Bean Dip

I think every new mom struggles with how to process the unsolicited advice and opinions of those around her. And when it comes to “alternative” parenting choices, doing things “differently” is subject to a lot of raised eyebrows.

Last week at swim class, after Coraline and I had gotten into the pool, an elderly woman called out to me as she descended the stairs into the shallow end. “I’m going to say something I perhaps shouldn’t.”

What a way to start a conversation.

“I don’t like necklaces on children,” she continued as she pushed towards us, referring to the amber teething necklace around Coraline’s neck.

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“It’s a teething necklace,” I said with a smile.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of necklace it is,” she shot back. “They can choke.”

I took a deep breath, feeling familiarly defensive and mildly annoyed. “She’s been wearing it for months and so far no problems. I watch her closely. Thank you for your concern.” She said nothing more, and slid silently under the lane divider.

“You handled that very well,” the swim instructor whispered to me, amused. I appreciated the compliment, as the woman’s public criticism had me feeling insecure, and worried that I’d been rude. “You must get that a lot.”

“I do, actually,” I told her. Which reminded me of bean dip. Not the kind you put your chips in (or the hummus variety Coraline is so fond of), but the “bean dip strategy” one of my like-minded mama friends shared with me several weeks ago.

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I think every new mom struggles with how to process the unsolicited advice and opinions of those around her. And when it comes to certain parenting choices which are labeled “alternative” — such as co-sleeping, baby wearing, not or selective vaccinating, not circumcising, extended breastfeeding, cloth diapering, or homeschooling — there is a heightened sensitivity on the part of the parent by virtue of the fact they (okay, we) are doing things “differently,” and are therefore subject to a lot of raised eyebrows. Light parent-to-parent conversation can quickly become tense and even hostile. Because it is taken on good faith that all parents are making the best choices they can for the well being of their child, it’s as if there is an omniscient referee saying one of you must be wrong. It’s an unpleasant dynamic. That’s why this bean dip idea is so great.

Rather than paraphrase, here’s the basic concept as originally written:

It’s something I’ve learned in my years of parenting using alternative ideas. The specifics may change, but the principal doesn’t. When setting boundaries, people (often moms) typically confuse setting the boundary with trying to convince the other person about how right they are in needing to set the boundary. In setting boundaries, we don’t need to convince the other person we are right and they don’t have to agree about the boundary. We just need to be prepared to enforce the boundary, at any cost, using progressively more firm responses (if need be). Also, don’t confuse setting boundaries with trying to convince someone of the rightness of your choices. New [attachment parenting] moms often struggle with this. The boundary is that no one else has a right to tell you how to parent and create a hostile environment. You set boundaries by doing the above. Where new moms often invite problems is by citing authors, studies and sites to “defend” themselves. Each time you do so, you create more time for discussion and rebuttal and send the message that your decisions are up for debate. Don’t defend your choices beyond generalities, and then only once or twice. “The doctor is in support of our choices. Want some bean dip?”

For the full bean dip strategy, click here. What do you Valley mamas think? Share your parenting stories — and how you handled them — below.

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