11 June 2008

How to talk to other parents?

A friend made me think yesterday about how I get irritated by strangers asking questions about our lives and what exactly I do. She was worried that *her* questions might be offensive or that I might lose patience with her curiosity. I found it hard to explain how I feel, because like anyone it depends on my mood at the time. A friend asking even the silliest question is always welcome, because I have motivation to be patient when I'm not sure if the question is hostile or not (AND of course I can almost always assume that it isn't hostile)! But sometimes when someone I don't know comes over and starts asking if Morgan is still sleeping in a cot and we have one of "those" co-sleeping conversations, or when someone comes and starts grilling me on sling safety, I can get pretty annoyed.

What it comes down to is that to people who know me I'm just someone, just a person they know who is living life and learning and who is doing so as a parent. To people who don't know me I often become Someone, a Mothering Expert, who is doing things the Right way or the Wrong way and who they can evaluate by my Results. That's a big burden to put on someone walking through a shopping centre with two young children. That's a big burden to put on anyone - even someone who writes books about parenting and seems to have all the answers. When I'm tired, I simply get to the point where I can't let myself be that person for other people. I can't even have the answers for *me* and so I won't get drawn in, will avoid the conversation, and will often write that I'm annoyed in my diary!

If you remember me ever saying, to you directly, "I'm not sure I can explain that, I'll think about it and get back to you," that's maybe what I'm doing. If you hear me say, "Yeah we do XYZ," and I change the subject pretty quick, that's what I'm probably doing then too. If I've never sidestepped or changed the subject then you are not asking silly questions, or asking them so infrequently and sensitively that I don't mind. ;)

I would suggest, if you want to ask about someone else's parenting just do it. Do it directly, politely, and respect if they don't give you an answer! Don't think of them as an expert, just another parent with different experiences who might be able to help. Don't expect them to be perfect or their kids to be shining examples of what Good Parenting produces. If you're thinking of approaching a stranger in a public place, smile at them and their children, and don't expect a proper conversation. "I love your sling!" is probably welcome to anyone though.
Generally speaking, I'm feeling calm today and a little lonely without the girls. I'm not crying, but neither do I feel quite my usual self. It has been a long, long, long year so far.

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