Or perhaps, who should we ignore?
With my tongue firmly in cheek, my favourite part of literary legend and progressive school principal John Marsden’s critique of modern parenting is that we parents would be forced to face our failures if only someone would tell us that we’re missing the mark.
The truth is that parents can’t sneeze without being told we’re screwing up our kids and every second opinion on what should be done contradicts the first.
So whether you’re a free range parent, a helicopter parent or anything in between, it’s important to know how to choose the advice to listen to when you can see that what you’re doing isn’t working for your kids, for you, or both.
Any use of shame, guilt or judgement by a parenting expert is a red flag, letting you know that you’re best to take what resonates and let go of anything else the person says, knowing it’s not right for your family and that person likely doesn’t have the skills to help you work out what will achieve the same goal in a way that works for your family.
The reason people use shame, guilt and judgement as persuasive tools is that they care very much about you oryour child, they believe they know better than you do about how to fix the problem and they don’t know how to help you understand this. So they rely on our human drive, as social animals, to be part of the community to compel you to change your wayward ways.
What they haven’t yet learned is that there is a reason why you don’t want to use the strategies they’re proposing, whether you know what it is or not.
And the key to finding a strategy that works for everyone involved lies within the reason for your reluctance to follow their advice.
It is the flawed, patriarchal thought pattern of “my way is right, I have no interest in why you disagree and you’ll be fine if you just do what I say” that is the very construct needing to change in order to solve all of the major challenges of our time. From the gender pay gap, to getting asylum seekers out of indefinite detention on Nauru and Manus, to halting and reversing climate change and whether your child did, in fact, ask for toast triangles.
The parent-shamers don’t recognise that the extent to which we feel shame negatively impacts our ability to uncover what the barriers are to sustainable and inclusive solutions and identifying what those solutions could be.
Sadly, their well intentioned plan is actually making things worse.
The reason parent-shamers don’t see this is that they’re unable to sit in the discomfort of not having solved the problem.
What parent-shamers are reacting to within the changes evident in parenting in this generation is that we haven’t yet figured out what will work but we aren’t willing to maintain the status quo until we do and quite frankly it scares them.
Whereas we know in our adult lives, and in our parenting, that maintaining the status quo is suffocating experimentation and finding a better way forward.
We are no longer willing to be quiet while we are fed paper-thin excuses about why simply paying women the same as men for the same job requires a solution decades in the making (and counting!), just as we are no longer willing to tell our children that they must listen to authority without question, even if the issue is as small as being told not to get upset about the toast.
So life is getting messy.
And it’s this messiness that parent-shamers are reacting to when they say we’re too soft or not “being the adult”, when in fact these are the symptoms of a cultural shift that is evident in the #metoo movement, the #timesup movement and Black Lives Matter in the USA. We’re demanding change of ourselves and others and we’re willing to get messy to get through.
So when we refuse to use parenting strategies that don’t sit right with us we’re protecting our chance to practice the skills parents and children need to find a way forward that doesn’t rely on patriarchal faith in authority.
It’s therefore nothing short of crucial that we ignore parent-shamers and advocate for our peers and for our children to be encouraged to sit in the discomfort of not knowing how to solve our problems so that we can find solutions that work for everyone involved.
In fact, the job description for parents in this generation is to learn how to thrive while we keep our eyes fixed on the immense challenges that need our attention and sit in the messiness that isn’t having found an inclusive and sustainable solution.
And to teach our children to do the same.
While it’s a monumental task, the first step is really clear, if not easy.
Whether you’re responding to parent-shamers, advocating for equal representation on company boards or dealing with toast triangle tantrums, make it your family practice to clearly and respectfully explain why their plan won’t work for you, get curious about why your plan won’t work for them and brainstorm and experiment with other options.
And when you’re next trying to validate your child’s emotions while also helping them to see that it’s just freaking toast, hear me thanking you for stepping up to the plate.