Judgment. Man, like cold germs and cauliflower, it’s everywhere. No matter what you do or where you go, it’s there. But motherhood has provided me the biggest lesson in terms of dealing with it.
I remember the initial sting of judgment when, as I struggled through a shopping list at Target, my fiercely iron-willed then-2.5-year-old daughter tantrumed loudly in the store. No matter what I did, what I said, or how calmly I kept our errand moving, she persisted. Pushing the cart containing my purchases and my then-1-year-old son, my face grew red hot with anxious embarrassment. I didn’t even want to look up to see passersby. Then, a stranger stopped me and said that I needed to give my daughter a spanking. That was not a helpful statement. His face was creased with judgment, not softened by empathy or warmed by the desire to aid. He simply disapproved of my child’s behavior and my reaction to it. So he chose to share his internal negativity with me. Sadly, I was too novice then to refuse to accept it. I didn’t realize that that was an option.
Back then, I internally crumbled and seethed at the unsolicited input. I allowed the unwelcome negativity to weigh on me, to tear at me, to affect me. However, another kid and five years of parenting later, such a situation would elicit a different response.
Pre-kids me was constantly on alert for perceived or real external judgment. I truly cared what others thought of me. A side-eye or sneer would erode me. Fast-forward to three kids later, the sheer frequency and variety of judgment I have and do receive has granted me perspective I wished I’d owned years ago. Though I am aware and at times irritated by outside judgment, it in no way topples me as it once did. If anything, it enables me to properly respond to the judgment and assess the critiquer’s appropriate place within my life.
My response now: release the judgment and give space.
An outsider’s unsolicited judgment is and should be ineffectual. What does their opinion mean, particularly if it is an ill- or under-informed assessment? Often judgmental comments are rooted in incomplete information, lack of empathy, competitive drive, ego disruptions, and/or a tendency towards viewing the negative. All of those stimulating factors disqualify the accuracy of the judger’s perspective. The individual is unknowingly looking through a clouded window.
For example, before I had kids of my own, I judged parents with abandon. I assumed I could do it so much better than they could or that I somehow knew something that they didn’t. Then I became a parent. I swiftly realized I had known NOTHING. Those years of caretaking for my didabled brother, babysitting for children of all ages, nannying… nope. It lent me no meaningful insight. I thought it had — I truly did — but I just plain did not know a thing, and I can say with relative certainty that any parent who has made such an assumption themself will say the same thing.
I had never actually been a parent, so my information was inherently incomplete, flawed, inaccurate. Meaning, all of those judgments and assumptions I’d made over the years reflected more on me and my utter lack of awareness of myself and my limited knowledge than it did on those I was assessing.
That’s right. All of those negative ideas I had about others — yeah, well — those parents were the rubber and kid-free me was the glue and all of my foolish judgments were bouncing off of them and sticking right to me. I was unknowingly making a royal ass of myself. I did not know what I did not know and, boy, it showed.
The same notion goes for fellow parents judging other parents. One cannot possibly know the ins and out, before-during-and-after, detailed information that would enable a fully formed assessment to be made. Judging a fellow parent’s approach or their child’s behavior is not only unhelpful and unsupportive, but entirely pointless. If you’re concerned, offer support not critique. If a mom looks stressed, offer help or even a kind smile, not an eyeroll or a sneering whisper to your friend. Judgment just isn’t the right choice… don’t be human glue!
Now, a parent of a 7-, 6-, and 3-year-old, I have experienced judgement from self (SO much from self), family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and a plethora of strangers. As a result of that wealth of exposure, I have realized the value in distancing myself from those whose natural inclination is to critique, especially those who have not yet realized the limitations of their life experiences in granting them clarity.
I should neither give credence to judgers’ snark, nor welcome them with regularity into my life. They and their judgment should be granted distance. I deserve better.
And so, I not only release the individual’s judgment as ill-advised drivel and a consequence of their own struggles, but I release the individual. I allow them to drift and place a self-protective partition between them and me. If someone is slinging arrows, it’s only reasonable to back away and raise one’s shield.
And so, my judgment response goes something like this.
If someone takes issue with my sparkly son’s feminine flair aesthetic? I release the judgment and give space.
If someone balks at my parenting rules or situation-specific behavior expectations? I release the judgment and give space.
If someone comments negatively on my littlest’s penchant for mud puddles or stick digging or worm finding? I release the judgment and give space.
If someone takes exception to my “extended” breastfeeding or my former efforts as a breastmilk donor? I release the judgment and give space.
If someone provides unsolicited punishment advice or vocally disapproves of my parenting approach? I release the judgment and give space.
If someone judges my children’s behavior or my response to it without knowledge of the before, during, or after of the day? I release the judgment and give space.
If someone disapproves of our dietary choices or religious practices or education choices or daily routines? I release the judgment and give space.
If someone consistently finds fault in my children and/or me? I release the judgment and give space.
I am a bridge-builder, not a bridge-burner, but even with that inclination I deserve to parent my children to the best of MY ability and MY judgment without fearing outside snark. And, as satisfying as a razor sharp comeback may be, there’s no use in starting arguments or lashing out, especially with those who innately critique the world; they simply do not perceive the cloudiness of the window through which they view everyone and everything around them. So, I breathe out and move on in the knowledge that their judgment is a reflection of them and not me.
Parents, I wish you freedom from judgment and, if it does find you, I wish you the ability to release both it and the misguided critic. Step back and raise your shield. You matter too.
Keep doing your best. Keep loving your flawed children with your flawed human heart. Keep surviving and savoring parenthood one day at a time.