This past July, my husband and I welcomed a healthy, happy baby boy into our lives. We love his smiles, his coos and our weekend morning family snuggles. But we’ve also learned being parents can be physically and mentally exhausting. And for some reason, having a baby also seems to open you up for criticism and unsolicited advice from basically everyone.

New and veteran mamas I know have shared their stories of unfair judgments for things like having a C-section, getting an epidural instead of “birthing naturally”, bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding or being a “working” mom versus a stay-at-home mom. The list goes on and on. 

It all comes down to choice, or sometimes it’s making the best of your situation. In working with farmers to help them share their story and marrying into a farm family, I can see the similarities in parenting and agriculture when it comes to struggles in finding respect for diversity and individual choices.

In agriculture, I’ve listened time and time again as folks who don’t farm, share their beliefs on “farming shouldn’ts”; animals shouldn’ t be raised indoors, livestock shouldn’t be given antibiotics, crops shouldn’t be grown using pesticides or herbicides, farmers shouldn’t complain about more regulations. Much like the finger-waggers who offer their opinions to new parents—this list also goes on and on.

I’ll never forget when I was at a crowded public meeting where discussions on livestock and water quality in Iowa were being held. Emotions were high as many people disagreed about what is wrong or right in farming practices. To share her perspective, a mom of three who raises pigs in a modern hog barn with her husband stood up and explained the care her family provides their animals and the important lessons they teach their kids on the farm. That’s when a nearby naysayer sneered, “Some life you’re giving your kids.”

Some life?

In one fell swoop, a total stranger insulted this farmer’s passion as a caretaker for animals and kids. I thought if you didn’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say it at all, and in this current culture of closed-mindedness, we need to remember there is more than one way to achieve a goal. The livestock industry isn’t perfect and livestock farmers know that. Anyone who neglects his animals or doesn’t give her land the respect it deserves needs to face consequences, including legal action if appropriate. But, there’s nothing wrong with having one farmer raise chickens in his backyard, while another may choose to raise them in a barn. Or one farmer may plant cover crops in her field to promote water quality, while another may plant grassed buffer strips if a stream goes through their land. It’s important to have choices because not every farm—or family—is the same.

In our house, we’ve chosen to limit pacifier use to naps and bedtime, and there are many times I rock my baby to sleep if he’s fussy. Others treat pacifiers like the holy grail and are comfortable with the “cry it out” method for their babies. Every kid and every farm requires a different method of care.

As parents or farmers, we stumble. We have good days and bad days. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re always learning. Sometimes we change our minds and redirect course, and that’s okay because at the end of the day, a mama like me—or a farmer—knows what’s best for our crop, and we won’t stop doing what we think is right to raise it.  

By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau’s public relations specialist.