Parenting Feels Like an Open Invitation for Criticism
“Give me the baby” my aunt demanded as I handed her my four-month-old daughter. My aunt was meeting my daughter for the first time at a small family gathering. My baby immediately began to cry, and I reached out to take her back. My aunt stepped back telling me forcefully “she is fine.” I awkwardly laughed and responded with “she isn’t used to a lot of strangers and I’d like to hold her.” She quickly fired back, in front of ALL of our extended family, with “are you going to just rush in and comfort her every time she cries? She’s fine.” I recoiled a little and felt my cheeks flush with a tinge of shame. Was I doing something wrong? I calmly took my daughter back. Then I made an excuse to leave and go home.
This was one experience of many in which people expressed differing opinions and unwelcome judgment on how I chose to parent. I felt like the mommy shaming train took off the second I got pregnant with people openly commenting about my weight (what!?). It then picked up steam once my daughter was born, with a constant barrage of judgment, usually formed as a question that was really a statement about what I was doing wrong.
“You let your baby sleep on you? How will she ever learn to be independent?”
“Why don’t you ever leave your baby and go out? You need to get away.”
“How could you choose to sleep train and let your baby cry it out? I could never do that.”
“How will your kids ever learn to socialize if you keep them isolated during the pandemic?”
“Oh, come on, why won’t you just let her have some more cake? She loves it.”
“Is your baby cold?”
“You haven’t potty trained yet?”
“Wow, you already let her play with an iPad and watch TV?”
“Why is your baby so skinny? Why don’t you supplement with formula?”
The second I became a mom I was shocked by the amount of unsolicited advice I received. I felt like becoming a mom had extended an open invitation to others to offer up judgment, advice, and opinions. Often, advice was given with a strong tone of “I know better than you.” It felt as though others wanted to correct me and overrule my decisions. And then when the pandemic started, the mom-shaming went into overdrive.
As a parent, I have learned that there are many different paths to successful parenting, and we each choose what works best for us and our kids. Parenting is certainly not one-size-fits-all, and we make choices based on our values, our experiences and how our kids respond. So why is it that so many people in my life feel passionate that their own opinion is the only way to get kids to behave, sleep, potty, socialize, and eat?
I am typically a people pleaser and hate confrontation, so parenting was the exact life assignment I needed to find my voice and have confidence amid frequent criticism. Through all of the judgment, I have learned that I, as my child’s mom, truly know what is best. My intuition has served me well. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. I make them all the time. But mistakes aren’t a bad thing, they are part of my process for learning to be the parent my child needs. And I do like advice when I ask for it and it is from someone I trust.
The other thing I have learned is to shut down my judgment towards other parents. I will hardly ever express my judgment openly, but you better believe internally I have thrown some daggers in another parent’s direction. I usually judge others to make myself feel better when I am feeling insecure as a mom. I commit to working every day to not be a part of the problem. I will celebrate other parents making choices different than my own and cheer them on rather than tear them down.
I will leave you with several quotes that have helped me to love myself and my choices throughout this crazy parenting journey:
“Every time you are given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else.” – Glennon Doyle, Untamed
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your sacred ground.” – Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
“The root cause of all judgment is the fear of not being good enough, not being worthy of love, and not being safe.” – Gabrielle Bernstein, Judgement Detox