Who’s on your cheering squad?
It may be an instinctive urge that makes relatives (and even total strangers!) want to ensure that all is well with a new baby by making comments on baby’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Unfortunately, what is intended as concern by the speaker can sound like criticism to a parent. A simple question like, “Are you sure the baby is getting enough?” can puncture the confidence of a new mother or father. Worry and sleep deprivation can make even the most benign remark seem like an attack.
When you are a parent, perhaps more than any other time in your life, you need supportive comments and encouraging words. You need people around you who are confident that you are a competent adult who cares about your child and is doing your best in the ever changing, ever challenging job of parenting. People who let you know they have confidence in you. You need a cheering squad.
How do you get a cheering squad?
Method 1. Scouting and try-outs. Potential cheerleaders can be found among your friends and relatives and in the services, classes, and support groups available to families in the community and online. Not every class or group will suit you, but you need to try it to find that out. Is the facilitator supportive? Is information offered in an understanding and respectful way?
Quality parenting education acknowledges your strengths and cheers you on; it helps you find ways to be the kind of parent you want to be.
The other parents in a class or group may also become cheerleaders for you. They are dealing with the same challenges that you are facing. Hearing from others and sharing about your own experiences puts things in perspective. You may realize how many things are going well for you as well as get new ideas to try for the things you are struggling with.
You may find you can be a cheerleader for others. At almost every La Leche League meeting I lead, a mother who faced a breastfeeding difficulty a month or two ago, offers encouragement to another mother experiencing the same problem.
Method 2. Training those around you.
A good place to start is with your own self-talk. It takes more effort to think about and to acknowledge the things you have done right, and the progress you have made, than to notice what went wrong. But you can strengthen the “notice what’s good” muscle just as you can strengthen any other muscle.
Accept compliments. Stephen Bavolek, creator of the Nurturing Parenting curriculum, points out that not accepting a compliment is like not accepting a paycheck for a job well done.
Start training those around you by noticing what they have done and complimenting them on it. Say Thank You. Explain how their actions helped you and your child. Give them suggestions for other helpful things they can do. Tell friends and loved ones when you need encouragement.
When the comments that upset you come from those who love you, try to locate and address the concern in the criticism. Sometimes a comment is really a defense of the childrearing practices of the speaker. If you choose to do something differently from what your parents or friends did, they may interpret your choice as a criticism of their parenting. They may need reassurance that they did a good job, too!
You are a smart, caring, and competent parent. Three cheers for you!
Originally published on Parenting Success Network, November 9, 2013