“Do what works for you.” While commonly dished out to parents, this particular piece of advice is, unfortunately, not always sincere. The implication from a phrase like “do what works for you” is that we can make whatever decisions we want for our family and no one will judge your parenting. But the reality is that we are living amidst a time of competition and comparison—both indirectly and directly—and judging others comes with the territory. And what often accompanies it? Shaming.
Shaming parents for the way they are raising their children is nothing new, but with outlets like social media, the opportunities to do so are much more prevalent. Every day, family members, friends, and even strangers feel they are entitled to comment on our parenting styles and the decisions we’re making for our children. Whether it be about breastfeeding, sleep training, screen time, or something as minor as the type of book bag our kid should be using for school, unsolicited parenting advice is rampant—as is the number of parents who feel judged. According to a global survey published in 2021, over 90% of parents in the United States affirmed to feel judged by others as parents.
Unsolicited advice is just one of the many ways someone can express their judgment on our parenting. Other ways include questioning our decisions, outright disapproval of our actions, or another person stepping in to parent without being asked.
The truth is, we don’t know what anyone else is going through. We are all facing different battles, all coping with different stresses, and we need to show each other a bit more grace.
At the end of the day, parents all are chasing the same thing—we’re just different types of runners. How we choose to navigate the profound complexities of raising children doesn’t affect anyone else other than our family. People should concern themselves only with knowing that a child is safe, fed, clean, clothed, loved and looked after. Beyond that, there are no grounds for criticism or shaming.
No matter how we choose to parent, we are bound to hear someone’s opinion. The key is to determine which of those opinions are valid and sound and which should simply be ignored. To help yourself from having a negative response in a situation like this, ask yourself these questions:
1. How can I be a strong role model to my child?
Resist the temptation to make a quick comeback or defend yourself. Take a second to breathe and think about how you want to handle the comment. Remind yourself that your child is present. They look to you as an example of how they are to behave, so consider what an appropriate response would be in that moment. Merely acknowledging the statement and moving on is likely the best approach. It could be as simple as saying, “Thank you for your opinion, but this is what works for our family.”
2. Did I open the door for criticism?
If you asked for someone’s opinion or advice, you have to accept the fact that you invited them to share their beliefs and feelings with you. While it may be difficult to hear, remember that you put yourself in that position.
3. What is the intention?
Try to understand why this person is criticizing you and pay attention to their delivery. Are they speaking up because they worried about you or your child? Are they doing so respectfully and compassionately? If they seem to have good intentions, try to refrain from being defensive. Instead, focus on where their judgment is coming from (likely a place of concern and love).
4. Am I taking this wrong?
While particularly true in electronic conversations (text messages, emails, etc.), it’s sometimes easy to misinterpret someone’s comment or advice. When we’re upset or unsure of something, we tend to add meaning or emotion that wasn’t intended by the person speaking, which causes us to misconstrue what was said.
5. What would the pediatrician say?
It’s never a bad idea to check in with your child’s doctor. Many people, especially of older generations, offer outdated advice.
6. Is it judgment or am I being defensive?
Take a second to consider whether the comment or advice is actually judgmental. Perhaps it’s a sensitive topic for you, or maybe you have a problem with the person and not the subject matter. It’s natural to put our guards up, especially when it comes to our children, but not every comment is meant to hurt us.
It’s important we ask these questions, but it’s more important that we begin to work toward a brighter, more supportive and accepting future—with far less judgment. After all, isn’t that what we want for our children? A world that knows more encouragement and compassion, where doing your best is more than enough, and where we spend more time feeling loved and less time feeling judged.