Repenting for parenting evangelism

December 1 | Guest post by Rodrigues
Gerry Visco, Inner Beauty Parlor / 20090819.10D.51626.C1.BW / SML
Photo by See-ming Lee, used with Creative Commons license.
Forgive me mommas, for I have sinned: today I repent for parenting evangelism.

I bet you have all met mothers like me.  I am the mom who can't wait to tell you my parenting tips and philosophies, as if I am some kind of mothering-savior-guru-priestess.  I think I know everything.  I even have charts.

I know why parenting evangelists—people who constantly suggest their parenting philosophies— are annoying and insulting.  I give advice where it is not wanted.  I ruin pleasant kid-centered conversations by turning them didactic.  I even make people feel guilty.  Listen to what I learned in developmental psych!  Listen to the latest research on phthalates! Have you looked at the ingredients on that? I know that for other parents, this translates to: Listen to what I think you are doing wrong!

Of course, insinuating another mother is doing something "wrong" or acting like a pseudo-expert is not my intention.  And on top of that, it is not what I think I am doing in the moment.  When I am talking with other parents, it seems so innocuous… Naturally this mom wants me to tell her about mineral sunscreen!  Hadn't I wished someone had told me sooner? To me, I am trying to be helpful; to the person enduring my sermon, I am one more voice shouting recommendations, suggestions, even chastisement.

It is only in retrospect that I realize I may as well be handing out propaganda pamphlets while wearing a sign around my neck threatening parenting damnation, decorated with poorly painted flames.

It is only in retrospect that I realize I may as well be handing out propaganda pamphlets while wearing a sign around my neck threatening parenting damnation, decorated with poorly painted flames.  And what usually arouses this retrospect?  When I am the one being preached at.  Haven't we all had that moment when we needed an ear and instead got an earful?  People like me bug the shit out of me.  Who the hell do I think I am?

I think us would-be converters have a set of common motives.  First of all, I'm a believer, damn it!  When I hit upon something that helps me get through a particular parenting issue, the excitement of the discovery blinds me to something I already know: people don't want advice unless they specifically ask for it.

Second, there is the search for my mamahood-congregation: a body of like-minded thinkers who prove I'm not crazy.  To prove I did something "right."  I will admit I believe there is a thread of insecurity in my evangelistic tendency.  Parenting feels like such an enormous mental and moral weight, the dissonance in wondering if my efforts are pointed in the right direction can be brutal.  Sometimes, as I am talking about my mothering decisions, when I know I am coming off as a know-it-all, what I hear myself really saying is, "I did the best I could.  I am going down with this ship.  Is anyone with me?"

I am making a pledge: I will try to keep parenting propaganda to myself unless it is specifically asked for.  I will continue to search through and share my experiences here, where you can tell me to shut it with a click away from the page.  But I will try to free you polite nodders in my everyday life from my philosophical mom banter.  You heard that right, playgroup moms, sisters and pregnant girl behind me in class — I promise. 

Look, I even made a chart:

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  1. this made me laugh this morning, I never really thought about how telling people what you were trying or doing could be asking for approval. Maybe when I'm feeling insecure i can just say "what do you think of this that i'm trying?"

    1 agrees
  2. Maybe its just me but I actually love when other moms share with me what they learned along the way. Now as the post said, I can't stand the "my way is BETTER then your way" moms – actually people for that matter. But for me its all in the tone. If a mom has a let me share with you tone, I'm all ears. If the advice is not part of my parenting agenda I just ignore it. But especially in areas that are really confusing to new comers – cloth diapering for me – I've gotten some really good (unsolicited but wanted) advice.

    3 agree
    • Yes, as someone newly pregnant without many mom friends, often advice presented in a non-judgmental and helpful manner is so so so welcome. But I've also already received some clearly unwanted ass-vice.

      I think if you pay attention it's easy to tell if mom you're about to preach to is asking for help or simply needing to vent about a problem. Sometimes I just need to complain a bit about my morning sickness. I don't always need to know that standing on one foot and closing your left eye really helped with your nausea. If I need advice, I'll ask, and I do, and I usually get a lot of help when I see it.

      1 agrees
  3. Reading this I realized that I will probably end up being this type of mom. I get way too excited when I find something cool that works and I just have to tell everyone and I can usually tell that most people don't care or they think I'm being annoying and should shut up.
    I think we moms need to figure out how to give out advice [even when it isn't wanted] without coming off as "I'm better than you".

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  4. another element that makes all the difference for me about unsolicited advice is whether it is delivered as an "offering" where one feels free to take or leave what is personally relevant for them, or when it is delivered in a bludgeoning manner by someone is WAY too invested in the advice being chewed, swallowed, and assimilated immediately, and any reluctance or resistance or withdrawal results in more forceful delivery or the deliverer becoming wounded and angry. (can you tell i've recently been through this?)

    2 agree
  5. Haha! I AM you, only less self-aware. I too shall make this pledge, because as you so aptly stated:

    "People like me bug the shit out of me. Who the hell do I think I am?"

    Also, great chart. I love charts. 🙂

    2 agree
  6. Ahhhh, so fabulous! Hearing (reading/seeing) someone else admit to a 'sin of parenthood' makes it so much easier to cope with and try to correct my own… Thanks for sharing!

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  7. hahaha….i am definitely like this sometimes…and not just with "parenting" things. health, what foods should/shouldnt eat, meds, etc. anything new i find interesting or "important" i can always edge into a conversation!! but i try to nonchalant about it. and i love the chart!! funny and informative at the same time! 🙂

    1 agrees
  8. Thanks for posting this. Makes me feel better about all the frustrating talking-tos I've had lately.

    Also, the only unsolicited advice I ever give is: only give this statement as advice, or advice that is asked for — otherwise keep your mouth shut.

    <3

  9. Love it, Rod! For the record, I don't recall ever thinking that you come off this way, but I appreciate your thoughtful self-reflection all the same! I think this is a great reminder for LOTS of situations, not just parenting. "Haven’t we all had that moment when we needed an ear and instead got an earful?" Brilliant.

    On an unrelated note, I definitely thought that was Better Midler in the photograph accompanying this article at first glance. I'm still only 65% sure it's not…even though it would make 0% sense if it were. :o)

    • Ha! It's not her. I forget this woman's name, the photo is the product of a Creative Commons search for "woman lecturing" or something like that. 🙂

  10. Where is this woman's blog? Or does she just post for OBM occasionally? I "heart" her!

  11. Haha, when I was a new mom, I unfortunately think I came off this way. I was just so excited about learning new mom-things! Now I realize how annoying I probably was, and I really try to not give any advise unless solicited.

  12. Thank you for posting this. I wish all parents (even dads can fall into this trap–I've seen it happen) were this self-aware.

  13. Haha I have only had one friend who was a serious parenting evangelist. I truly believe that she's clueless about how she comes across. We don't live near each other anymore, but back when we used to see each other on a daily basis, I became very bold about expressing my disinterest when she really got going on her tirades. No reaction from her at all. I made virtually no eye contact, checked my phone, said hi to other people (hoping they would save me)but she was totally oblivious and continued talking with no evidence that she noticed what I was doing (thinking or feeling). She is a very sweet, good hearted person and I know she didn't mean to come across as preaching but oh boy…she did! That being said, I LOVE being facebook friends with her because there's no possibility of being held hostage by her rants.

  14. I get so excited when someone asks me for my opinion on parenting issues and sometimes I can go too far. It's easy to do isn't it? We have all of this parenting knowledge and we're just so eager to share it with anyone who'll listen but sometimes we're not being careful about how our "opinions" might make someone else feel.

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