If a mother-to-be asked me for parenting advice, one of things at the top of my list would be “find good mom friends.”
I lucked out in this department. When my older son was born, I was a stay-at-home mom, so I was able to devote a lot of time to nurturing my friendships, as well as nurturing my baby. I met friends at La Leche League, at swim lessons, through a moms’ group and at Sunflower. Eight years later, I still count those moms among my closest friends. Our children are still friends, too, despite living in different neighborhoods, attending different schools and having hectic schedules.
As with any group of friends, my chosen group and I have a lot in common, both as parents and as individuals. The moms I met at LLL all breastfed, for example. But even as I point out our similarities, especially those that pertain to a parenting “style” or choice, I would also add a caveat to my advice about finding compatible moms.
Don’t buy into labels
Becoming a parent is nerve-wracking. So many new skills to learn! So many milestones to track! So many others watching and offering advice and criticism. It’s easy to open a book or go to a website to find a “parenting style” that works for you, then to decide to adopt it wholeheartedly, perhaps along with all your friends.
Except… we aren’t all the same. As I was navigating my new friendships, I began to feel the pressure to conform to not one but all the tenets of a particular parenting style. Oh, you breastfeed? Well then you must also co-sleep, right? And of course you make your own baby food? And you wear your baby? (My answers: sometimes, isn’t it just called “food”?, enthusiastically).
Trying to wedge all moms who make a particular parenting choice, like breastfeeding, into the mold of a defined “parenting style” excludes moms who can’t breastfeed, or who choose not to. It also feels alienating to breastfeeding moms who have no interest in co-sleeping… or to moms whose babies refuse to be worn.
Eventually, as I grew as a parent, I began to realize that neither I nor my friends fit neatly into any one parenting style… and that we should stop trying to label ourselves. We all picked and chose what worked for us, our spouses and our children. We listened to each other’s success stories and challenges, and learned from one another’s experiences. As my friend Karen wisely observed, “Really, you probably have something to learn from anyone, and from any particular parenting philosophy — be willing to consider alternative approaches and strategies because you never know when you might need them or they’ll be just the solution for your sanity. And the other happy truth of this is: you’re likely to have something in common with just about every other parent, even one whose family or parenting seems at first glance to be very different.”
I think my mom friends – the ones I’ve known for eight-plus years – would agree that one of the things that united us as a group was our willingness to be flexible about our parenting styles. At one point, all of us were members of a larger group that was somewhat rigidly focused on a particular parenting ideal. My friends and I realized that we were more willing to compromise, to try – and maybe adopt – parenting methods that lay outside the bounds of the “acceptable” in the larger group. And we most certainly did not judge one another for picking and choosing what worked for us.
So new parents: go forth and find your people! Find other parents who have similar parenting styles AND a similar love for craft beer or gardening or cheesy 80s music. But don’t get bogged down in labels or trying to fit exactly into any particular method. Do what works for you and your family, while respecting and embracing the similarities and differences among other parents.