS better, no matter what!" that I know I need to simmer down and listen to others' stories a bit more closely. I find it hard to share something I'm so enthusiastic about. When people tell me what things might help us, I always come back with the "but how?" question. Usually the only person who can answer that is me (and often I need the help of a good therapist!)

Amy Robbins-Wilson said...

What a healing post to read. Thank you. My son and I almost died the day he was born and we were saved by amazing doctors and technology that I never imagined we would need. I wore my baby and breastfed for 18 months and sometimes felt like an outside in the "natural" parenting world. I LOVE to hear about natural births, I had hoped for one myself but I know that going through a placental abruption and going to a place of complete surrender made me a better parent. I could go on and on...I am glad to meet you and grateful for your post. http://www.amyrobbinswilson.com

Amy said...

Right on, Lauren. :)

I know I can come across as opinionated. I do feel strongly about some facets of life and parenting. At the base, though, I respect that each person is walking a unique and valuable path and they know their path best.

No one wants to feel "should" upon. I like that I connect mainly with parents who want options, to make changes, or reconnect with who they really are - so they can simply enjoy the parenting experience. :)

That's way better than subscribing to some doctrine or parenting style that just can't be a one-size-fits-all.

Rachael @ The Variegated Life said...

Wow. Thank you for your Johnson quotation and your reflections on it ... I never thought about advice giving in this way, though I certainly have felt exactly what you describe upon receiving advice.

Chante@My Natural Motherhood Journey said...

I do agree that it's easy sometimes to feel like your opinion is the only right one. I think it's because we love ourselves much more than we love others. When you love others you can afford to give them grace and be merciful in your sharing. You also have a lot more patience with them and won't expect them to jump to the task of listening to your advice immediately. This was a great post! I'm glad your'e becoming more compassionate and reminding us to as well!

Anonymous said...

It has taken me a long time to learn that MY way isn't the RIGHT way. At least, not for everyone. And that failing to recognize that guarantees that my words will fall on deaf ears.

The best way to help people see things your way is to just live it. But, quite honestly, that doesn't come naturally to me.

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

This is a great CarNatPAr post. I'm laughing over the "...but only if you're not a jerk about it..." part. I think that's up there next to the golden rule, isn't it? Actually, it could be added to the end of any sentence of advice. I'm exploring the yoga sutras right now and I'll be sure to add this addendum to each one: "Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization...but only if you're not a jerk about it"

I learned this early with being a yoga teacher and my husband. I was passionate about wanting him to do yoga with me, so I told him all about it (and was kind of a jerk) Now, he won't go near yoga. He does "stretches" that our chiropractor gave him and I'll never tell him that it's the sun salutation routine. Ever. He loves it and I wouldn't want to ruin it for him by explaining how his heel alignment is throwing off his sacrum. The same goes for my kids. The same goes for everyone I encounter. They know I'm there in lovingkindness no matter what. And if they want help in any way, I'll gently guide. That's how to advocate...but only if you're not a jerk about it.

(Sorry for the loong comment. I'm procrastinating on writing my blog, if you can't tell ;)

Lisa said...

I love your willingness to be so honest and candid! That inspires me to share w/ others the times that I look back on myself and think "Oh my gosh! I was such a booger!"

Thanks for putting this out there. I really have seen w/ my own life that as I have softened, in my own heart and brain, my judgment, and even my eyes (in talking to people) --- and as I just ALLOW and create an accepting presence (of the PERSON not necessarily the ACTION)... I am met with the same! AND I have realized as a psychotherapist none of my TELLING folks how to do things is going to create sustaining change. I can create a space for folks to recognize their goodness...and then the choices to treat others, including their children, organically arises.

On another note...I am reminded now of how i was the "perfect" parent before I had children! I remember critiquing a mom I knew before I had kiddos and wouldn't you know, two years later I was in the exact same situation and did the exact same thing! Karma baby!

THANK YOU for putting yourself out there!


intergalactic holly hobby said...

I too love your attempts at routine and the lists! Oh, the lists I've made...the big plans too! Rythem and routine just aren't so easy for some of us, huh? Not for me at least, and not for my mother before me...
And I like the rest of the post too...I understand the fear of coming off preachy, but it's so hard! Someone needs to say what needs said, right?! lol...

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