Having a high need child can make you a ready target for critics. To protect yourself and your child from unwanted and unhelpful advice, try these suggestions.
Keep your complaints private. Going public with your complaints exposes you to critics. Choose carefully to whom you gripe. Don’t ask questions you don’t want answered. If your misery must have company, seek the listening ear of like-minded friends who share your parenting philosophy, preferably ones who are also parenting a high need child.
Protect yourself. If your critics conclude you are withering away, they will feel compelled to water you with advice. They may assume that your baby is a burden to you and what you really need is a break from your baby. Set the record straight: “Actually, I love having my baby with me all the time.” In effect you are conveying, “I’m okay, I don’t need your help with the baby, thank you.” Of course, if there are other kinds of help you need — with the dishes, opening a door — now may be a good time to ask.
Comebacks for spoiling: “Babies can’t be spoiled…only nurtured.” “Babies, like food, only get spoiled if they are left unattended on a shelf.”
Shield your child. It’s easy for your child’s self-image to be affected by comments from friends and relatives. Don’t let negative vibrations rub off on your child. If you’re invited to a home where you know critics are going to give your child a “Why aren’t you like the other children?” message, don’t go. Don’t discuss your child’s challenges within his hearing.
I think my child thinks he’s bad, and that breaks my heart. I’m sure he sensed my doubts and picked up on the criticism of the other family members who thought he was just a bad boy. I reassure him he’s not bad. He’s got spirit and chutzpa. When he was three years old he told my auntie, “I’m bad, aren’t I?” This has been particularly difficult because our second child has a completely different temperament and seems to be so “good.”
Be positive. Friends and relatives will pick up on how you assess your own child. If you are negative, complaining, and seem overwhelmed by your high need child, expect friends to react the same way. But, if you seem excited and proud to have this energetic child, they will be impressed with her positive qualities rather than regarding her as your “problem child.” If a critic pronounces, “My, she is obstinate,” come back with “Yes, she’s very persistent.” When the critic says, “He’s so boisterous,” come back with “He has a lot of enthusiasm.”
Since Emily did not handle being away from me well at all, my husband and I made a decision that we will not leave her again until she is old enough to understand what is going on. Recently we have started to doubt our decision because Emily is very much, as people call her, a “mama’s girl.” She tends to fuss when she is with, or around, people she doesn’t see on a regular basis, and people act like there is something the matter with her, and they say things like, “Oh, Molly, you’ve got to get away from her.” But, I don’t want to get away from her! My mother was passing around my eight-month-old niece the other day, and as the baby went from person to person without a sound, my mother said, “Isn’t she a good baby?” I feel that Emily is a good baby, too, even though she is a high need baby. During a recent doctor visit, my mother-in-law went along to watch Emily while I was seeing the doctor. Afterward she said something that was music to my ears: “What a well-adjusted, happy child.”
Consider where the source got her parenting info. Your mother, really, has your best interest and that of her grandchild at heart, but she raised you in an era when scheduling, bottlefeeding, cribs, playpens, spanking, and fear of spoiling were standard parenting practices. Naturally, her views on child rearing will differ from yours. Accept this. Nothing divides friends and relatives like differences of opinion on raising kids. Pick out those childcare practices that you and your mother agree on, and keep the conversation centered on those; for the rest, simply agree to disagree.
The greatest challenge I have found has not been meeting the needs of my child, but responding to criticisms of our parenting style. Even our family doctor, who was wonderful throughout our pregnancy, has expressed doubts about our approach. It’s as if they believe our attentiveness has caused his personality, rather than the other way around.
My worst problem has been dealing with outside pressure, criticism, and intolerance of my parenting style — especially from my mother, who can actually be cruel and will not let things go. She insists I have made things harder for my son by breastfeeding and not using a playpen. I try hard to avoid the sleeping arrangement subject with her because she thinks I should be ashamed of myself for not putting Alan in a crib at night, but she tends to bring it up in search of an argument. She is beginning to pressure me to wean him; she has no concept of baby-led weaning and will be horrified when she hears about my plans to let him wean himself. She really enjoys her grandson (although sometimes at my expense), and I don’t want to take that away from her, but I have considered moving far away.
Surround yourself with a flow of encouragers, not critics. Don’t feel you have to defend your child or explain your parenting styles with everyone. Your child will have many critics, but only one set of parents who know what is best. Eventually, your child will become the living proof that what you have done is right. As your critics see your child blossom, they will realize that your heart did indeed lead you to the right way of parenting that child. A few may even be glad that you didn’t take their advice.