Guest Post by, Rebecca Alexander.
Whether you are new to this whole natural mama movement or a veteran crunchy mom, you’ve probably realized that while some elements of a natural lifestyle are gaining mainstream acceptance, the world is still full of skeptics, naysayers, and haters.
We’ve all heard the critics.
“You’re doing WHAT with your placenta?”
“Eating organic is a waste of money,”
“Home birth? Isn’t that super dangerous?”
“Homeschooling will lead to awkward kids who can’t cope in the real world.”
Ouch. Perhaps some of these sound frustratingly familiar. Here are my tips on how we natural moms can build our tribes and find allies in a culture that doesn’t always get us.
Tip 1: Choose your battles and set your boundaries. Identify the people in your life who are likely to cause mischief and set your expectations and boundaries accordingly, not just with them, but with yourself. Not everyone is going to be understanding and supportive. Remember, you choose who you answer to. While it’s worth it to engage with some people, the majority of those who aren’t supportive or understanding of your choices don’t have any bearing on your day to day life anyways, so why would you waste your time trying to defend your choices to hostile acquaintances and randos? You don’t need to be on the same page when it comes to circumcision as someone you haven’t seen since high-school, and your spouse’s great aunt who you see once every 3 years doesn’t get a vote on whether you send your preschooler to a Montessori school or to a traditional preschool. Heck, these people don’t even need to know about your personal parenting choices in the first place. Sometimes though, it’s unavoidable. So if they do know and decide to be shady with their reactions, it’s good for a crunchy mom to be prepared to shut that negativity train down quickly and courteously before it arrives at her home station. Everyone has their own style for doing this. Here is a quick list of solid avoidance strategies:
- Change the subject, “So, where are you and Uncle Ed going on vacation this year?”
- Declare that you will “agree to disagree,” (and then change the subject). “Well, different strokes for different folks. So, did you change your hair?”
- Excuse one’s self from the conversation, “I’d love to stay and chat but Jr. needs a nap.”
Tip 2: Listen, learn, and honor first. So, I know I basically just said, “get good at shutting down the haters,” but there’s got to be a balance. Most of us aren’t looking for our circles to be filled only with yes men, but would rather live among a diverse group of people with differing perspectives, but who share the common value of respect, care, and harmony. But to be able to attract that sort of circle, you have to live out those values yourself. Listening is one of the easiest ways to show respect for another person’s opinion, even when you don’t agree. The next step is to learn. When your best friend has an uncharacteristically unsupportive reaction to the idea of you doing a home birth with a midwife, you could jump right in demanding why she’s so opinionated on your birth, or defensively demand to know why she isn’t supporting you. But you’ll learn more if you ask her to elaborate on her feelings. In the course of the listening, you will likely discover the reasons for her lack of supportiveness don’t come from her not caring about you, but rather from bad information (maybe she’s under the impression that home births are universally unsafe, and she’s worried you’ll die), or for reasons that are personal to her (she comes from a long line of medical professionals and interprets the decision to choose a midwife over a doctor as lack of appreciation for the good work that many of them do daily).
Once you have an idea the root cause of why someone is opposing you, find the good and honor it. Back to our midwife-phobic best friend example, here are some responses that identify the honorable things about her perspective. “Thanks for giving me your input, I think it’s sweet that you are so concerned about my safety. I’m really lucky to have a friend that cares so deeply for me,” or “I know your family has a rich history of serving their communities through rescue work and practicing medicine, I really appreciate that. I want you to know that my decision to have a home birth isn’t made from a place of hatred or fear of doctors.” An answer that honors the other person’s perspective quickly diffuses the situation and reminds you both that you’re on each other’s side.
Tip 3: Share information in attractive ways. This is a tricky one, it could almost be its own article. Most of us are pretty passionate about our crunchy choices and excited to share our views on everything from babywearing to fermentation to raising our own food. However, in some contexts, there can also be a lot of anxiety and even dread when revealing our beliefs and practices that aren’t mainstream. The anxiety is usually tied to a fear of rejection. Remember that your goal isn’t necessarily to get your listeners to agree with you- at the end of the day, you can’t really change anyone’s mind but your own, so take the pressure off of yourself and realize if they choose to reject your beliefs or even worse, dismiss you as person, that’s on them, it’s not about you anyways.
So if your goal isn’t to change their minds, what is it? When we share information it’s always about opening minds and expanding perspective. We may not change an opinion, but if we can help bring them to a place of at least understanding our perspective even if they don’t agree with it, then we’re halfway there on gaining an ally.
How we present our information is just as important as the content itself. Here are a few guidelines for presenting information in a persuasive and non-threatening way.
- Present your case personally. When recruiting advocates, your goal isn’t necessarily to convince them to adopt the belief themselves, it’s to get them to respect you and your beliefs enough to be able to support you in a meaningful way. So when you decide to go vegan, you don’t need all of your friends to do it with you, you just need your friends to be understanding enough of why it’s a good choice for you, and to not give you too hard of a time about it when you no longer partake in steak and queso.
- Keep the tone of your message upbeat and non-judgmental.
- Be honest about the limitations of your choices (yes, cloth diapering is more work, but you find the advantages to be worth the inconveniences)
- Cater to your audience- while your husband might devour long scholarly articles about the health benefits of extended breastfeeding, your sister might be overwhelmed if you sent her a library of reading materials. She may just be interested to know that the WHO recommends it and that your pediatrician signed off on it.
- Beware the internet, for some reason, Facebook has a way of bringing out the inner troll in some of the nicest people; whenever possible opt for a quiet conversation in a coffee shop instead.
Tip 4: Ask for what you need. This is my favorite way to get advocates. Don’t be afraid to be upfront about what support looks like for you. Often times, our friends, family, and caregivers want to support us, they just don’t know how. Whether it’s asking the Labor and Delivery nurse to keep silent during contractions because you aren’t on pain meds, or asking your in-laws to limit the grandkids’ screen time when they come to visit, or asking your bff to choose a restaurant with organic options for the next girls night, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need specifically and directly. It’s better to ask and get a “no, sorry” than to have never even tried to recruit support.
Tip 5: Don’t sweat the No’s. When building a network of supporters and advocates, you’re going to get told “no.” No, your neighbor friend doesn’t have enough time to commit to caring for a shared veggie garden. No, your local city government isn’t interested in helping set up a farmers’ market. No, your spouse isn’t able to get off of work for a week long childbirth preparation retreat. Being told no is a part of the community building process. Keep asking, keep reaching out. Don’t give up.
Tip 6: Join up. There’s already a lot of crunchy community out there. You just need to find it. Whether you are into canning food or alternative medicine, likely there is already an online group for you. Sometimes you can even find local groups or clubs that connect you to other natural-minded mommies.
Tip 7: Form partnerships and be the support you want to have. A core element to building your tribe is being willing to give out support just as often as you receive it. Rally around other moms on their journeys to wellness and sustainability. Make dinner for a new mom, offer to host play dates, take the time to share your experiences and tips when they’d be helpful, or just offer encouragement when you see the need. People who are willing to advocate for others with no strings attached usually find that they have plenty of allies during their times of need.
Tip 8: Show gratitude. Don’t forget to say thank you to your current network for all the ways they’ve supported you. You’ll find that not only does sincere gratefulness attracts more support, it strengthen and sweetens relationships that are already established. People like be there for people who truly appreciate them and are quick to show it in meaningful ways.
Those are my tips for cultivating an amazing tribe of support and community. I’d love to hear about your tribe and the times that these strategies worked for you. Have more tribe-nurturing tips to share? We’d love to hear them, comment below!
Rebecca Alexander is life-coach and freelance writer who enjoys coffee dates with her hubby, nurturing her 3 young daughters, and spending time alone writing, painting, or cooking. An Austin, TX native, she is on a never-ending journey to incorporate as many of her passions into daily life as she can, while supporting her favorite people in pursuing theirs, and still getting dinner on the table on time. You can find her on her Facebook page, The Refinery .
Check out Rebecca’s other writings:
Dreams and Getting Somewhere
Getting Along with your Bonus Person