Other People’s Choices

Things I have heard said (not necessarily all to me) in the past week:

“What?! That baby is nine months old and woke up in the middle of the night? That’s because that mother is doing something WRONG.”

“What?! That baby sleeps in a crib in a different room? What if she NEEDS her mother?”

“You just need to tell her what to do, because she doesn’t know anything.”

“I know I do too much for my children. Way more than you.”

“I should be more like you.”

“She needs to…..”

“I’m gay, and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.”

“I don’t like the ‘gay agenda’ and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.”

“Paula Deen’s the worst. Hers is the face of racism and as a white person I like pointing my finger at her because it means I don’t have to deal with my own stuff.” Or on the other hand, “Why’s everyone so upset at Paula Deen? That was a long time ago and people need to just get over it. Racism was super terrible. Glad that’s over.” Ok, ok, no one actually said these exact words, but I definitely heard this subtext in a lot of places…

It’s enough to make a person’s head spin.
The reason all of these statements are lumped together in the same post is that I’m noticing a lot of us are having trouble separating ourselves from the choices of people around us. And the more we love them, the harder it is. If someone around us makes a different choice than we do, we are forced to recognize that there are different ways to do things. And if there are different ways to do things, then how do we know the way that we picked is the best? Or what if it isn’t the best? In parenting this is hard, because in many cases we won’t know if our kids end up in therapy or prison or medical school or all of the above for another 20 years or so. In religion this is hard, because it is so easy to fall into the trap worshipping our own understanding of who God is. If we are doing that, then if one part of our understanding comes into question it is easy to feel like everything is crumbling apart. In other areas, well, all I can say is that if we base our entire philosophical understanding of life on the understanding that a set of ideas is correct, then anything that appears to challenge those ideas is scary. Scary is bad, so instead of admitting that it’s scary it’s a natural human response to want to discredit something so we don’t have to deal with it. Natural human responses are not necessarily always what we should act on. Just saying.

Is there a way we can engage people around our differences without making their choices about us? Is that even possible? I try. Because I think that if I can learn about why you are doing something the way you are, I will know more. It doesn’t mean that I’ll do everything your way, and it doesn’t mean that I need you to change to validate my choices. So what does that look like in practice? I’m still working that out (I believe that’s a life-long process). Let’s take a trip through those statements again, but inside my brain.

Once more, with commentary:

“What?! That baby is nine months old and woke up in the middle of the night? That’s because that mother is doing SOMETHING WRONG.” No. No it’s not. It’s because babies are biologically designed to sleep lightly so they don’t stop breathing and die. Some babies naturally can put themselves back to sleep without crying, some babies are left to cry until they give up and go back to sleep, and some babies are picked up each time. There are as many ways to parent as there are children in the world.

“What?! That baby sleeps in a crib in a different room? What if it NEEDS its mother?” There are as many ways to parent as there are children in the world.

“You just need to tell her what to do, because she doesn’t know anything.” THERE ARE AS MANY WAYS TO PARENT AS THERE ARE CHILDREN IN THE WORLD.

“I know I do too much for my children. Way more than you.” You doing more for your children than I do for mine doesn’t mean that you are a ‘helicopter mom’ any more than it means that I don’t love my kids. Neither of those things are true. We do differently, and that’s ok. There are as many….well, you know.

“I should be more like you.” Nope. One of me is enough. I could find any number of people to back me up on this if you don’t believe me. Also, I’ve spent a lot of energy at different points trying to change myself to be like other people. It wasted my time and just made me a less effective version of myself.

“She just needs to…..” Live in a world with less judgment? Be encouraged by people who care about her? Understand her value? Eat food? Drink water? Oh…you are making a judgmental statement about her behavior again. How disappointing.

“I’m gay, and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.” I think this came from a place of hurt because many times people take one another’s decisions very personally and sometimes do so in less than examined ways. If you know and love a gay person who is coming out and you have a problem with gay-ness, maybe try to recognize that you should probably find a safe space to process that out and don’t dump it all over him (or her). He has enough going on. Or if you do talk to him about it, please at least make sure that he knows your feelings are not his fault. He has enough going on. If you know a gay person who is coming out and do not love him, please leave him alone. You have enough going on.

“I don’t like the gay rights agenda and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.” This attitude makes very little sense to me now, in retrospect…I hear a lot of conservative people say that homosexuality is a choice or an action, not an identity. If that is true (now that I know actual gay people I doubt very much that it’s that simple), then why should we distill our entire understanding of someone down to one thing we know about them?

“Paula Deen’s the worst. Hers is the face of racism and as a white person I like pointing my finger at her because it means I don’t have to deal with my own stuff.” Or on the other hand, “Why’s everyone so upset at Paula Deen? That was a long time ago and people need to just get over it. Racism was super terrible. Glad that’s over.” Sigh...Back away slllooowwly…please consider reading this post from Kristen Howerton or this other post that I wrote, and then maybe we can have a thoughtful conversation with each other about this.

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