One of the more surprising byproducts of becoming a parent for me was the sudden introduction to a mild form of social isolation; the weird tension that existed when I chose a different route/method/strategy of parenting than my close circle of friends. It’s out of my wheelhouse; I have never typically rushed toward controversy or conflict. I shy away from it to a fault, downplaying my own passions and beliefs so that I might make others feel better about the decisions they’re making. It’s a big reason I wrote this – a post that still holds deep meaning for me – and is one of my daily struggles, the attempt to overcome people-pleasing and instead fix my eyes on the unseen.
Immediately after becoming a parent, I felt as if I had to add a disclaimer to every statement I made concerning our parenting decisions. We chose a home birth because it was right for our family. We decided to nurse because it felt right for me. We didn’t co-sleep because it wasn’t a good fit for us. I suddenly had to work extra hard to choose my words with great care, so as not to offend anyone who had endured a C-section or mixed formula or welcomed a baby into their bed. So I grew vague. I watered down my convictions. And at some point, I realized it was less work to just throw up my hands and pronounce “To each their own.”
And I believe in that philosophy, to some degree. I do. But I also believe that we are a great many things, and the danger in becoming billboards for our lifestyles is that we are allowing our decisions (thus, the decisions of others) to define us. We create an identity that rolls off the tongue, brushing wide strokes over complicated details. I’m an attachment parent. I’m a working mother. I’m a Christian. I’m a feminist. I’m a this. Hear me roar.
And here’s what happens. We bump into someone else who shares a completely opposite identity – a different I am – and because we have labeled ourselves in only black vs white – we cannot find the gray. We cannot see that we are all mothers, all women, all humans, all children of God. And we begin to fill in the blanks ourselves, based solely on the identities we’re sporting. She thinks I’m wrong. She thinks I’m less. She thinks I’m crazy, or non-researched, or callous, or uptight.
We see the what, not the why. We see the how, not the who. We do not allow space for contradictions. We are creating 1-dimensional versions of ourselves, flattening our identities into profiles that read good on paper – loud and proud and certain. And for every profile that reads good on paper, we subtly conjure up the opposite – our antithesis identity – the one that reads wrong.
And then it’s an Us vs. Them. A Me vs. You. Work or stay home? Show the beauty or show the mess? Nursing or formula? Public school or home school?
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – this is not a fence I want to build. So today, I’m stripping down the titles and the labels and the definitions. Because the reality – the deepest, deepest truth there is – is that we are exactly the same. We all share the same definition – the smallest root of similarity that sprouts into the strongest, thickest, most important vine of all.
And that’s a billboard I’d love to don.