Do you ever feel superior to other parents? Do you ever think your way is THE right way? Have you ever felt negatively judged by other parents? Have you ever felt guilty for not doing parenting “right”? I recently read Perchance to Dream, a post about infant sleep and the passion of the commenters and the original author got me thinking more about parenting and judgment and defensiveness.
Why we get judgmental or defensive about parenting
Parenting is one of the most important and lasting factors in helping each of us become who we are as adults. While there are numerous influences that shape who we are, there is likely no one who would say that parenting has no effect. Given this baseline, most parents have the sense of parenting as a high-stakes endeavor which couples with the nearly universal desire to be a good parent to our children and leaves most of us feeling an incredible amount of pressure to “do it right.”
In this pressurized state, many of us seek expertise and answers so we’ll feel “okay” about ourselves and our actions. Unfortunately one of a couple of things may happen once we find the answers.
- We believe we KNOW what is right and we act as if this knowledge is THE TRUTH. This can make it easy for us to proselytize and simultaneously judge others who haven’t found “the light.” When we’re on the receiving end of a true believer’s judgment, we’re likely to either feel guilty for doing it “wrong,” and/or defend ourselves as right and become just as staunch in our position and practice.
- We SHUT DOWN and stop looking, listening, thinking, and feeling for other possible answers. This can make it easy to miss new, different, or even more effective ways of parenting. When we meet parents in this state we might feel sadness for their and their child’s loss or we might pop into judgment mode and feel or express a superior attitude toward them.
How we can avoid this divisiveness
If you want to be more at peace as a parent, several practices can help you let go of your judgments and avoid guilt.
- Remember that with rare exceptions, all parents love their children and want to be good parents. Like you, they are influenced by their past, their culture, their beliefs, their desires, their children, etc., so they may parent in a radically different way than you’ve chosen.
- Focus on what works for you and your child rather than what others say or do in their families. While being open to the ideas of others can be valuable, believing you “have to” do it like they do undermines your authenticity, creativity, and intuition as a parent.
- Seek permission before offering “advice” to others. Modeling “your way” for others is much more likely to inspire them to change than telling them how they should be parenting. Remember too that how you communicate your ideas can feel uplifting or off-putting. If you come across as self-righteous or castigating, it’s likely your ideas will be cast aside without consideration.
- Remind yourself that you (or others) cannot know all, therefore any absolute certainty is really just conviction in what you know up to that point. Even if science, faith, experts, or some other source says that something is true, new information may later come along invalidating the old facts. Don’t lose confidence in yourself because of this, simply let it help you remain tolerant of other ways of doing and being.
- Practice compassion prior to preaching. For many of us, seeing children treated in certain ways brings up strong emotions and we feel compelled to act to save the child from their misguided parents. While I believe injustice, violence, cruelty, and other forms of mistreatment always deserve to be called out and children must be protected, other parents are far more likely to be defensive or entrenched when they believe they are being attacked or judged.
- Whenever you believe you’ve been judged or maligned as a parent, take the time to see if there are any grains of truth in the other person’s pronouncement. My experience is that when we have lost our bearings or have been parenting in a way that isn’t aligned with our deepest values, we react when judged because inside we know that we’ve been “wrong.” Let others be a mirror for you as a parent so you can see if there are any changes you might actually want to make.
“Bigotry and judgment are the height of insecurity.”~ Jasmine Guy
Parenting is not a competitive sport. There are no medals for doing the work exceptionally well, nor are there dunce-caps we’re required to wear when we’ve really blown it. While being a good parent is vital to our children’s well-being, pressuring ourselves to get it all right (or more right than other parents) only adds to the natural stresses all parents face.
Other parents can be role models for us, inspiring us to learn and grow and experiment with new ways of raising our children. Other parents can wake us up to our own limitations and mistakes so that we can avoid doing harm to our sons and daughters. So instead of believing we’re “less than” those supermoms and superdads or “better than” those deadbeat dads and maniacal moms, lets remember that we’re all of that rolled into one…just like everyone else out there.