When Non-Parents Talk About Parenting

When Non-Parents Talk About

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted about how, as a non-parent, her opinions on anything related to parenting or children are discounted by friends who are parents… when she disagrees with them. She got a fair number of comments on this post, and expanded her original thoughts, noting:

“I’m rapidly becoming the only person I know without kids and being told my opinion doesn’t count at all is weird to me, so it occurred to me that unless my opinion is still pointless when I’m agreeing with parents, they’re actually only saying “as long as your opinion is different than mine, you don’t get to have one” which seems a lot more child like than parent like to me.”

I see where she’s coming from. Countless parents did this to me before I had kids, and it’s been one of my goals since becoming a mom to not do this to other people. (If I’ve done this to any of my non-parent friends who are reading this, please accept my apology!)

But I also see why parents do it. So often, non-parents speak their opinions in a way that comes across as though they would do things so much better if they were in your shoes, with such confidence in their conclusions. (I know this because I was guilty of it for sure: my kids would never behave poorly in public. You just teach them not to, right?) And any parent knows when they sense this attitude that the person talking to them is being completely ridiculous.

parents

 

But even if non-parents express conflicting opinions to yours in the most diplomatic way, it can be hard not to want to dismiss them. Pregnancy, birth, sleep training, toddler tantrums, etc. have each been completely unlike any experiences I’ve had before. Especially as a first-time parent, I was just muddling my way through each one, which is understandable, but also somehow, in our culture, completely unacceptable. There’s huge pressure to do things right, to have all the answers, to be 100% confident in the decisions you make for yourself and this little other person who is entirely dependent on you for survival, growth, and development. The stakes are pretty high. So if someone disagrees with you on any of these topics, it makes sense that your defenses might go up; you might even be desperate to prove (to yourself more than anyone else) that you are actually doing things right after all. And if that person is not a parent, gee, what a convenient way to dismiss their opinion. It’s easy to shame people with ‘you don’t have experience with this and I do’ logic on any subject, but our culture makes this especially easy with parenting.

non-parents

I think we do a disservice to ourselves in doing this, though. My friends who are non-parents might not have direct experience with sleep deprivation from toddler anxieties, or how to address temper tantrums, or how to get a kid to eat vegetables, or mastitis, or the craziness of scheduling the extra-curriculars of multiple children. But they very well may have very valuable insights on the broader problems these things represent: exhaustion, interpersonal relationships with irrational people, persuading someone to do something that you know is good for them, illness, the challenges of work-life balance. And they might be better at some of these things than my parent friends. Parenting doesn’t make you good at this stuff, it just makes you have specific complaints in common with other parents.

Some of my non-parent friends might also know me better than many of my parent friends do. And when dealing with something hard, sometimes it’s not the external issue that really needs to be worked through; sometimes, it’s me. In those situations, I’d rather seek advice or insight from someone who knows me really well, who knows what I’m ready to hear and can say it with confidence because our relationship is secure.

Non-parents also haven’t been sucked into the online parenting rabbit hole, where sometimes there is an overwhelming amount of information and vitriol in debates on hot-button issues. So they might be in a great place to help us think outside the box on some of these topics.

Regardless of these reasons, though, it’s simply dangerous to dismiss others’ opinions with a simple comparison of experience. Just because someone isn’t a parent doesn’t mean they haven’t had valuable experiences with kids and parenting in some way, whether that’s extensive babysitting, helping to raise younger siblings, working with kids in their profession, or, you know, being a kid themselves and having had parents. My friend’s post was a good reminder to me that it’s always important to decide whether to consider or dismiss someone else’s opinion (because some opinions are worthy of dismissal) based on the substance of the opinion itself, not because of the source alone.

A village is richest when it’s diverse and vibrant, not when everyone is the same. We, as individuals, learn and grow the most if we surround ourselves with people with a range of experiences. So if you’re a parent, keep your non-parent friends close and let them know that you value their opinion; they may be the ones who keep you grounded to your pre-parent self and help you see things from a wider perspective. If you’re a non-parent, be kind to your parent friends when you talk about these things, remembering all that pressure to be ‘right’ and that they’re going through things that sometimes seem completely foreign to the ‘normal’ life they still see you as living.

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