Recently, some friends and I got into a discussion — which then continued on my Facebook page — about how to politely decline a snack offer from a friend. The generic situation was this:
Two or more friends gather for a play date. All the moms have brought snacks for their own kids, but some moms have brought extras to share — to be nice! Unfortunately, the snack is something that one of the moms would prefer her children didn’t have. These moms play together often, so this isn’t a “rare treat” situation. How do you handle it?
The ironic part about this is that treading lightly is necessary. It would be perfectly fine to say, “Oh, I don’t really like chocolate,” or “My kid is allergic to wheat.” But to say, “We choose not to eat that,” suddenly…it’s a huge problem. An attitude problem. Only, it really isn’t…it’s just perceived that way.
What I Say vs. What You Hear
Unfortunately food isn’t the only area where this is true. Many “mainstream” parents feel very judged by “non-mainstream” parents like myself, because what I’ve said and what they’ve heard are not the same things. And I need to tell you, mainstream parents…usually we don’t mean what you think we mean. Really. We aren’t saying anything to judge you; we’re just sharing our family’s decision. We fully respect your right to choose for your family, and hope you feel the same about us.
Here are some examples, though, of what “I say” and what “you hear:”
I say: “We choose not to eat that food.” You hear: “That is junk food and any mom who feeds it to her kid is a bad mom.”
We meant: “I think that food is a less healthy choice for us, and/or my children don’t react well to it, but I understand and respect that others feed their children differently.”
I say: “I had my babies at home.” You hear: ”All moms who didn’t have their babies at home don’t love them, because the hospital is a terrible place.”
We meant: “I’m happy to have had the option to have my babies at home and I enjoyed the experience.”
I say: “I homeschool my children.” You hear: “I shelter my children and don’t let them out to play with other kids, who are bad influences; plus the public schools and stupid and ineffective.”
We meant: “My children’s educational needs are, at this time, best served at home. Every child is different.”
I say: “We don’t vaccinate our children/we use a selective or delayed schedule.” You hear: “Vaccines are poison and only sheeple get them.”
We meant: “We don’t believe some/all vaccines are right for our children at this time, and we respect your right to choose differently.”
I say: “I love to wear my baby/toddler in a sling.” You hear: “Strollers are baby torture devices and moms who use them don’t love their babies.”
We meant: “My baby prefers the sling but all babies are different.” (And hey, sometimes we use strollers too!)
I say: “We don’t spank.” You hear: “Spanking is child abuse.”
We meant: “Spanking isn’t a method of discipline that we choose to use, but all children/families have different needs.”
I could go on with many more examples! But you see the point…we don’t mean to judge.
Feeling Judged: Check Yourself
There have been plenty of times that I’ve been online talking with people, and I’ll make a comment like, “We don’t eat oatmeal.” And someone else says, “We love oatmeal, it’s so healthy.”
Is that a judgment? Sometimes it feels like it. If another person shares their views, and they differ strongly from yours, especially if shared right after yours (and on the internet, where it’s hard to tell what people really mean, or what their ‘tone’ is), it can really, truly, feel like a judgment!
Not so fast, though. It’s very likely that the other person is just sharing their opinion. It’s not “at” you. It’s not intended to make you feel defensive. I have to remind myself of this sometimes, too. It’s okay…they’re welcome to their opinion, as I am mine. This wasn’t a jab at me.
The internet does make it really hard because you can’t see their expression or hear their voice. In person you would know if they were smiling or glaring at you, if they were using a teasing tone, a neutral tone, or truly being judgmental. On the internet you’re left to imagine.
And you know? It’s not always that people judge (or appear to judge) because “they’re just insecure and have to put people down.” There are a whole bunch of reasons why people do or say what they do. We don’t know what they are. And we shouldn’t assume they’re about the other person’s issues, nor about ourselves. It doesn’t really matter anyway.
Do what you do, mamas. Be open to new ideas, but don’t feel pressured to change because your friend makes different choices than you do. If something she says makes you feel curious, ask. If it feels wrong for you, just smile and move on. Because we all are different, we know that too, and that’s okay.