Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood
There sure is a movement to stop judging mothers. And for good reason! Us poor mamas have everything from side-eye to full-on trolling thrown at us for putting even a finger out of line. But where to put “the line” is the biggest problem. What’s the definition of that line? Where the heck does it live? Each parenting camp (and there are many) will give you a different answer to those questions. And all of those camps are certain their way of parenting is The Way to parent. It’s a dangerous recipe for excessive judgment that sadly causes mothers to feel unsure and shamed about their parenting choices.
I wish I could tell you the movement to let moms be has resulted in a rosy world where all parenting trolls say, “You know what, I don’t agree with you, but that’s okay! I’m sure you have your reasons.” But it hasn’t. The judgment still exists, and not just on the internet. Family gatherings, mommy-and-me groups, preschools, parks, and all the other places where mothers and offspring congregate can be ground zero for judgment, even from people who know better and mean well. And it will probably always be that way.
So what to do? Luckily, I’ve developed this fairy dust that you blow in the face of anyone who starts judging your parenting, and they suddenly understand where you’re coming from. Or no…maybe I haven’t. But wouldn’t that be cool?
What’s actually cooler is the realization that the only person we need to convince to stop judging us is ourselves. When we figure out how to be solid in our unique parenting choices and realize it’s not the right way, or the wrong way, but our way, we’re free to stop caring (at least as much) about the judgments that come from external sources. It’s like my mom said for the entirety of my teen years and was annoyingly right about, “What other people think and say about you has nothing to do with you.” You just need to get right with you.
The main reason people judge another’s parenting decision is because that decision is different from what they’re doing, and they process it as that person implying that they’re doing it wrong. Their judgments are essentially saying, “Nah-ah, I’m not doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong.” So ultimately, the judgment comes down to that person’s own stuff. I know this because I used to be a big-time judger. I wouldn’t do it openly; I would do it behind people’s backs like a civilized person. When I finally started looking at why I did that, I realized that every time I judged someone’s parenting choice it was because that choice ignited my own insecurity. For example, I had a friend who shared how they no longer let their toddler have screen time because he got too obsessed with it. I was so triggered by this. I immediately went to my husband and was like, “There’s no way they’re actually doing that. They have to be lying. And if they’re not lying, they’re just going to make their kid obsessed with screens when they’re older because they were deprived as a child.” My judgments completely came from the fact that I was feeling guilty about how much screen time I let our son have. But I didn’t want to give it up because it made life so much easier. I was fighting hard to feel okay about my choice, even though I didn’t. As you can see, those harsh judgments were all about me and my stuff.
What to do
Keep reminding yourself that judgments aren’t personal and that you can trust yourself — then try the following:
Above all, listen to feedback from your intuition. You already know the best way to parent your unique child, in the unique circumstances you live in. Deep down, it’s all there. But the opinions of others, books by the experts, how we were parented, and various other factors muddy the waters, making us second guess our decisions.
To step out of that muddiness and make decisions that feel intuitively right, get into a quiet space and ask yourself about the parenting decision you’ve been conflicted about. For example, “Where should my baby sleep?” When the voice of your mother or that expert or whomever starts babbling, push them away. Seek the answer that makes your insides happy. When you find the right answer for you, your stomach will unclench, your chest will feel light, and your heart will say, “Yes! That feels right!” And you don’t have to ask permission to listen to these feelings. You can just do what feels right.
And the cool thing with decisions is, you can always change them. If you decide cosleeping is right for your family, but then circumstances change and it no longer seems like the best option, you can edit what you’re doing. And while many parenting decisions might have to be made with a partner, you’ll be able to discuss the options with more clarity when you first determine what decision makes your insides happy.
Caveat: Some of your decisions will come more from that place in your brain that’s craving ease than your deep wells of wisdom — and that’s okay. We will never be perfect parents. We will sometimes be like, “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let my kid watch so much SpongeBob, but it’s saving my sanity right now, so oh well.” We’ve all been there. Heck, I’m there while I type this.
If someone’s disapproval triggers you, explore that. When my mom gently insinuates that I might try something different with Hudson, I. Get. So. Angry. Irrationally angry. When I started looking at where that came from, I noticed that the angrier I got over a suggestion, the more my insides (those traitors!) thought she was right. She knows me so well. She knows when I’m not honoring my instincts. And I hate when she’s right, because obviously we all hate when our moms are right, right?
So if someone’s judgment really ticks you off, explore whether you’re being triggered because what they’re suggesting is what you actually feel is best deep down, or because it just doesn’t feel good to be judged. If it’s the latter, remember that their response to your choices has way more to do with them than you, and go on your merry way.
Find soothing tools for when you’re triggered. When I feel judged I immediately get defensive. I want to lash out. Sometimes I do lash out. But when I catch myself, I keep my ego from raging by saying, “I hear you, but I really have to pee. Let’s press pause on this, and I’ll be right back.” It sounds ridiculous, but it works like a charm. This protocol gives me the opportunity to be alone and get hold of my emotions. I’m able to step away from what was said and figure out if the person was being hostile, trying to be helpful, or just making an offhand comment they didn’t intend as a judgment. Usually, I’m able to come back to the conversation with some perspective and more self-control. You certainly don’t have to use my “I gotta pee” trick, but I encourage you to make a plan for how you’ll respond when judgment causes an ego flare-up.
Feel free to not share your parenting philosophy. If you’re with someone you know won’t understand your parenting choices, you have every right to not discuss them. For example, if your judgy in-laws are constantly asking why you do this or that with your child, you don’t have to explain yourself. You can simply say, “It’s just something that works for our family. We’re not saying it’s the way everyone needs to parent, but it’s the way we’re choosing to parent.” If they harp on about what they think you should do or how kids were parented “in their day,” feel free to just smile and nod while using your brain power to figure out which Netflix show to watch tonight, or tell them your tampon is leaking and walk away.
Steer clear of toxic parenting spaces, online and IRL. Certain Facebook groups, some parenting forums, get-togethers with parents you know you aren’t aligned with . . . these are all environments where toxic judgments run amok. While of course there are exceptions, you’d be wise to avoid gatherings you believe will be saturated with strong, maybe even hurtful opinions, especially when you’re still trying to figure out how you want to mother. There’s nothing wrong with guarding your heart.
Broaden your perspective on judgment from loved ones. The potential exception to my “stay away from toxic environments” spiel is family gatherings. While certain familial situations are definitely toxic and should be avoided, there are others that are uncomfortable just because a family member is having an awkward time being involved in your child’s life.
For example, let’s say one of your child’s grandparents gets to see them only twice a year. Every time you see that grandparent, they might be full of suggestions for how to parent. You would be within your right to be incredibly irritated by this. But riddle me this — what if the unsolicited advice was the family member’s misguided way of feeling more connected to your child? What if they feel that sharing their “wisdom” is a gift that will enhance your family’s life? If you suspect this is where a judgy family member is coming from, you might help them find other ways of feeling connected — for example, taking on some feedings or diaper changes or, in the case of older kids, having a few one-on-one outings. If this doesn’t stop the “Maybe you should try. . .” comments, feel free to straight-up tell them that while you respect their insight, you’ll let them know if it’s needed.
Resist the urge to make your own judgments. While placing judgment can feel so juicy in the moment, the “high” never lasts. Moral of the story: If we don’t want others to judge us, we shouldn’t judge them. We’re all doing the best we can, and we all deserve more understanding and “you do you” from our fellow parents.