(Originally written for and published in San Diego Family Magazine, April, 2012)
We all do it, whether we have kids or not – judge parenting. If you are a parent, chances are good that someone thinks you’re not doing it the way they would. While us parents are tossed around by public opinion – from being a working mom to how our tired and hungry children behave in public – there is still nothing more annoying than the opinion of the childless.
The bearers of childless parenting opinions will declare they, in fact, know more about parenthood than you do. Some pride themselves on biting their tongues in person, but waste no time using body language or the Internet to convey their righteous disapproval. They often tire of being told they would understand if only they had a child themselves because, after all, they have a former babysitting career, are Aunts and Uncles, or my personal favorite, they are dog owners.
In the article titled, Photography is Not a Crime, published June 11, 2011 in the San Diego Reader, Barbarella, a self-proclaimed childless “Diva” writes that parents are “irritatingly protective of their children” and aren’t aware “how ridiculous much of their sheltering really is when you separate fantasy from reality.”
This in response to a father who put his hand in front of this child’s face when Barbarella stuck her camera in it. She writes, “Any parent who claims to care about his child must assume that every adult holding a camera in his child’s vicinity intends to kidnap, rape, kill and bury the kid.”
Perhaps the topic of discussion here is overprotective parenting, or (call me crazy) common courtesy, but is a woman without a child herself any authority on the appropriate amount of protection a parent should provide?
“I would have to argue, no,” says Dr. John Duffy, Clinical Psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.Duffy says, “A non-parent can understand the logistical elements of parenting. What they don’t understand is the emotional path of parenting, like the fatigue of having an infant or the anxiety of letting your teen go hang out with her friends for the first time.”
This anxiety is where parents are labeled “paranoid.” There is admittedly some truth to the modern phenomenon of parents being scared silly by the 24-hour, ratings- driven news cycle, informing us of abductions, abuse and predators. Yet every parent has their own threshold of acceptable parenting, like whether their kids get to school by car or by foot. Duffy says it is oftentimes an instinctual response to how we ourselves were parented.
- First determine whether you feel the judgment is valid. When someone does offer an opinion, it may be an honest attempt to help. If you feel the advice is coming from a good-natured place, you could actually learn from it.
- Don’t be afraid to bring levity to the situation. If you can make a joke or laugh, it can ease the anxiety of the parent, the child and any others that are jumping to conclusions.
- Trust your instincts. If you can strip away your insecurity about parenting, your instincts are going to be a good guide. Parents are not perfect – you don’t have to be and your kids don’t need you to be.
- Pick your battles. Decide how much you want to invest in a situation where you feel put on the defensive. Think about how you would want your child to react in a difficult situation and then model that behavior.
- Don’t worry about what other people think. If you are overly concerned about what others think, your own judgment will be clouded.
- Don’t be so quick to judge. We need to assume that we don’t know what underlies anything we look at in terms of a parenting issue. If we ourselves judge others, our kids learn to do the same, and that is difficult to undo.