Staying with family this weekend made me think about how things went when we were almost-first-time parents, about three and a half years ago. We had all kinds of ideas about what we wanted to do with our children: how we wanted to raise them and so on.
One thing we’d decided to do was use cloth diapers. It’s really popular now, and there are tons of cute options and styles! But of course, our parents were used to the standard white prefolds and plastic pants. They’d been so grateful to have the option to use disposables and not have the extra work, and mess, that old-style cloth diapers could present.
So when we told them we were planning to use cloth, the reaction was…not so good. “It’s messy. It’s stinky. They leak. You’ll hate the extra laundry. You’ll give up in a week. When you come stay with us, we’ll buy disposables for you.”
Clearly…they disagreed with our choice….
I think we can all agree that when it comes right down to it, what strangers on the internet think really doesn’t matter. I mean, do we ever have to see these people? Do they have any actual say in our lives? I would hope not.
But our family….
Yes, they have a say. Yes, you have to see them! When family disagrees with a choice you’re making — whether it’s to cloth diaper (or not), to breastfeed (or not), to have a home birth (or not), and so on — life can get a little tough. Imagine saying you’re not planning to breastfeed…when your mom was a La Leche Leader for years! Or that you will not use disposable diapers on your baby…when your mom is dead set against cloth.
That gets fun, right?
We found ourselves in that position over many issues initially. They thought we were crazy. They thought we’d change our minds. They even thought, in some cases, that it was okay to override our wishes (like trying to feed chocolate cake to our 7-month-old daughter because “it’s a birthday party after all!”).
Here are some tips on how to handle it:
1) State your choice calmly and firmly — If it matters at this time (like if you’re planning a home birth and baby’s due soon), tell them what you’re doing. “We’ve decided to have this baby at home.” There is no need to assume there will be a fight (even if you’re sure there will be). Try to remain calm even if they throw all kinds of ‘stuff’ at you.
2) Tell them together — You and your partner should be a united front, so if the issue is important, make a point to tell family together. “We’ve decided this is best for our family.” If you are unified, there is less chance they will try to put either of you on the spot if they catch you alone.
3) Bring your research — Many families are simply concerned for you, and may be upset because they don’t understand your decision. If you can pull a few facts out (not ever fact you’ve ever heard!) and say, “Did you know that…” they may feel better, if only because they see that you have considered carefully and are doing what you truly think is best.
4) Reassure them — Some parents take radically different parenting choices as a comment on their parenting. Reassure them it’s not: you are a different person, with access to different information than they had. You believe they did their best. Now it is your turn, and you have to do your best with the circumstances you have.
5) Agree not to talk about it – There were a couple issues so divisive, that we disagreed on so strongly, that we had to agree to just not talk about them. Sometimes, for the sake of your relationship, it is better to just do that. There is no need to throw your decision in their faces at every turn.
6) Stand firm — There may be times that they wish to undermine you. Food preferences tend to be a huge one. “We don’t want our children to eat X.” Well, I can’t tell you how many times well-meaning relatives have tried to slip treats to my children, or how many stories I’ve heard from others about their families doing the same thing. Even when the child had severe food allergies! If this sort of thing happens, you simply have to step in and say, “No, I’m sorry, we’re not allowing our child to have that at this time.” If you can, suggest an alternative that satisfies everyone (we have special treats our children can have that we encourage family to give to them for holidays and such). It may make for a tense day, but you have your reasons and they need to be respected.
7) Compromise – Is there a way that you can compromise here? Perhaps if Grandma’s babysitting for more than a couple hours, you allow her to use disposables (as long as baby doesn’t have an allergy or something). Or maybe you provide “safe” treats that they can give your child, or encourage another way to treat your child, like a special outing. Sometimes meeting them halfway is okay, and beneficial.
8) Wait it out – A lot of people look at new parents, especially young ones, as rather naive. They expect them to “live and learn” and often change. But over time, when they see what is really working for you, many will relax and realize that you are doing your best, and the issues really aren’t that bad anymore. This is where we are: they can see, after over three years, that what we’re doing is working for us. They don’t always understand, but they don’t challenge us, either.
It will get better. In time, if you’re firm and united. And maybe there will always be those who just don’t get it or are even hostile to your choices: it’s unfortunate, but it does happen on occasion. Kill them with kindness and try to avoid the issues if you can!
How do you handle family disagreements?
Top image by Monica Nunez
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