I vividly remember as the mother of a 10 dayish old baby being sent off for a rest by an older family friend while she kindly took care of my son. From the room next door within earshot, I heard her saying something to him in that voice, you know the voice, the “ I can’t say this to your mother cause it will sound so judgmental so I shall say it in a high pitched sing-songy voice as if I am asking a question to you, even though I am abundantly aware that you cannot answer” voice. I heard her say this to my crying child in that voice “Does your mommy not want to give you a dummy.” Needless to say, I didn’t rest. Rather I lay there and went through a litany of responses in my head and true some of them were downright sing-songy too. Problem was no matter how many retorts I could summon in my hazy head, I was left feeling judged and feeling like I was screwing something up. I thought various combinations of, “Maybe I haven’t tried hard enough with the dummy.”, “How come the other babies take to dummies like they were born sucking them?” If only he took the dummy maybe he would cry less, is he crying too much….?” You get the ugly picture of my slippery decline into self-doubt in that moment. I’d like to say it was the last moment of that kind but I can’t.
Of course becoming a parent and then being a parent is a constant time of change and of course it takes major adjustment to this, nothing-can-really-prepare-you-for, new role. So why then in the midst of all this newness and upheaval of life as we knew it do people go all judgy on us and what do we do when either the perceived or the very real judgment gets lobbed our way?
A paediatric pharmaceutical company conducted a study on how many parents feel judged and turns out that of the 2000 parents that they surveyed 68 per cent of parents feel judged on the decisions they make for their child. The main issues that parents feel judged on, are: diet and nutrition (50 per cent), parenting style (43 per cent) and their child’s behaviour (33 per cent). What with the pervasiveness of social media the potential for judgment is everywhere and trickles from our inboxes and various social media feeds into our psyches.
Truth is we do judge. We do, let’s just admit it and get it out there. And the reality is we have to judge, we have to make choices about what we think, feel and do. It’s ok to have an opinion and to choose a specific thing for our children. It’s what we do with that opinion that can make things get a tad hairy. It’s the unsolicited, overly critical, nasty and insensitive stuff that gives judgment a bad name. I mean of course there are the uber judgy with their, “Shouldn’t that child be sleeping, eating, speaking properly and cooperating on every level already.” But there are the more subtle sing-songy passive aggressive voices amongst parents that can really hit hard at the various stages and challenges of all that parenting brings. So all that said I thought maybe we need to be thinking about how all this judging is going down. Here are some of my thoughts on the judges and the judged cause at some point we all fall into either of these roles.
It is helpful to ask ourselves before we speak “To what end am I about to make this comment.” If the answer is to just shout out my thoughts without any intent of engaging the other person in the discussion, maybe just maybe try to swallow that thought. Warning: This can be extremely difficult! It is particularly difficult when you feel strongly about something the other parent is doing. But if you are saying something for saying somethings sake, you have to realise that it probably won’t be well received. In fact it is likely to come across as attacking and most of us are not too receptive to new ideas when we are being attacked. I am not talking about serious situations where some kind of intervention is vital like a child being hurt in any way.
Try a little tenderness
If we come from an empathic viewpoint that takes into account what may have shaped the other parent’s thoughts and behaviour, it can help to level the playing fields and perhaps open the ways for a real conversation to be had. Context is key! That child tantrumming in aisle number 4 of the supermarket may be exhausted, that parent may actually have a strong sense of boundary setting, or maybe he struggles to say no, or that lollipop is just the final straw for both of them after a long hard day. Thing is we don’t necessarily know the full picture. So us sweeping in as aisle number 4’s parenting super-hero expert can exacerbate rather than ameliorate an already explosive situation. And this goes for all aspects of parenting including but not even vaguely limited to the breast feeders. the bottle feeders, the natural birthers, the Caesar deliverers, the Ritalin givers, the anti Ritaliners, the Montessori educators, the mainstreamers, and yes the dummy suckers and the non-suckers! Everyone has their story and everyone makes their choices and most are based on loving their child. Conversations are good. Attacks are just plain unhelpful.
Delivery is key
Even if someone asks for your advice or opinion delivery is key. It’s the difference between being outright nasty as in “I can’t believe you think its ok to stick your child in front of the TV all day no wonder she screams and cries all the time.” As opposed to, “I found with my daughter that she gets irritable after she has watched long periods of TV.” Thing is if you have something to say deliver that thing wisely and rest assured we can all see through an inauthentic attempt at false kindness.
Hang on a second what do I actually think?
Sometimes when we are being or feeling attacked, we fail to stop for a second and ascertain what we really think about the issue at hand. If we are clear in our own identity in what we think and feel, we are less likely to be crushed by our friends, family or media going all judgy on us. Obviously we can’t have crystal clear feelings on each and every issue that comes our way but if our values are generally in place, they can really help to guide us when judgment comes our way.
Maybe they do have a point
As hard as it may be to dissect that nasty sing-songy tune that gets sung our way, if we put on our big brave boots, we might try hear what’s behind the words that are being said. Sometimes they may have a point to make and maybe we should hear it. Maybe their delivery has been severely lacking but the content has some value. If we can stop and think about what they are saying, digest it and decide if it has real relevance then we are proper grown up and mature. And if we are able to do the first step, perhaps we could actually go further by advising on the poor delivery and saying something along the lines of, “I recognise that you think I should do X another way but I would prefer it if you spoke to me about it as opposed to attacking me on the issue.” Now that’s a big challenge but still, just saying.
So after all that my son ended up taking the dummy and just loving it. This led to my husband and me spending many a sleep deprived night devising intricate strategies to keep the dummy in his mouth so that we were not slaves to the dummy falling from his lips. These included rigging something up from the ceiling and something Velcro oriented. Neither came to fruition and we remained slaves to the dummy for some time. I often looked at my son and thought in that voice, “Your mommy should never have given you a dummy.”