I see the mom walking down the street with her 4-year-old daughter paying more attention to her cell phone than her daughter, and I think, “Put your cell phone down and pay attention to your daughter.” I see the mom at the grocery store at 1 AM with her 2-year-old son and I think, “That’s ridiculous.” I see the 6-year-old talk disrespectfully to his parents at the soccer field and I think, “If he were my son, that’d never happen.” And let’s not mention the thoughts that have gone through my mind when I see the temper tantrum in the grocery store line next to the colorful Skittles that the child wants and can’t have.
Judging other people’s parenting can be intense and destructive to my well being—and it just plain isn’t fair to other parents. When we judge others, we’re sending the message that we’ve got all the answers. Any parent knows this just isn’t the case. Why do we judge other parents and how can we stop?
We judge for many reasons:
- We parent differently. Breastfeeding vs Bottle. Educational decisions. Kid’s use of technology. Our natural tendency is to see those who parent differently as wrong. Because if they are right, then I’m wrong. Instead of just seeing them as different. There’s usually more than just two ways of parenting.
- We develop strong opinions about our beliefs regarding what is the best way to parent. Some of those strong opinions can lead us to judge others who have different beliefs.
- Our rush to determine a person’s character. Research has shown that someone’s character is more important to us than what they know and their sociability so we rush to make a judgment on their character. We parlay our own circumstances, environment, and experiences onto parents we’re judging without considering that we’re looking at a moment in time without full context. Dr. Elizabeth Hall in Psychology Today says that we take a behavior and instead of thinking about how the situation may dictate the behavior, we attribute it all to the person’s character. For instance, we see Mom letting her 5-year-old use the cell phone and we make a snap judgment about the mom without even considering that they could be communicating with a grandparent at the moment.
When we judge we make ourselves less approachable. We also separate ourselves from the authentic parenting community. We’re less able to help others and to receive help. Even if a parent is in the wrong and could use the help, who wants to listen to someone who looks down on them or thinks they are better than they are?
How do we stop judging other parents?
1. Recognize we all make mistakes and have limitations.
We have all forgotten to pack extra diapers. We’ve all snapped at our kids because we were tired. We’re all learning as we go because no matter how many kids you have—they are all different and we’ve never raised this particular child before. We’re all flawed parents.
2. Reflect on what it’s like to be judged yourself.
You know the defensiveness, shame, and frustration you felt being judged even though you knew the person judging didn’t know your story. Remember what it’s like to feel misunderstood and inferior.
3. Remember, you never know everything about a parent’s situation.
You are judging a snapshot in time. Everyone has a story that influences their experiences. You don’t know their story. You know your story. And you don’t know the decisions you’d make if you had their story. (This is a great story to underscore this point.)
4. Limit what you consume on social media.
Information on any and every parenting decision you can think of can be Googled. (I didn’t say accurate info.) Facebook and Twitter are full of parents’ best versions of their kids. Social media feeds are designed to keep giving you what they know you’ll like and agree with, strengthening your belief that what’s right for you is right for everyone. See social media for what it is. A snapshot. Most often, a snapshot of what people who are most like you want you to see.
5. Get to know the parents when possible.
Before you judge, get to know them. This doesn’t have to take lots of time. You may find you share a lot in common. You share insecurities. You’re both doing the best you can. You both have challenges, though different, yet still challenges. You may find out that they’re working two jobs or just left the hospital visiting a sick grandmother. Care about the person.
6. Offer help when appropriate.
Keep the attitude that we’re all part of one big parenting club, doing the best we can. It’s with humility and empathy that a small gesture can calm the nerves of an overwhelmed and anxious parent. Offering to watch her grocery buggy while she tends to her little one lets a mom know you support her. Offering a tip that helped you through a tough time says no one expects you to be perfect.
We stop judging other parents by training our brains to think of how we can encourage others through the parenting journey. I used to judge (and still do if I’m honest). When I do catch myself judging another parent, I am training myself to offer encouragement when possible, to ask questions and hear their story, or simply to replay in my mind many of the mistakes I’ve made as a parent. (There’s plenty to choose from.) We do what we do because we believe it’s right. Give others the freedom to do the same.