Parent Judging: When There’s No Right Way
As a new parent, you want to do things right. If only children came with an instruction manual. If they did, this lovely manual would tell you the best way to get your baby to sleep or how to potty train your toddler or even how to get them to stop fighting with their siblings.
If only, right? But there’s no manual and parenting ends up being a lot of trial and error until you find something that works.
The Feeding Example
Many parents try to prepare before they have a baby by reading as much information as possible. One expert tells you to feed your baby whenever she is hungry. Whether that’s every 45 minutes or every three hours doesn’t matter, follow your baby’s lead, they say. That sounds reasonable, you think, until you bring home a baby that wants to nurse every half hour followed by a longer feeding every other session. Suddenly, feeding whenever your baby is hungry doesn’t seem like such a good idea because you are feeding a baby 24 hours a day.
So you take another experts advice that suggests putting your baby onto a strict feeding schedule. Then, you try to use a feeding schedule, which works in the morning but by evening you have a very unhappy baby that wants to nurse more than your schedule allows. That’s more expert advice you can throw out the window.
Many childhood milestones are full of contrasting advice. There are experts that give advice on sleeping, breastfeeding, crawling, drinking from a cup, and what kind of shoes your baby wears. The list of dos and don’t’s gets pretty long.
They are trying to be helpful, I’m sure. You have to start somewhere. How are you supposed to make a good, informed decision when the more you read, the more you wonder what the right choice is?
Here’s the truth that many people begin to suspect after they’ve had one or two kids – there’s no one right way to raise a child.
Shocking isn’t it.
It’s In the How
We want our children to learn to sleep through the night, soothe themselves, feed themselves, and a myriad of other activities and skills. The mystery lies in the how. How do you get your child to sleep through the night? How do you make them stop crying or drink from a cup or use a spoon?
You can co-sleep, rock them to sleep, use a pacifier, and the list goes on and on. You could even, gasp, let your baby cry it out until they fall asleep.
If you choose this last method, which by the way I did, prepare yourself for lovely statements like, “I could never let my baby cry like that,” or “I just can’t listen to my baby cry when I could do something to stop it.” All of which imply that you are a heartless mother that isn’t bothered by her baby’s suffering. Nice.
Yes, I felt like a heartless mother until I was the heartless mother of the babies that put themselves to sleep within 15 minutes. Needless to say, I was okay with the guilt.
The What If’s
We now live in a culture that reserves some of the harshest judgments for parents. I recently read an article from npr.com about a study done on people’s perceived judgments of parents. In a way, it was heartbreaking because it addressed the fears that parents face at the hands of those that judge them.
Such as the fear I feel whenever I leave my kids in the car. Even though I park it in the shade when the temps are around 70, and I know they are fine. While I run into the library to drop off books, I worry that I will get lectured by a stranger or at worst have a conversation with the police.
Here’sthe part of the article that stuck out to me the most: “It’s not that risks to children have increased, provoking an increase in moral outrage when children are left unattended. Instead, it could be that moral attitudes toward parenting have changed, such that leaving children unsupervised is now judged morally wrong. And because it’s judged morally wrong, people overestimate the risk.”
See that nasty little word, judge. Not only are parents dealing with the fear of making decisions that will adversely affect their children as they get older, but they are facing the risk of outside judgment. Judgments that can have a serious impact, like being arrested or having children taken away. I could potentially see a time when letting your baby cry herself to sleep would be considered abusive.
Since when did parents lose the ability to decide what is safe and right for their children?
Of course, there are bad parents that make terrible choices. But there are good parents that make mistakes. And there are good parents that are victims of unspeakable tragedies that have nothing to do with their parenting skills.
Yet, society continues to judge.
Somehow, our society has come to distrust parents’ ability to judge what is appropriate and safe for their own children. How have we come to believe that the people that know the kids best don’t know how to keep them safe?
Every Situation is Different
My pre-child self judged parents. I wasn’t the type to openly criticize but I did in my head. Then, I had my first baby. Pretty much everything they tell you in the baby books did not apply to my daughter.
She cried for hours for no reason. Rocking made her mad, singing made her mad, feeding stopped her crying for a while but then she’d spit up and be mad. She took four, half-hour naps throughout the day, giving neither myself nor my husband much of a break.
When she woke, if I didn’t reach her within a few moments of her first cry, her crying would intensify until I couldn’t get her to stop. She woke up to four or five times a night for the first year. She wasn’t an easy baby.
There was nothing wrong with her. She had no health problems, developmental delays, or other conditions. She just cried a lot for no apparent reason.
People were constantly giving us advice on what to do and what would work. I even had one lady tell me it was my fault she cried all the time because I was a nervous first-time mother. True, I was a nervous first-time mother, but I’m pretty sure the lack of sleep and weeks of listening to a crying baby were what made me seem nervous and a little nuts, not the other way around.
What it comes down to is this – every child is different. All parents are different. Every situation is different. Parents have differing values and backgrounds that affect what choices they make. What works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another.
This is true within my own four children. After having two babies that hated when I sang to them, lo and behold, on my third child, I got a little guy that would stop and stare into my eyes while I hummed or sang him songs.
When we were in the emergency room with him for a burn, he wouldn’t stop crying until I started to sing. Had he been one of my daughters, he would have screamed at me in rage for even daring to make such a noise.
If there is that much variation amongst siblings that come from the same gene pool, the differences amongst babies and children, in general, are going to be huge.
I’ve used small parenting choices like feeding and sleep training as examples but parent judging started small too. The internet has fostered its growth until, now, parents are afraid to leave their children alone at all well past the age when kids are capable of being responsible for themselves.
Support Others Instead of Parent Judging
If we can support each other as parents, I think we’ll do better and go a lot further to ensure the safety of our children and families.
Before reporting a neighbor to the police because their children are playing in the park by themselves, how about talking to the parent? If their children are in obvious danger or causing problems because they are unattended, talk with the parent.
By obvious danger, I mean playing in the street while cars are driving by not climbing on the big toy unaided. If the children aren’t causing any problems and you’re uncomfortable with them being alone, maybe you need to live with it. If their parents trust them, so should you.
We are not all going to make the same parenting choices and that’s okay. Let’s remind ourselves that when someone makes a different choice than you, it doesn’t mean that your choice is wrong. It also doesn’t mean their choice is wrong. It means you’ve made different choices.
Of course, I’m not talking about abusive or neglectful behavior. I’m talking about basic parenting philosophies that are different. We have to accept that we all aren’t going to parent our children the same way. Maybe if we show each other a little kindness and understanding, we can stop the rampant parent judging that fills social media.
Parents are trying to make the best decisions for their children and families. Let’s go back to the old rule of treating one another as we want to be treated. Let’s help and trust more and judge less.
Time magazine’s cover this month is titled “Why we’re losing the internet to the culture of hate.” While they aren’t focusing on parent judging, the article is worth a read as parents are prone to hate for the choices they make regarding their children. Have you ever been parent judged? How did you handle it?