Thursday, December 29, 2005

Negotiating Raising Baby

When most people think of their children, they think of the baby and toddling years as fun and wonderful and maybe a little hectic. The problems seem not to be there until the teen years in our minds, but once baby gets here, you will realize that you will be fighting battles on how baby is raised from the very moment of baby's birth.

Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who gets along with his or her parents and in-laws. Everyone is on the same page about baby and how to raise the most wonderful little person. It is likely, however, that you are not in this situation. I certainly am not. While I love my family very much, they are intent on creating a "boy's boy" who will be rough and tough and plays only with Tonka trucks and Hot Wheels. My in-laws are the same. What is worse is that my son received no fewer than three John Deere gifts for Christmas.

Now, I have nothing against the tractor company. I grew up in a farming family, so it is only natural that my son is lavished with farm-oriented gifts. And I am moderately grateful that a woman figure sits atop the bulldozer that my mom purchased for my son.

It is just that my husband and I feel so strongly about raising a gender-neutral boy. While my family did not cringe when I mentioned that my son likes dolls and wanted one, my mother-in-law rolled her eyes. How do you deal with these types of family conflicts with your baby?

Well, for me, the first answer is to decide how much conflict you want. If it is something that is a major issue for you, then it is worth it to speak up. Other situations are tolerable. My mother, for example, believes in hovering over my son far more than I do. While it means a few bumps and bruises, they are worth it for the teaching it does. But while I am at my parents' house, I will let them hover if they want to. It just is not that big of a deal.

If you are dealing with family conflicts that are more serious, such as racist or homophobic remarks within earshot of your child, then it is best to approach it gently. While it may make your blood boil and your internal reaction may be to scream, "what is wrong with you?" it is best to avoid that confrontation. Try simply saying, "we don't believe that" or directing a message to your child to let her know that you disagree.

Another option is to use the diffuse with laughter theory of conflict. While it is more passive aggressive, it can work because family confrontations are difficult. Try saying, "oh, you know that is wrong" with a smile or making a joke directed to let the offending party know that you are not amused.

If the problem persists, then you should ask your aunt, uncle, grandpa or whomever to watch the remarks or actions around your child. It is unlikely that you will change that person's views, so do not attempt it. Instead just explain that you would appreciate not having to explain why you disagree to your child every time you visit, so could he please reserve those comments when you are around.

Finally, you will need to talk to your child. Even a baby can understand, "no." Older babies begin to have a sense that Mommy is unhappy. You can help out by explaining when you leave that Uncle Jim was being racist and that you do not appreciate his humor. Just be sure that you back up your comments by exposing your baby to a diverse culture or people, books, and toys.

While it may seem silly to everyone else that you are worried about these problems with a baby, you need to stand firm now. It will be much more difficult with a child of even three or four if you have not told everyone, including your little one, how you feel right now. Also know that your comments could cause problems in the family, but remind yourself (often, if necessary) that the price of your baby's values and beliefs are worth some discomfort on your part.

By Julia Mercer

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