At 6 years old, my daughter has recently decided she needs a mobile phone. When I told her in no uncertain terms that wouldn't be happening anytime soon, she nodded and said, "You're probably right. You can get me one when I'm 8." My sides hurt from laughing so hard in response. Because, no, my child won't have a phone at 8 either.
I went online to share this funny anecdote of my young daughter trying to negotiate her way into a new phone, thinking it was her insistence that was most hilarious. I didn't mention my reasons for disagreeing with her desired phone timing, nor did I say anything meant to disparage another parent's choices. I merely shared the story of her persistence.
I expected people to laugh at her determination, but what I got instead was my comment notifications blowing up with other parents frantically explaining why they got their own kids phones at young ages.
"Divorced parents sometimes have to make decisions they otherwise wouldn't have . . . "
"We have too many kids going in too many different directions . . . "
"Never say never. I didn't think I'd cave so early either, but here's why I did . . . "
"Don't judge. You don't know our circumstances."
We're all so afraid of being judged in parenthood, we jump to explain ourselves and our parenting decisions, even when we shouldn't need to.
The thing was, I hadn't been judging. Not even a little bit. I had simply declared that my young child wouldn't be getting a cellphone anytime soon and laughing at her refusal to accept that fact. It was everyone else who had taken someone making a parenting decision different from their own as a reason to jump in and explain themselves. When those explanations hadn't been in any way expected.
After an entire comment thread of my responding to multiple people, "I wasn't questioning anyone else's choices, I was just sharing a parenting story — you do you!," I started to think about this phenomenon I'd witnessed of parents feeling the need to overexplain themselves in the face of another parent making different choices. And it occurred to me that we have a tendency of doing this with a lot of things. We're all so afraid of being judged in parenthood, we jump to explain ourselves and our parenting decisions, even when we shouldn't need to.
If one mum talks about how much she's enjoying breastfeeding and how thankful she is to be able to provide her child with those benefits, 20 other mums will inevitably jump in to explain why breastfeeding didn't work for them. Should one parent rave about how much they've loved cloth nappies, anyone who didn't use cloth nappies suddenly seems to feel the need to explain why.
I even recently overheard a parent discussing how much they've loved their child's private school, saying nothing at all about the local state school options. But another parent somehow took the praise of the private school as a need to jump in and defend their child's school, pretty intensely, when the reality was nothing had been said at all to admonish that choice.
We've got to a point where we can no longer just hear each other's stories and accept each other's parenting differences without thinking we need to move straight to the defensive. We decipher judgement in anecdotes that ultimately have nothing at all to do with us or our choices. And we convince ourselves that the only way to respond is to overexplain why we've chosen differently. And you know what? We need to stop that. Immediately. Because not everything is about us. And not every choice needs to be defended.
We put enough pressure on ourselves as it is; we don't need the added pressure of believing everyone else is watching as well.
Wouldn't it be amazing if we could start trusting in ourselves, and our parenting decisions, enough to stop begging for understanding every time someone makes a different choice from our own? Even when we are being judged, wouldn't it be great if we could just walk away from those conversations, heads held high, without feeling the need to convince that person they're wrong? It's enough that these are the choices we are making for our kids, based on what we know about them, what we know about ourselves, and what we know about our family's unique needs. We shouldn't require anyone else's approval or understanding in that.
But as parents, the anxiety of being judged has grown so great, we can't help but feel the need to defend ourselves all the time, even within our own mom tribes. And I find that so incredibly sad — that we can't just embrace our different choices and accept that every situation is unique.
We put enough pressure on ourselves as it is; we don't need the added pressure of believing everyone else is watching as well. Especially when the truth is, most people are so overwhelmed by their own parenting duties, they're really not paying as much attention to what you're doing as you think.
I know I'm not, anyway. You want to get your young child a mobile phone, even as I abstain from doing the same? You do you. I've got no questions or concerns.