Carrying your child in a sling has many well documented benefits yet it often seems that society is still playing catch up. Parents using slings report negative reactions from friends, family and even complete strangers. Being told that a choice you are making for your child is wrong can be hard, especially if it is a choice that feels so right for you.
Why the negativity?
When deciding how to deal with negativity to your choice to carry your child in a sling – or any parenting choice- it can be useful to consider why they feel the need to express the negativity in the first place. The vast majority of comments fall into these two categories:
1) That is not what I did/would do and I feel judged by you or think you are crazy
Regardless of whether you intend to judge someone else for not carrying their child, some people will allow their own insecurities to coax them into putting down your choice. Remarks from these people are often phrased in a ‘I could never do that’ or ‘It never harmed mine to go in a buggy’ way.
2) Lack of understanding
Just very simply a lack of understanding as to why you would want to carry your child. Sometimes people react with ridicule to something that they have not encountered before as a way to hide their lack of knowledge. ‘Look at that woman with two heads’ or ‘can you not afford a pushchair’ are ways in which this can be expressed.
What can you do?
The first thing you can do when you are approached in a way which feels negative to you is to examine whether it was meant to cause upset, is a misunderstanding or someone suffering from a case of foot in mouth syndrome.
It is possible for someone to say something which was meant in a very innocent way but which comes across as negative to you. By taking a step back and asking yourself whether you are being over sensitive you can gain an extra insight into the situation rather than going into defensive mode straight away.
If you have established that it was not merely an innocent remark you can then decide whether and how you want to respond. A teenager passing in the street may not be worthy of any response since it does not matter what they think of you, whilst a negative remark from a family member can have a much bigger impact.
Tried and tested responses
These are some tried and tested responses to negative remarks. Choose the one that suits you and your situation best or have fun making up your own!
‘I love carrying him; it makes both of us happy.’ The truth and nothing but the truth. So many reasons to carry but this is the most important of all and really it is also one that people should just be able to accept.
‘Carrying her is so easy. I wish slings like this had been as easily accessible when you had your babies.’ This one is great for those who you feel may have wished they had carried their children. It works in two ways. One, it gives an excellent non emotive reason for carrying and two, it empathises with them and expresses a wish that they would have been able to do the same.
‘I am sure carrying him has made him so much more confident, just look at how he loves to play with his train. Do you mind looking after him while I go and make a drink.’ If you feel that the person expressing the negativity is worried that they will not get to interact with your child in the way they had imagined, this can be a good way to redirect their attention. Please note that using this technique with a child who will scream when you leave their sight is probably counter productive…
‘Do you know I burn a lot more calories carrying her. It is great exercise and my back has never been stronger.’ A concern for the carriers back is often borne from an inability to understand how a soft sling distributes the weight evenly over your body. They imagine themselves carrying a child as heavy as yours and simply cannot imagine being able to do so.
‘Have you seen his latest trick? He can blow bubbles.’Sometimes it is not worth your breath arguing or trying to explain. Focusing the attention on your gorgeous baby can then be the least confrontational way to move forward. After all, regardless of what they think, you are doing what you believe is best for your baby and as his parent you are in the ultimate position to make those decisions.
For some great independent advice on slings and babywearing see www.slingguide.co.uk
Anne McEwan – Babywearing consultant and educator.
www.naturalmamas.co.uk The home of natural parenting.