On judging other parents

I met a friend for beer the other night. It felt pretty momentous. She was the friend I vaguely referenced in an earlier blog post with whom I’d had a schism.

my artistic rendering of "friends meeting for beer after schism"

Our schism was about our children, and our different styles of raising them. And after a couple of emotional conversations, several weeks of emails and both of us taking some time to get perspective and lick our wounds, we met for beer.

It was such a relief to see her again—as if a strange magical spell that had turned her into a monster had blown away. And there she was. Just my friend, with her bright face and her wavy hair and the purposeful way she walks. As we talked about what had happened and how we both felt about it, it struck me that we were doing something pretty impressive. We disagree and are making different choices about certain hot button parenting issues: to cry-it-out or not, co-sleeping, daycare. And rather than just using the old to-each-their-own, who-am-I-to-judge approach, we’re actually having the messy conversations that naturally come when two people that deeply believe in what they’re doing and disagree choose to talk about it.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had many a time when we had to circle back around and remind the other one about how something she said was really hurtful and clean up the mess. But we’ve also shared some incredible insights and have developed a strong mutual respect and fascination for each other.

This is something I really want to create space for in this blog. Everyone is allowed to be judgmental here. Since we all already do it anyway, I think we could actually use it to our advantage. I think that we’re all (well, everyone but the super-evolved-Eckhart-Tolle types) judging each other all the time, even when we claim not to. And while it IS true that every child is different and we all need to find our own way of parenting, I think that sentiment is often used to glaze over and avoid a perfectly fascinating, provocative conversation. Because we want to be kind and because we understand the risks of our judgement, we’re skirting around the issue and cheating ourselves of some really valuable connections.

It’s scary to be judged. Because let’s face it, this parenting gig has the highest stakes ever. And we all know that, and we try really really hard to do what’s best for our kids. So when someone even mildly expresses that they think we’re doing the wrong thing, they can push that terribly zingy button in us that says, “STEP OFF! I’M DOING THE EFFING BEST I CAN. I BET YOU’RE SCREWING UP YOUR KID TOO.” And I think that zingy button is really covering for this fear: “Am I actually making the wrong decision? Am I doing something that is hurting my child or my relationship with her?”

When my friend and I have talked about our differences of opinion, we’ve definitely hit the zing button. Many times. And the thing that has allowed us to keep talking even though we’re hurt or scared is that we both feel and know that we care about each other.

So.

I, for one, want to break out of the everyone-has-to-parent-in-the-way-that-feels-best-to-them conversation silencer. Because while I DO believe that everyone has to parent in the way that feels best to them, I ALSO believe that there is much to be gained from allowing ourselves to disagree in a caring way. And to follow our curiosity about why different people do things differently. Maybe in being more transparent about our judgments with other parents we care about, we might not get so polarized and snippy and, well, judge-y with each other.

As my friend said that night over beers, what would happen if we were allowed to say, “You know, I will never raise my kid the way you do, but I’m totally curious about why you do it that way.” GOOD EFFING QUESTION.

Who would you like to have this conversation with, and what would you talk to them about, if you knew they would still like you when all was said and done?

15 thoughts on “On judging other parents

  1. Great post. I freely admit that before I had a child, I was very judgmental toward parents and what I perceived to be their flaws. After I had a child, I realized that it was much more complex than I had realized before. It’s still hard to watch when people make very different choices than I did, but I try very hard to reserve judgment.

  2. I was totally judgmental before having J. And now I’m still judgmental, but I just have a lot more appreciation for how challenging it is. I’m trying to get into this a bit deeper, so I’m curious (if you’re willing to share) what choices you’re talking about. I’d love to hear from you, and other moms, which ones are particularly hard to watch. For me, its those who co-sleep and never let their kids cry at night.

  3. hey steph. as you know, i don’t have kids yet. wish i could contribute more insight. i’m curious why co-sleeping is hard to watch? i’ve never thought about what i would choose to do, but in japan, co-sleeping is very very common. it was a surprise to find that out; i’d never even considered the idea before.

    1. thanks for asking. i guess the co-sleeping is hard for me because it makes me ask myself “why wouldn’t jonah do that? what does it mean about me as a mother that he didn’t want to sleep in our bed?” Beyond that, it’s been hard to watch some friends who are co-sleeping be super exhausted because they’re waking up and nursing their kids all the time. I think since we had such success with cry-it-out, I just wonder why they won’t save themselves from their misery and let their kids cry since it will most likely result with everyone sleeping more. **Please note, I’m speaking from my honest judgmental self, and also have an empathetic self that understands why some people do it this way, but its still hard to watch.

  4. My honest and judgemental self here:
    I heartily objected to cry-it-out because my reaction to hearing my (totally dependant) baby cry for me was gut-wrenching, and leaving her to her helplessness and misery was more than I could handle. It literally made me have a panic attack to hear her crying for me and not to go to her. So. I COULDN’T do it, and I don’t understand how anyone else could, just because I COULDN”T. I felt like I was FAILING my duty as a mother to leave her to cry alone. So–I decided that I just wouldn’t. I figured that eventually it would work itself out–eventually Shirene would be old enough and savvy enough to understand that I am always here, or I have always provided for her safety, and that it is OK for her to be alone and go to sleep.
    It has been a LOOOooong road. I am from the camp of exhausted mothers that Steph referenced in her comment above. Stephanie and I talked about it many a time, but I so thoroughly have felt that I was doing my best and the best thing for my kid, that I stuck with it.
    So, she’s turning 2 next week, and we still co-sleep–and my husband and I and our daughter all seem to be pretty satisfied with the strategies we’ve worked out around night-times (one of us sleeps with her, one of us gets to sleep alone in the other room, and we take turns to make sure that all adults are well-rested. Some nights, my husband and I sleep together, and leave our daughter by herself).
    But the bed-times have finally proved me RIGHT! That’s right–I said I feel like I did it RIGHT! There were no baby-alone-in-a-crib crying for mama nights in my house, ever. And just this week, she’s finally graduated to ceasing to be a pain-in-my-ass at bedtime. The other night, I nursed her and instead of laying next to her in bed until she fell asleep, which I am SOOO sick and tired of doing, I told her that I was getting up and that I would be back soon to sleep with her. I gave her a stuffed animal to hold and gave her a kiss and I left the room. No crying, she understood and she seemed maybe a little unsure about what was going on but basically relaxed, and 10 minutes later she was fast asleep. It’s been like this every night this week, fingers crossed.

    So, my personal INTERPRETATION (because I don’t really know) about the situation is:
    I imparted enough confidence and security in my daughter that she actually FEELS safe and comfortable to fall asleep alone. Rather than forcing herself to come up against feelings of abandonment and insecurity in a CIO setting and to eventually repress these feelings in a survival-mode move and finally to just fall asleep from exhaustion. (Although I’m sure that CIO babies eventually feel less panic and just “get used to it,” so it’s not like it’s YEARS of trauma–just a few nights or whatever).

    So, folks. There’s my fully-judgemental story about baby-sleep. It feels DAMN good to just say it how I see it! Maybe some of you will hate me for saying this stuff, maybe you’ll feel really threatened and defensive and angry. But this is what I’m thinking all the time, anyway, and I’d rather just keep it real and put it all out there than say nicey things about “let’s not polarize the Mommies.”
    Let’s have some REAL conversation!!! Thanks, Stephanie!

    –Rachael

    1. Yo R! I thought I approved this comment when you made it, but alas, I didn’t. So now here it is in all its glory. I think my best response to what you said here is in my comment to slowmamma below. go forth, read, discuss!

  5. Good discussion over here. It’s funny, I was absolutely judgmental about peoples parenting decisions before I stepped into this mess. Now I reserve my harshest judgment for myself. The conversations that sting most are usually those that touch on something that I feel bad about to begin with (as perhaps you have pointed out in your reaction to us lazy co-sleepers).
    As for the co-sleeping thing, we did not court the idea or even choose it very actively but it was the only thing that allowed us to SLEEP. After the initial period when it was truly about the basic act of survival in our house, my husband and I both found that we enjoy it. I will say that I think that people who actively teach their kids to self-soothe and sleep on their own are doing their children a favor that I have failed at so far.

    1. thanks for adding your voice to this. so here we are…in that scary judgment territory, where now you think i think you’re lazy. for the record, that’s actually not one of my judge-from-the-hip assumptions about co-sleeping moms. i might as well be honest about what those assumptions are: –co-sleeping moms are sacrificing their own sleep and sanity and happiness for the comfort of their children. –they’re stuck in a bit of a co-dependent loop with their kids, where they think their kids need them more than they actually do.

      so there. i said it. its scary to say out loud, because it really is what i think and i know it could be hurtful to you and other co-sleeping moms. and i have no desire to be hurtful. im airing it out here because i have a hunch that in actually being honest about this stuff that we’ll have some connections that we wouldn’t have otherwise. perhaps not. you might just think i’m an asshole.

      also, having read what you wrote, i think that if you’re honestly all sleeping better when co-sleeping, that’s rad. and if you actually enjoy it, well hell. i’m sorta jealous. a lot of my assumptions are based on hearing a couple co-sleeping moms talk about how exhausted they are. and as i said earlier, they’re also a bit of defensiveness on my part, since i chose to “scar my child forever” by letting him cry it out.

      its interesting, because i’m seeing here that all of these judgments cut both ways, they’re defensive and aggressive. they’re distancing us from a choice we didn’t make possibly to make us feel better about the choice that we did make.

      i really appreciate you weighing in on this, and would love to hear your honest reaction to what i’ve said here. (also, i think we should pat ourselves on the back for “going there” even though its awkward and scary)

  6. It’s funny, I’m guilty of sacrificing a lot for my kid and I have a long list of changes that I hope I’ll eventually manage to make in this direction, but co-sleeping is actually not on that list. Interestingly, since this discussion started, I have talked to a bunch of co-sleeping moms and I now think that you are mostly right. A LOT of them are not getting good sleep. I am only now realizing that we may be among a lucky few for whom this gig just worked.

    Honestly, though, I think these discussions are good. Or really, they’re great as long as nobody walks away feeling offended.

    1. well, i’m hoping that in saying this that YOU aren’t offended. Because that’s certainly not my aim. I so appreciate your honesty and willingness to weigh in here. I have to say, your co-sleeping story has been the least triggering of my judgments, since it does sound like it just really works for all of you. hooray for that.

  7. Wowzers. There is a lot in this post to take in. I happen to be a pretty judgey person and it took me a while to figure out that all those judgements I have of others are really just disavowed pieces of myself projected outward. So I try, I REALLY try to not go there. I constantly tell myself, “We are all going through the same things and just doing the best we can with what we have.” So personally, I don’t have a lot invested in having those convos with my parenting peers. However….(big sigh)

    I recently got into it big time with my mother who was able to make just the wrong comment at just the right moment to make me feel totally judged and I completely lost my shit. And in all my vicious mama-bear need to protect myself, my child rearing decisions and my child, I spat out a harsh retort something to the effect of any issues she had were HER issues and not mine or my son’s, spun on my heel and huffed away. When given the chance to talk it out, I was still defensive and feeling very hurt and ultimately missed out on a real opportunity to have the exactly conversation that you are talking about. I want her to know that I actually am putting thought and intention into the parenting decisions that I am making. I’m sure she’s still be judgey (wonder where I learned it?) but it would be awesome to have the conversation and just be heard.

    1. I totally agree with you, Cara. I think that I’ve been learning a lot just from the conversation that has been going on in this thread…there’s something very defensive about judgments. i do think they say a lot more about our own fears than anything else. i hadn’t really put that together until reading what you wrote. it makes sense, b/c all of my judgments of the co-sleeping crowd that I laid bare above are rooted in my fear of making my children think that they are the source of my happiness. I’m so terrified of J feeling that way. So naturally, co-sleeping and other parenting styles that emphasize a sort of super bond kinda push my buttons. i’m all about helping him remember that he’s his own person. that i love him, but that i don’t need him to be happy. just all a reaction to my childhood really.

      It’s actually been really scary to be honest about those few co-sleeping judgments I have because I’ve thought many times since I wrote the comment above, “God. I hope my co-sleeping friends don’t read that. Because I don’t think that about THEM.” The funny thing is, I think that in writing my judgment out loud, its kinda taken a lot of the air out of it. I mean sure, some co-sleeping parents aren’t getting great sleep and maybe they’d all sleep better separately, but maybe NOT! And ultimately, I just want parents to take better care of themselves and remember that their kids will be okay if their basic needs for clothing, food, shelter and love are met. And I’m guessing that for the vast majority blogging crowd, our kids basic needs are met. Blah blah blah.

      I could go on all day. Mostly, though, I think you’ve really hit on something here. Are our judgments really just the things we most fear about ourselves becoming as parents? Discuss.

      And, how do we have a real conversation where we can air out some of the judgments that we’re having anyway without being hurtful?

  8. Okay, I’ll ‘fess up: I have trouble with baby-wearing. All I can think of is that the baby is constricted so he/she can’t move freely (as a closet claustrophobic that drives me nuts!) and the mum is going to ruin her back. I usually just shake my head and shut my mouth, but some please tell me WHY?

    1. Excellent question! I was a total baby wearer and here’s why: Jonah cried his guts out in the stroller and in the car. He was always so peaceful in the Moby and I could actually get things done. People always asked me about my back and it was never a big deal for me…didn’t hurt my body. I would get tired after a while, but it never hurt. I actually sometimes put him in the Ergo sometimes even now that he’s 2 and a half because I love cuddling with him that way. He’s a super mover and shaker kid, so it’s one of the rare times other than going to sleep that I get to be close to him and lavish him with kisses. It’s fun to explain this, and I also appreciate your ‘fess up! It’s just a joy for me to hear what people are REALLY thinking!

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