By Mutryce A. Williams
“When parents are really worried about what others think about their parenting, this is an indication that they’re more likely to interpret things that happen to them and their child as failures. When parents have less confidence and more stress, their parenting quality suffers.”
Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, associate professor in Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State.
“Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue focuses on being less judgmental of other parents. The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.
A few weeks ago, whilst going through a list of parenting New Year’s resolutions, I stumbled across an article by Susan Rowher that stopped me in my tracks. The article entitled “Stop the Parent-Judging,” was published by the LA Times. In it, Rowher was making a plea to everyone and also committing herself to being less judgmental of other people’s parenting. Here is the excerpt that blew me away.
Stop the Parent-Judging
“If you are a parent, chances are someone somewhere thinks you’re doing it wrong.”
An Excerpt from Susan Rohwer (LA Times)
“We judge poor parents for not having enough and rich parents for throwing money at their children. We judge new parents over 40 for being too old, and teen parents for being too young, attachment parents for keeping their children too close, and free-range parents for not keeping their kids close enough. And don’t even think about trying to bring your kid onto a plane or having a drink at the bar with your toddler in tow -- the wrath you will incur will make your head spin. When you are a parent, it takes a village to tell you your choices suck.
Parenting is a tough and often thankless job. What makes it harder is knowing that your every move can be critiqued no matter what choice you make. Which is why in 2014 I am calling on everyone, myself included, to stop the parent-judging.”
When I read Susan Rowher’s article so many experiences that I have had over my four years of parenting came back to me. In other cultures people may give a look or stare but in our culture, they don’t, they talk so that you can hear, or even direct the remark right at you. There is so much that I can write on this topic. The one thing that I can say that I have found the most astonishing however is the judgmental nature of others.
Let me be clear, I am not alluding to those individuals who are genuinely concerned about the welfare of others and intend to offer some form of advice or assistance but those who just simply cast “judgment,” as if they have perfected the art of parenting or as if they are the “Grand High Poobah” there admonish the blameworthy parent, making him or her feel worse than he or she already does by the situation.
Prior to becoming a parent I did make the statements that my child/children would not exhibit certain behaviours such as throwing tantrums in public, as they would be immaculately behaved, but those of us who are parents have all had an incident at one point or another. We have also been judged for it.
Recently an acquaintance noted that when children throw tantrums in public she feels like “beating” the parent and the child, especially when the child behaves in a rather rude manner. I felt it necessary to shed some light on the situation for her, and explain the behaviour isn’t solely attributed to rudeness or bad parenting.
The child may be hungry, sleepy, tired, or just not feeling well, and because of the child’s stage of cognitive development he or she wants his or her needs met immediately. The child is a child, not an adult so we cannot expect the child to think or respond to the situation as if he or she was an adult.
After four years of parenting I have come to realize that tantrums or as we often perceive it in our culture “rudeness” exhibited in public can be attributed to many other factors; factors which may not warrant a back hand, slap, box, or dragging up the child in public so that people will not think that we are inept parents who can’t “rule or control” our children.
I have come to realize that many West Indian parents mete severe or harsh punishment out to their children “not so much so” because they think it is fitting or what the child deserves but because they don’t want to be perceived as a parents who can’t “handle” or “rule” their children. If left to their own devices or conscience they would deal with the situation differently, but how others view them as parents is more important to them, than what they think is the right or just thing to do as a parent.
A few months ago at the store I had a brief encounter with a woman while waiting in the cashier’s line. She was chiding me on, insisting that I discipline my then two-year-old son Nicholas who was fussing, by giving him a “backhand” in his mouth. She kept repeating, “Look how he embarrassing you. If that was my child, I would have fixed him, only one “good” backhand and he would have to stop. I don’t believe children should make their parents look small so. It is not right. You have to break them in when they small.” This woman did not need a microphone; she had brought more attention to our line, than my son’s crying itself. Thank God I am not one who is easily moved or swayed by the opinion of others or I might have given him the “backhand.”
Some situations you ignore and some others you simply can’t. As it seemed like this woman wanted to do the deed herself; I simply removed myself from the queue and left the store. I did not do this because I was embarrassed but because the following response was at the tip of my tongue: “Excuse me, and your name is, and why should I hit my son a backhand in his mouth to shut him up, because you a judgmental stranger that I know not from Adam, has called my parenting skills into question and think that it is appropriate? Please give me a plausible reason why I ought to hit my two year old who is blameless, as he is hungry, and sleepy, a backhand in his mouth to stop him from crying, because according to you he is embarrassing me? What would that solve? I can assure you it won’t shut him up.”
As a parent you make assessments, and given the temperament of this woman, walking away and not engaging her was the best option.
In surmising, as a parent you do what is best for you, your child, and your family. You are the CEO, give parenting your all, give it your best, focus on doing this and drown out the outside noise. Don’t let other people’s judgment of you bother you, especially those who obviously haven’t gotten it right, and have yet to admit that they didn’t get it right. They are not in your shoes.
As long as you know that you are trying your best, or that you have exhausted all of your options that is all that matters. Let people in who want to help you and see you succeed as a parent, not those who are there to judge and tear you down. Surround yourself with people who offer support and encouragement. Parenting is not easy. Please don’t be too hard on yourself either, because sometimes we can be our harshest critic. Just give, and do your best!
The Reasons We Judge Other Parents
Rhiana Maidenburg of the Huff Post furnished some of the following, as reasons why we judge other parents:
• We judge because there are a thousand and one expectations placed on mothers and we don't know how to sort through the pile of pressure labeled as "advice".
• We judge because it's extremely difficult to put ourselves into someone else's shoes
• We judge because we are all unsure that we are actually doing this whole parenting thing correctly.
• We judge because we are envious and resent the feelings that come up so we find something wrong with those who have what we want and end up judging them.
• We judge because at the end of a hard day, it is easier to admonish the neighbour's parenting style than deal with the tantrums our own children are throwing.
• We judge because we are terrified that the mistakes of others could happen to us.
• We judge because we wouldn’t accept the same behaviour in ourselves
• We judge because we display the same behaviour and aren’t aware of it so we project our disowned behavior onto others and dislike it “out there.”
The next time you feel the inclination to judge another parent, remember the following quotes:
• It is an unnecessary burden to make negative judgmental assumptions about others. We are all on a journey. Steve Maraboli
• We take it for granted we know the whole story – we judge a book by its cover and read what we want between selected lines. Axl Rose
• Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up. Jesse Jackson
• When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself. Wayne Dyer
• Most days, I'm doing the best I can. And I honestly believe that's a truth that can be applied to most parents: Most days, we're all doing the best we can. Kara Gebhart Uhl
• It's hard not to care about what other people think… But still, that quiet judgment can sting, especially on days when my nerves are shot and my children are in the worst moods -- a combination that often leads to a situation judge-worthy by many. ” Kara Gebhart Uhl
• There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but a million ways to be a good one. Anonymous
Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 4-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Nicholas. She not only values the many facets of West Indian parenting but also thinks that there is vast room for improvement. A former educator and a child/youth advocate, Mutryce firmly believes that children should not only be seen but heard.. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org