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Being Pro-Us Doesn't Make Us Anti-You

I have friends who smoke. Close friends. Friends I love. I think smoking is a disgusting, idiotic thing to do.  That is not the same as thinking my friends who smoke are idiots. In fact, I used to smoke. Not for as many years as some of my friends, but enough to know it's freakin' hard to quit. So yeah, I hate smoking. I don't think smokers should have the right to smoke anywhere they want, especially near playgrounds. That REALLY PISSES ME OFF when people smoke around playgrounds. But I still love and respect my friends who smoke. I don't call them names or lecture them whenever one takes a smoking break. I raise an eyebrow when I see someone smoking in a car with kids in the backseat. But I've never pulled up next to that car, pointed to that person, and told them they are a prick for smoking around their kids. Just as long as they aren't smoking around mine...

This brings me to my main point - having a strong, unwavering opinion about something, especially something backed by peer reviewed research, does not make me narrow-minded and judgmental. And neither does blogging about it. Saying something is barbaric isn't the same as saying you are a barbarian. Saying something is disgusting isn't the same as saying you are disgusting. Saying something is proven to be healthy doesn't mean I think you are bad if you don't do that thing.

I've been playing around the parenting blogosphere and commiserating with a common problem we all have - that by defending our parenting choices (why we don't vaccinate, why we homeschool) or advocating for our parenting choices (why extended breastfeeding is good for toddlers, why we still share our bed with our preschoolers), the assumption made by many readers is that we must also mean other parents are bad for not making the same choices we did.

The blog "Mom's Tinfoil Hat" has a Mommy Wars bingo game card, and this is the middle square: "“By defending YOUR parenting priorities (breastfeeding, natural foods, no TV) you are attacking mine!!!

 That is often how the wars begin. A mommy posts about how homebirth is just as safe as hospital birth and someone assumes that means she thinks everyone should have a homebirth. Another posts about the amazing content of breastmilk and someone thinks that since she couldn't breastfeed, the blogger thinks she is a failure or didn't try hard enough. Someone posts about the failures of the public school system, so someone else gets upset because she is not in a position to homeschool or send her kids to private school and the blogger obviously didn't take her feelings into consideration when she posted facts about public school versus homeschool test scores.
A popular natural parenting blog called PhD in Parenting has a post on this topic that also uses smoking as an example. I want you to know I came up with the smoking analogy in the car an hour ago before reading her post. It's a good one. At any rate, the entire post is poignant and worth reading, but I quote a bit of it here:

"When it comes to something like infant feeding (breast or formula), discipline (spanking or punishment versus gentle discipline), sleep (cry it out versus parent to sleep), there are people who say “Do whatever is best for your family. No one way is better than the other”. But there are also people who believe, based on considered choice or societal influence, that one way is better than the other. There are some parenting issues where I think each family should do what is best for them. There are other parenting issues where I feel there is a better way to do things and I will advocate for the better way. It doesn’t mean I’m judging you if you can’t live up to my ideal. In fact, I may not always live up to my ideal (I don’t think it is a good idea to scream at children, but I sometimes scream at mine). But I do want to change your mind if you think differently....

...I’m not expecting people to never be offended by anything I say. But I am asking people to respect my right to have an opinion on a topic and not equate it to judging people who have different opinions on that topic. I may think they made bad choices, I may think they could have done things differently, I may think I made a better choice. But it doesn’t mean I think they are bad parents or bad human beings.

So when people say “don’t judge me” what I really hear is:

I don’t want you to try to change my mind, it is what it is, I am resentful of hearing anything that might suggest I am less than perfect, and I think my world is just fine as it is.
If that is the way you feel, this blog may not be the place for you. This blog is about improving ourselves, inspiring change, evolving our culture, chipping away at the kyriarchy, and nudging society in a new direction. That doesn’t mean that I will always get it 100% right (I’m not perfect after all), but I will try to push the envelope and challenge the status quo. I do welcome you to challenge my opinion in the comments, but please expect a dialogue and a debate. As for the “don’t judge me” requests: 

Relax, I’m probably not judging you and if I am, it is for a damn good reason."

You should just go read the whole post. I love it and wish I had written it first.

The flip side of this, of course, is when we are blasted, not for being judgmental, but for ourselves making a choice someone else thinks is harmful or stupid.

Sometimes that comes as a well-thought out  though misinformed argument. "I don't think you are adequately taking into consideration that by not vaccinating your children you might be putting other children's health and lives at risk."

Then the dialogue is open and I can discuss the evidence for why that isn't true, and hopefully they can rest assured the unvaccinated kid in their kid's preschool is not a walking time bomb ready to spread whooping cough and HiB at a moment's notice.

And sometimes they don't even try.

"Ur a fuckin' bitch. Ur kids r going to spread diseases and kill babies. Morons like u shouldn't b allowed to b parents."

That's when I know we aren't going to have an actual discussion and that I shouldn't even bother. Or if I'm feeling contrary I dish it right back. I'm not likely to be gentle if someone starts out by insulting me personally right off the bat.

This is why I generally do not try to use that tactic, myself. I'm trying to persuade people to look at things differently. I can't persuade someone if they think I think they are stupid or crazy or diabolical. No amount of actual evidence or clever wording is going to make a single difference.

However, I am not going to withhold a fact because that fact might hurt someone's feelings. Facts don't judge, they just are. I think it is useless and potentially dangerous to get mad at facts that contradict us or demand that facts that make us feel bad about ourselves stop existing.

It is a fact that mothers are 3 times more likely to die during a cesarean section than during vaginal birth. That is what it is. I had three c-sections. That is not what I wanted. am sad that I could not give birth without my liver and kidneys starting to fail. I do not turn around on homebirthers and tell them they make me feel bad by saying we should avoid c-sections whenever possible. They are right - we should. My experience is outside of the norm and as such does not define the norm, and there's no reason for me to feel attacked or judged by people advocating for less c-sections. In fact, I am right up there angry about all these c-sections precisely because I had one. It's no walk in the park to recover from major abdominal surgery. Maternal mortality rates in the United States are shameful. Being the exception to the rule doesn't mean I can't advocate for the rule, and it would be idiocy to try and change the rule based on my experience.

My homebirth attempts sucked. It would, in fact, make me a bitch if I then turned around and started campaigning against homebirth. Rewriting homebirth safety and reality would not end up making me feel better and would only hurt other mothers.

We cannot withhold facts for fear of offending
because the importance of the information
outweighs people's right to not be challenged in their beliefs.
~ Maddy Reid

I blog about things I feel strongly about. I get my mind set on something and then I'm off like a butterfly, from flower to flower, soaking up all I can on that topic until I feel satisfied, possibly in one day, possibly after several years. I start conversations about it. I find videos on it. I visit other people's links on it. I don't post anything to make someone feel bad or say "nyah nyah nyah, I'm right, you're wrong.". I post to say, "hey, this made me think, it might interest you too, since we're on this topic." (and then sometimes I post something just so we can all laugh our heads off)

The people I interact with most frequently on Facebook or through blogs are the same - hey, I found this article about fluoride in water. I know this topic interests some of my friends, so here goes." The next thing I know, six or seven friends have posted the same article, and we are all talking about it. Someone comes along a book about the topic, another will find a video. We don't even know how the conversation got started anymore. We are taking the idea and pulling it in different directions until we feel "done."

Sometimes that happens here, too. I might post about something, then search my friends' blogs for what they had to say about it. Suddenly it's my old playgroup again - we're together in my living room sharing advice and ideas. Something, somewhere, got the spark going - and then we're off.

I cannot think of a single article, or video, or picture I have ever posted where I though, "gee, I hope so and so sees this because she is an awful mom and this might set her straight." I can only think of a few I ever posted where I thought, "People who do this are gross and evil." My recent post about Tiger Moms comes to mind - I think it's pretty evil to call your kids insulting names.

Mostly, though, none of us are out to get anyone. Our true friends know this. They know who we are inside and what our intentions are. People who constantly question our motives get exhausting after a while. Once you make up your mind that I am judgmental mean, naive, stupid, or delusional, there is nothing I can do to fix that or change your mind. You will think that regardless of the evidence I present to the contrary. You will have me walking on eggshells, wondering if this is the post that is going to get me shot down. Or maybe it's this one. No, you all liked that one? Surely not the next one - wow, that was unexpected, everyone jumped bit my head off on that. I can't go around wondering who is going to be hurt or not hurt every time I say, write or post something, because there is no real way to predict that, short of reading minds.

Almost all of us are motivated by two things - how to minimize the suffering of babies and children, and how to create more harmony in our relationships with our babies, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Of course we are going to seek out other people who feel the same way we do. Of course we get exited when we find something that fits one or both of those categories. You bet we want to take as many people as possible on the ride with us. If you have evidence that your way is better for reaching those goals, of course we want to hear it. If we have evidence that our way is better for achieving those goals, of course we want to tell it. In some cases, we want to shout it. Sometimes, we'll even mark it on a protest sign and rally for it. Being pro-us doesn't make us anti-you.

If I am ever anti-you, you won't have to wonder. You will know.

"How can we advocate for birthing and parenting practices that have proven benefits without making parents who have not achieved them feel denigrated? How, for example, do we discuss the overuse of cesarean delivery without making the one-fifth to one-quarter of us who've had one feel bad, or promote extended breastfeeding without seeming to blame women who haven't been able to do it?

I suggest that the answer lies in achieving a certain perspective. This perspective starts from the premise that each of us does the best she can—given the particulars of our knowledge base, resources, support system, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves (and which we often cannot fully control). No one should ever allow herself to feel judged inadequate for doing the best she could, or the best she knew at the time of choosing. But we must also note that because our knowledge base is one of the keys in our decision-making process, it is absolutely appropriate that every effort be made to disseminate good information as widely as possible—never to blame people for past choices or idiosyncratic situations, but to get good facts out to whoever needs and can use them." - By Louise Rachel (click here to read more)

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