Lessons in Empathy: Parenting as Craft

Wednesday October 26, 2016

Pregnancy, childbirth and parenting bring out the weirdest in us. On the one hand, there are social norms that we all abide by. On the other, as soon as someone becomes pregnant, she might as well flaunt a banner that says “Go on, feel up my uterus and comment on my weight.” Once that baby is on the way down the birth canal, or once it’s born, the degree of judgment just explodes.

That’s why the New York Times’ Well piece from two days ago “What Knitting Can Teach Us About Parenting” was an eye-opener. It doesn’t have to be this way. Actually, we already know how to not be this way.

Dr. Perri Klaus, a pediatrician and parent, discovered the world of Ravelry, an online forum of knitters where people share and comment on each other’s work. And she realized:

“We look at one another’s projects, and we sometimes shake our heads in silent wonder at the choices other people make. But when we comment, we say nice things. Love this. Favorite this. Wow, beautiful, congratulations, great colors. There’s an implicit understanding that when someone posts a photo of a completed project, what you’re seeing is a product of love and care and time, choices and sustained effort — and you should either cheer or else move on. What, after all, do you gain by pointing out that the colors clash or the fit is not exactly flattering?”

If you’re a craftster, you’ll recognize the #1 rule of crafting right away: you never, ever ever criticize someone else’s work. Not because it’s not a little jarring sometimes (a cocktail dress…made out of halloween quilt fabric?), but because you’ve been there too.

If you’ve ever tried to make a dress, you know how hard it is. All the care and time spent picking out just the right fabric. Carefully, preciously cutting the fabric, making sure you’re on the grain. Lining up all those seams. May the force be with you if your dress involves a Peter Pan collar, or pocket, or pleats, or, the feature that has rendered many a dressmaker into a sobbing puddle of frustration and curse words: sleeves.

So, when someone shows you their own homemade cocktail dress, you NEVER criticize it. Your brain automatically allows for differences of taste and opinion. As someone who has also been in the trenches of your own craft projects, you recognize the thought that went into choosing the materials. You recognize the effort put into every detail. You recognize how many careful hours and days this person put into making something, and how they kept going despite every *#%#! bump in the road. You recognize that she’s done her absolute best. And you recognize that she’s showing it to you because she is proud of what she’s accomplished, her end result.


So, yeah, you say it’s beautiful! Wonderful, really! YOU MADE THIS! LOVE IT.

Empathy can bring us a long way towards being friendlier to each other, and to other parents, even when their choices, values, and approaches differ from your own. We are all in the trenches of this lifelong craft project from now on. We’re all truly trying our best. We might as well support and encourage each other through it.


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