You’re at the park with your child. You’re standing back and watching them climb up the slide barefoot then slide back down. You see no harm in this because you have talked to your child about the importance of getting out of the way when someone else wants to slide down. After a few minutes of this, a younger child joins in and starts trying to climb the slide. Your child waits patiently at the top to avoid hitting the other child, but the other child’s parent runs over and scoops up their child, saying, “We do NOT climb up the slide. Slides are meant for sliding down, not climbing up. Just because other kids are doing things they shouldn’t be doesn’t mean I’m going to let you do that, too.” What do you do?
No matter what your parenting philosophy is, there are going to be others who do things differently, and there are going to be times when you feel judged. When that happens, it makes your defenses go up and it can really shake your confidence. Do you conform to their expectations at the expense of your values? Do you tell the critic off? Is it possible to stand by your values and your parenting philosophy while communicating compassionately with adults who disagree with you?
Get clear on your reasoning
The first thing you can do to handle parenting peer pressure in a way that models respectful, confident conflict resolution for your child is to be able to articulate your reasoning behind the choices you make as a parent. You can start by identifying the components of your parenting that might be triggering for other parents, and put some thought into developing a quick explanation of WHY you do things the way you do. Having a clear, concise explanation for your choices as a parent increases your confidence when you feel criticized. It makes you less likely to cave and ask your child not to do things you’d normally allow just because you want to make someone else happy. That’s not to say that you have turn to the other parent and say, “I am allowing my child to climb up the slide because I believe in the value of allowing children to take reasonable risks when they are not endangering others. It boosts their confidence in their own abilities and helps them understand their limits,” but being able to say it to yourself can help you feel less ruffled by the criticism.
Pause and practice right speech
When you find yourself caught up in the moment, try to stay calm. Practice pausing, and consider how you can respond to this person rather than reacting defensively. Buddhism teaches the practice of right speech, or “abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter.” (Vhibanga Sutta, SN 45.8) Practicing right speech by asking yourself if what you are about to say is true, kind, and necessary can help you determine whether it’s worth saying at all. This will help you resist the urge to tell the other person off or make a passive aggressive comment to your child about the other parent/other child. This is important because we are modeling for our children how to treat other people when they feel challenged, and we are demonstrating that you do not have to yield your ethics or ideas to someone else just because they want you to.
Understand the relationship in question
Of course, the pressure only becomes stronger when it’s coming from someone you love. When you feel judged or challenged by someone with whom you have an ongoing relationship, it’s even more important to react calmly, consider what you say, and come at it with the confidence conferred by knowing the why behind your parenting decisions. When you feel challenged by someone you are close to, sharing your reasoning is valuable because it allows them to understand where you are coming from. The trick is to engage in these sorts of conversations when you don’t feel emotionally charged and defensive. In the moment probably isn’t the best time. Wait until you can approach it from a more neutral place so that you are able to engage respectfully and hear their point of view, too. Sometimes compromising is necessary, and respectful, receptive conversations lead to compromise more naturally. Many parents worry that “changing the rules” will confuse their child, but when the change is coming from a place of respecting another’s needs, it actually creates the opportunity for your child to learn several valuable skills. It enhances their ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, it reinforces the idea that different environments and different people require different ways of being and behaving, and it supports their development of resilience.
Have you ever felt challenged by parenting peer pressure? How did you handle it?
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