Stressing out over what people think is never a good idea for yourself; it can be particularly harmful when it causes you to question your knowledge of and gut-instincts about parenting your kids. Caring too much about what other people think about your parenting doesn’t just create stress, it interferes with your confidence as a parent and your satisfaction with family life overall.
Did you think peer pressure is only for middle-school kids? Think again. Parents feel pressure from their peers, friends, and family (perhaps especially from family) on topics ranging from healthy eating to corporal punishment.
This isn’t just about what you feel about parenting; peer pressure can affect the parenting decisions you make and, by extension, your kids’ well-being. We’re social creatures; we’re designed to feel social pressure and conform to the group; it promotes social unity and group survival. But what about when the prevailing social opinions and so-called “common sense” is unhealthy, misguided or just flat-out wrong? In that case it’s irresponsible to use the opinions of those around you as a basis for parenting decisions.
The only real responsible way to make decisions regarding your kids is to consider the opinion of the foremost experts on your kids: you, the parent. Mix in expert advice from multiple sources that have a track-record of being right (like the National Institute of Health), and you’re more likely to make a decision that’s in your child’s best interest.
Make sure you’re basing impactful decisions on external expertise and experience from reliable sources, not just the casual opinions of others or even your own instincts. It can be easy to fall into an echo chamber of people and websites that agree with you. You’re more likely to make a good decision when you take multiple sources of information into account, and it’s worth it to do the research when it’s your child’s health and well-being at stake. A lot of people would demand a second opinion from a doctor or a mechanic, but they’ll trust a single article they read online.
A good example of where the opinions of others and responsible parenting clash is with the recent controversy over vaccines. There was a huge discussion in the media about whether vaccines, or chemicals in them, caused crippling illnesses or even autism. But the experts (namely doctors and scientists) never found any evidence for harm caused, either by vaccines or by the preservatives they contain.
Even without any evidence, a huge number of parents are shunning vaccines, not because they have actual reasons to believe that they don’t work or that they have detrimental side-effects, but because a celebrity like Jenny McCarthy said loudly and publicly that they do. What’s worse, people like McCarthy often backed up by pseudo-experts with questionable motives. The results? Rates of diseases like whooping cough have started to increase dramatically. Misinformation, passed on by friends and family members who don’t have all the facts, is endangering kids’ lives.
So, we see a lot of parents making the decision not to vaccinate based on bad recommendations from popular culture and things they hear in passing from other parents, not on the actual expert opinion of the medical community, which is that vaccines are safe and necessary for children. Examples like this should make us extremely skeptical of people presenting themselves as authorities on a particular subject, because relying on just one or two sources of information may not help you get to the truth.
I don’t want to try to scare anyone; that’s not the point of this post. But I do want to encourage people to arm themselves with information and trust their own judgment when it comes to their kids. And, as parents, we should be okay with being wrong sometimes. Changing our minds is good when a good enough reason comes along.
Parenting is a long journey, and nobody gets it all right. My parents made mistakes, and I do, too. But I can feel confident and satisfied with myself as a parent because I know that I’ll do my best no matter what information and resources I have available. And I won’t feel bad about my decisions just because someone else doesn’t approve.
What kind of social pressure do you deal with over your parenting style or decisions? How do you deal with criticism?
image by Young Urban Moms