N is for Natural and Non-Judgmental
Being enthusiastic about our passions without judging others' choices.
By V.K. Harber
I was recently told by a complete stranger that I “look like someone who cooks from scratch”. I’m fairly certain this was meant neither as a compliment nor as a simple benign observation. The whiff of insult was subtle but noticeable.
I’m not sure what gave me away as a person who does indeed cook from scratch. I was not wearing an apron or a dusting of flour, which would be two very obvious tells for me. Perhaps it was the unwashed hair or the slight odor of toddler vomit on my shirt. Apparently home cooks and overwhelmed, harried mothers look a lot alike.
All kidding aside, if I’m being honest, the reason this comment struck a nerve at all rather than just serve as a point of amusement was because I am sometimes squeamish about coming across as, you know, granola-y. The typical “natural mama”. You know what I mean: cooks from scratch, makes homemade clothing, breastfeeds, cloth diapers, baby-wears, co-sleeps, makes her own baby food… etc. Not because I don’t fall into several of these categories, but because I’ve gotten the distinct impression that “natural” parents have a reputation for being a bit judgmental.
Is this fair? Well, insofar as all stereotypes are inaccurate, it is not fair. Any sentence that starts as, “All [adjective] [noun] are/think/do…” is going to be wrong. It is very unlikely that any two individuals in a group (let alone three or four) feel or think the exact same way about anything. Something I have to ask myself, though, is how much does my behavior feed into this idea and how much does it prove it to be inaccurate?
Now, I know that natural-minded parents are not judgmental as a whole. I know many who are open, confident, accepting, and perhaps most importantly, far too busy with their own lives to bother judging anybody else. But, I also know plenty who are, thus my reluctance to be identified as a “natural mother”. It should be noted that I also know many people, in general, who are judgmental about whatever it is that they care about. The thing you realize as you gain experience is that the groups that people identify with are not the reason that they are or are not judgmental. People are judgmental when they are insecure, and there is no group of people who hold a monopoly on insecurity.
Still, the fact remains, I do observe and hear a lot of judgmental things coming out of the mouths (or keyboards) of people who identify as “natural” parents. (And sometimes the mouth I hear these things coming out of is my own!) Whether it is about how to feed your baby, diaper your baby, wash your baby, clothe your baby… we seem to know how everybody should be doing it. Of course, we’re all doing what we think is best, otherwise why would we be doing it?
You know how when you find a great restaurant or a good sale and you tell everybody because you want them to be able to enjoy it as well? I think a lot of times that is what happens with parenting. We try something that works well, or saves us money or time or both, or makes our babies very happy, and we just want everyone to give it a try. I think it is very possible that sometimes this enthusiasm is mistaken for judgment. So what, then, is the best way for us to be enthusiastic about what we’re passionate about without coming across as judgmental? Some easier-said-than-done things come to mind. These are the things I’m trying:
- Don’t judge! You’re far less likely to come across as judgmental if you are, in fact, not judging.
- Remove the phrases “should”, “ought to”, “must”, “have to” from your vocabulary.
- Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Ever.
- Stop thinking about your way as the “right” or “best” way. Your way is just that – your way.
- If someone does ask your advice or opinion start the sentence with, “this is what works for our family…”
- Recognize that the overwhelming majority of parents have the absolute best interests of their children at heart and are just doing the best they can with the tools they have.
Parenting is hard work, period. All of us know how fraught with anxiety it can be and how painful it is to feel like we’re not measuring up to someone else’s standards. Let’s not add no anyone’s stress about whether or not they are doing the exact right thing.Some of us may be misinformed or uneducated about a certain topic, but I think that many of us have done our research and have made a choice that works for us and our families. I'm sure we can all agree that what parents need more than anything else is empathy and support. When we feel understood and supported, we tend to have the emotional capacity to delve deeper and examine our choices while we seek connection with our children.
So, those of us who cloth diaper for any number of reasons implore the cloth-diapering fanatics to stop telling folks who use disposables that they are ruining their children’s hip joints, or destroying the planet, or poisoning their children with chemicals. Surely we can find less inflammatory language to discuss these things. Same goes for the baby food makers, the homeschoolers, the homebirthers, the organics-only eaters, and yes, the cookers from scratch (Again, I actually fall into several of these categories). The best way to encourage what you consider to be best practices is to lead by quiet example. As Henry Miller said, “Example moves the world more than doctrine”.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to throw on an apron and bake up some local, organic, vegan, stone-ground whole wheat bread. After all, I am one of those mothers.
Image Credit: Flood, used under Creative Commons license
About V.K. Harber
YOUR BIO—V.K. Harber is a yogi, writer and mother of one. She is the co-founder and former managing director of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center in Tacoma, WA, a non-profit yoga studio.She currently resides in Seoul, South Korea where she works as a yoga teacher and post-partum doula. (www.vkharber.com) She is also a contributing writer at World Moms Blog and can be found on twitter @VKHarberRYT.