How to Talk to People Who Disagree With Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices

How to Talk to People Who Disagree with Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices. Have family & neighbors questioning what you're choosing for your family? Try these science-based tips to help reduce conflict while still stating your mind. (Photo: A set Thanksgiving table.)

Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, I struggled to describe my job to my conservative aunt and her even more conservative neighbor. I wasn’t in the mood at the moment for a throw-down on climate change. More importantly, I wanted them to see my job – telling people about fuel-efficient and electric cars – as a good thing.  I finally settled on the energy security angle.

“I tell people about how they can use less oil in their cars. Eventually it’s going to run out, so it’s best if we can use as little as possible,” I explained.

“Well, you know, some of those old oil things, they go back to and there’s more there,” the neighbor responded.

As I stared at her and my husband tried to explain that away, she continued, “Oil has to build up faster than scientists say it does to get the amount we have, since the world’s only 8,000 years old.” I was so surprised that I had nothing to say. To put it lightly, that’s a very rare situation for me.

While this conversation was about science and my job, it could have easily been about parenting choices, green living, or politically progressive points of view. Eating a vegetarian diet, choosing not to use time-outs on your stubborn or strong-willed kid, or attending a climate change rally with your family are even more likely to draw unwanted commentary. It’s easy to want to avoid people who hold radically different perspectives, but that’s not always possible. Plus, if a topic is near and dear to your heart, you may want to try to change their mind on a topic, even if you have to talk people who disagree on it.

Here’s some tips for talking to people who disagree with your parenting, lifestyle or just point of view. Most of this is from the social science literature, so I’ve tried to link to good summaries of that literature when possible. Just as a warning – this may not be relevant for all situations. There may be times when you want to straight-up call someone out, like if they tell a racist or sexist joke.

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The Fleeting Memory of Childhood

The Fleeting Memory of Childhood. What happens when your child forgets a memory you shared? (Photos - Above, Christmas lights at the entrance to Sesame Place; bottom: Giant cookie monster
“You remember Sesame Place, right? Where we met Cookie Monster?” I said to my four-year-old casually. I was in the middle of contemplating going back sometime this fall.

“No,” he responded and shrugged.

“Really?” I said, tilting my head and squinting at him. His answer completely derailed my train of thought. Visiting Sesame Place had been his first long-term memory, or so I had thought. In fact, it was the one single event he had remembered before his brother had been born, when he was still an only child.

And just like that, it was gone.

That surprise struck me again a few weeks later. We were walking to a pedestrian bridge near our house to watch the trains pass under it. While we used to walk this route daily, Sprout has been more interested this summer in riding his bike or running around the playground than watching trains.

Walking past our neighbor’s house, we spotted their dogs, who are always outside if the weather is decent. Pointing them out to Sprout, I blanked on their names.

“Look, it’s – uh, what are their names again?” I asked.

“I don’t remember,” he said, looking confused himself. While me not remembering their names wasn’t surprising at all, him forgetting them left me with my mouth open. He and Chris walked this route every day for months. Every time, he’d stop and say hello to the dogs. He knew their names as if they were our pets.

After a few mental stumbles, I retrieved their names  – “Cupcake and Boo Boo, that’s it.”

“Oh, right,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was remembering them as well or just affirming me.

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Five Benefits of Having a Strong-Willed or Stubborn Kid

Five Benefits of Having a Strong-Willed or Stubborn Kid. Have a stubborn kid who won't do what you want? Here's some benefits you may not have considered! (Photo: Four-year-old white boy sitting on top of a rock structure.)“Which set of pajamas do you want? The space ones or the biking alligators?” I asked my three-year-old.

“Nope,” he answered. Nope is the casual middle finger of answers. So much for offering choices.

“How about these?” I said, holding up a pair with bears on them.

“Nope,” he said, lounging with his hands behind his head on his bed like it was a pool floatie in Malibu.

After a few more choices, he finally acquiesced to wearing a pair. We don’t go through this particular back-and-forth every night, but it’s just one in his bag of tricks to delay bedtime.

My son is one of those kids who doesn’t want to do anything that’s demanded of him. “Because I said so” is a foreign phase to him. He wants a good justification for every decision and preferably to feel like he came up with the idea himself.

Part of this is my fault, for better or worse. Our family practices positive parenting, which is largely focused on validating children’s feelings and perspectives while teaching them to do the same for others. And as a science writer and communicator, I love explaining our choices.

But some of it is just his personality. I’m pretty sure if we tried to be more authoritarian, he’d just dig his heels in harder. The times that I start to get bossy go downhill very quickly. Despite the fact that having a stubborn kid with a strong will is sometimes a pain in the butt, there are some definite advantages to it for our family.

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What Gardening Has Taught Me About Parenting

What Gardening Has Taught Me About Parenting. Kids and seeds are more alike than you may realize! (Photo: Young boy playing in the dirt with tomato plants behind him.)

“Look, those tomatoes are red! Can I eat them?” Sprout asks me, hardly waiting to pop them in his mouth.

“Just wait to get inside for me to wash them,” I say, brushing aside the overgrown zucchini leaves as I walk towards the garden gate. He mock puts them in his mouth and I roll my eyes at him.

Getting inside, he hands me the tiny tomatoes for me to place in a small orange plastic bowl and rinse off. I hand it back and he sits down on the couch to chomp down. (Despite our “only eat at the table” rule.)

I reflect on how much he’s learned from spending time with me in the garden: knowing how to plant seeds, understanding the role of weeds, composting, and judging when vegetables are ripe.  But I also think about the life lessons the garden has taught me that apply to raising kids.

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5 Reasons Why I Ride the Bus with My Kids

5 Reasons Why I Ride the Bus with My Kids. Riding the bus is more fun, more interactive, and more sustainable than the car! (Photo: Green and yellow RideOn bus driving down the street)

“Bursch!” my eighteen-month-old points and yells. Even though that’s his word for everything, from bikes to balls, I say, “That’s right! That’s the bus!” Perhaps he’s picking up on his older brother’s deep love of the bus. Besides the fact that he’ll actually know what the lyrics of The Wheels on the Bus are talking about, his affinity for public transit will serve him well. In fact, I actually encourage it and bring my kids on the bus with me when possible. Here’s why I skip the car and ride the bus with my kids when I can:

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A Season of Smothering

A Season of Smothering. Some times of parenthood are harder than others - even if they're something you love too. (Photo: Monkey with baby climbing on its head.)

Lying on the couch, I have a one-year-old sitting on my lap and pinching my face while a four-year-old is almost sitting on my head as he tries to twist my hair in his hands. I look up to my husband and only half-jokingly cry out, “Help!”

Sometimes, I feel like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, when the Wild Things are yelling “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!” Except the Wild Things are my children whom I love very much. While they aren’t actually wild monsters, their love back to me can feel rather smothering at times.

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The 10 Things Parents Must Teach Gifted Children

The 10 Things Parents Must Teach Gifted Children. Are you the parent of a gifted child and wondering what they need to know? Here's 10 things that you need to teach them to be successful. (Photo: A boy with a blue backpack walking away down a road.)

Sitting in the private school’s admissions office, my mom faced a choice about her gifted daughter’s education. The admissions officer told her how much smaller the classes were than public school, how girls felt less pressure when they didn’t compete for boys’ attention, and how much more they could meet her needs.

But the tuition was as expensive as you would expect for a private school. We were a solidly upper-middle-class family, but a salesman’s and teacher’s salaries added together meant we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough. Private school meant no new house. No vacations for years. Hardly any luxuries at all.

But wasn’t her daughter’s education worth it? Wasn’t public school going to hold her back? Would she be able to fulfill her potential?

As the daughter in question, I now know my mom made the right decision. With more hoopla these days than ever about the beauty and struggles of raising “gifted” kids, it feels odd to me. Wasn’t this stuff we should have figured out 20 years ago?

As a “gifted” kid who had lots of gifted friends growing up and is now an adult, I’ve thought a lot about what society does and doesn’t do well in terms of how we treat “smart” kids. From my experience and reading, here’s what parents must teach gifted children:

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10 Easy Tips to Go Green that Make a Big Difference

10 Easy Tips to Go Green that Make a Big Difference. Overwhelmed by the list of possible things to do to be more green? Check out these tips that give you the biggest bang for your time and energy. (Photos: Wind turbine in a grassy field, cloth diaper with owls on it on a table, basket of vegetables, ceiling fan)

As I scroll through the to-do list on my phone (yes, it’s that long), I breathe out a big, honking sigh. “Check to see if there’s anything else we can do from the energy audit” has been on there for more than a year. For God’s sake, that to-do item is older than my younger son. While I’m still not giving up on my dream of installing more insulation, I do like quick-hit, easy tips to go green.

In addition to drawing on my own knowledge, I asked some fellow green bloggers for their best tips to go green. Here are some ways you can get the biggest bang for the least time and effort:

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