Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Accentuate the Positive

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.

Given the nature of my work as both a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor, interacting with those who parent differently than I do is a near daily occurrence. As a Parent Coach, I work with parents who have CPS (Child Protective Services) involvement, usually due to allegations of abuse or neglect. Most parents don’t abuse or neglect their children by virtue of their commitment to gentle, nurturing parenting practices, so it’s safe to say that nearly every parent I work with has a different parenting philosophy than I do. While my work as a Substance Abuse Counselor isn’t so directly focused on parenting, parenting issues certainly come up as people work to change their lives.

One thing that serves me well in maintaining compassion for those I work with is using a strength-based approach. Rather than focusing on what I think parents might be doing wrong, I seek out something they’re doing right, no matter how small, and I work to amplify and build on that strength. By finding a skill or value that I can affirm or praise, I help to build confidence in the parents I work with while strengthening my relationship with them.

When parents I work with say or do something that could potentially jeopardize the health, safety, or well-being of their children, I try to pause long enough to remind myself that a) my values are not universal values and b) that they are likely parenting the way they were parented. Many of the parents I work with were raised with different values than the ones I maintain. Many of them suffered horrible abuse and neglect at the hands of their own parents. Many of them suffer from addictions that cause them to say or do things that they’d find atrocious if they were sober. I try to remember that most parents are doing the best they can with what they have, and that “what they have” is not just material possessions or financial resources, but skills and knowledge. “When you know better, you do better,” so I work to gently guide them into learning better, so that they have the resources to do better.

Let's say I'm working with a parent who uses spanking as their primary disciplinary technique. Rather than jumping in with "spanking is bad, here's why, do this instead", I first ask the parent how spanking serves them. What do they see as the benefits of spanking? Why did they decide to use spanking? What are the drawbacks?

The answers to these questions can help me choose some alternatives that might bring about similar results and might be even more consistent with their values than spanking. But first, I ask permission. In the absence of immediate safety threats, I don't give advice until I've been invited to do so. I start by affirming something about the way they've been doing things (as difficult as that can sometimes be). For example, I might say "It's clear that you care about your children and want them to grow up to be responsible and well-behaved." Then, I ask permission: "Would it be alright if I made some suggestions? There are a few things I've tried/other parents have tried/I've learned about that might be just as effective but might feel better for both of you." Then, if they invite me to do so, I share my advice. I model some different techniques. I invite them to talk with me about what they like and dislike about what I'm suggesting. If they'd rather not hear my suggestions, then I back off and work on another angle to come back to later.

It can be a slow process, to be sure. Even so, I've found that people are more likely to make changes when they are willing participants in those changes, rather than having them forced upon them. People are rarely motivated to change by being shamed, chastised, or accused. I make them the experts about their own family; I'm just someone who has some helpful tools and knowledge that might help them further develop that expertise. I allow them to teach me, too, and always affirm those lessons, no matter how small they might seem.

By building a foundation of trust and compassion, I’m able to help parents improve their inherent strengths and develop a body of new skills and knowledge. By listening, without judgment or interpretation, I’m able to discern their primary values and help them parent in a way that is consistent with those values. I’ve found that people are more open to consider making changes when they don’t feel they’re being judged or ridiculed for the choices they have made.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)
  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.


  1. I love everything you've written! From finding something positive to asking permission before suggesting gentler alternatives - you're really making sure the parent is receptive. We could all learn something from you, I hope you write more on this topic!

  2. You have a very diplomatic and gentle approach to encouraging positive change in others. I know that personally I am more receptive when the idea that I know best for my family is enforced and we simply discuss different options available. Remembering that everyone has their own story and set of skills to draw from makes it easier to feel compassionate towards the choices they make that we disagree with. Tending to the soil first by opening up the lines of communication without condemnation makes for a great base to plant some seeds of growth!

  3. That's the perfect approach to discussing alternative ideas in parenting. I definitely find defensiveness can shut down hearing anything new. Thanks so much for these suggestions for all of us!

  4. I found your professional insight really added an extra blumph (can't think of another word to insight and my mama brain is tired!) to this discussion. Thank you for sharing.

  5. So much patience! I really applaud you, it would be easy to fly off the deep end for sure! And being right in the middle of it, you have so much opportunity to help families be better, how awesome!

  6. You spoke all kinds of truth in this! "My values are not universal values" and "Rather than focusing on what I think parents might be doing wrong, I seek out something they’re doing right, no matter how small, and I work to amplify and build on that strength" are both very important for EVERY parent to remember.

    I love that you were able to bring your professional life into this Carnival. It is a much needed perspective and one that we do not actually hear much about. The parents and families you are involved with are extraordinarily lucky to have you in their lives!

    Thank you for a really remarkable post!

  7. I love the idea of beginning a dialogue with "how does that serve you?" instead of jumping in with a "better" idea. No one wants to be part of a one-sided conversation. What an awesome way to gently approach things.

  8. I can tell you really care about your work; you aren't in it to push an agenda. You are so right on in so many ways! Absolutely, people are doing their best... even when it may seem otherwise and that they are coming from their own experiences.

    I also appreciate the note about willing participants are much more open than people who feel they are being forced to entertain someone else's idea of parenting. Thanks for doing what you do and for being who you are; I am sure many parents benefit from interacting with you. :)

  9. To change yourself is so challenging.
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