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Friday
Feb082013

Parenting: Someone Thinks You're Doing it Wrong

When I read Phyllis Rippeyoung's paper for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and wrote my post about it, something was bugging me. Rippeyoung's paper highlights what she sees as an immense societal pressure toward intensive motherhood (in other words, attachment parenting). At first, I thought it was just a tinge of defensiveness that was nagging at me. After all, while I don't think anyone should be pressured into a parenting style that doesn't work for them, attachment parenting was a style that worked well for us and I certainly didn't feel that it subjugated me as a woman, since we went down that path together as equal parents.

But after I while, I realized it wasn't just my defensiveness that made it not sit right with me. It was the fact that I felt an entirely different kind of pressure.

  • "Put him down, stop spoiling him"
  • "Don't you know that bed sharing could KILL YOUR BABY"
  • "You have to let them cry, it is the only way they'll learn how to self soothe"
  • "Don't you think it's time to start thinking about weaning?"
  • "So, when does she start day care?"
  • "Is she sleeping through the night?"
  • "Maybe it's time for some tough love."
  • "A 3 year old nursing? That's disgusting."
  • "Time to get her on a schedule."
  • "If you don't get that child out of your bed, you're going to destroy your marriage."
  • "What do you mean you don't use time outs? If you don't punish your child, they won't learn who is boss. They'll walk all over you."
  • "He'll never learn to walk if you keep carrying him."
  • "She's nursing AGAIN. She just had a feed one hour ago."

Those were the words, but there were also the glares, the eye rolling, the blog posts, the books, the mainstream parenting magazines and websites. Plenty of resources out there to tell us that we were doing it wrong, that our children were going to be feral wild beasts incapable of doing anything on their own and still sleeping in our bed and suckling from my breast well into their teens.

It was more than enough to make people feel judged and even make some mothers fear going into mainstream public spaces where they thought they might be judged for their choices. In fact, it was a friend facing that exact fear as she prepared to go to her husband's company picnic, that inspired me to write Flaunt Your Crunch. That post, which was intended to give my friend a confidence boost, instead got me lots of flack from people who thought it was meant to put down others' parenting choices...and the circle continues.

It doesn't matter if you use a sling or a stroller -- someone will judge you. It doesn't matter if you breastfeed or formula feed -- someone will judge you. It doesn't matter if your child sleeps in your bed or if they are in a crib in their own room -- someone will judge you. And even when people are not judging you, you'll probably assume that they are.

While the judgement and the pressure is probably most intense during infancy, exacerbated by parental insecurity, it doesn't end there.

  • Send your kids to school or homeschool?
  • Sign them up for sports and arts or purposely avoid scheduled activities?
  • Allow them to wander the neighbourhood on their own or protect them fiercely?
  • Let them have candy on a regular basis or ban candy from your home?
  • Put them in French immersion or don't?
  • Let them have screen time during the school week or don't?
  • Allow them to start drinking at home before they've reached the legal age?
  • Let them have a boyfriend or girlfriend sleep over or have strict curfews and "the door always stays open and the feet on the ground" policy?
  • ...and more.

Someone will always think you're doing it wrong. That is a guarantee. And the media will continue to take what they consider to be "extreme parenting" and put it on display, tear it apart, and pit us against each other.

The question is, when (or maybe more importantly HOW) will you, me and everyone else get the backbone to say "who cares?". When will we become confident enough in our well considered parenting choices to be able to look criticism in the face and either calmly refute it or shrug it off?

We're never going to get everyone to stop judging, ever. It won't happen, and to some extent I think that is a good thing. But we can all find a way to be confident in our own choices and open to the choices of others. That's not such a hard thing, or is it?

Photo used with permission from Kasey at Powersfullife.com

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Reader Comments (38)

It shouldn't be such a hard thing, I don't think. And we should be able to discuss our choices in a respectful, civil manner, with the premise that we are all doing what we feel is best for our families!

Great post! Would love to have you join our community at The Mom Pledge:

http://themompledge.com

We probably can't stop all the judging, but we can at least create a positive, supportive environment for all moms. That's what we are trying to do.

Off to share this wonderful message! Thanks for writing it!

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Flora Ross

I think the "Who cares?" reaction is so important, but it takes a while to get to the point where you can say that. Each year that I've been a parent I've cared a little bit less about what other think, particularly if those others are strangers.

I have people close to me that I purposely seek input from about parenting because they offer advice in a helpful, non-judgmental way, and they aren't upset if I decide the advice they've offered doesn't apply to my particular situation. Even when I go to a larger group for input (like soliciting input on Twitter) I do so knowing that there probably won't be consensus, so I'll need to pick and choose the advice that works for me.

Occasionally I've read things where people criticize things that I've done as a parent that are not aimed at me because the people don't know I do those things.For instance, I still lie down beside my 6yo kid when he goes to sleep. Sometimes I stay with the 8yo, too. They fall asleep quickly and I don't mind taking the time to be with them. I've read tweets saying how ridiculous it is for parents to continue to stay with kids at bedtime at that age. I shrug it off. Maybe it doesn't work for them, but it's no big deal for me. "Who cares?" is a wonderful sanity saver.

I look at friends and family who have awesome kids. They're all raising their kids differently, but they are raising them in the way that works best for them.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary Lynn

Yes, I don't really understand the worry about people thinking I'm "doing it wrong..." Maybe because I have the sense that mainstream parenting (short BFing, quick forced sleeping through the night, infant daycare, etc.) is just so off-base I come from a place of just eschewing everything but my own instincts about mothering. Maybe because I came to motherhood at an older age (35)...and maybe because I generally keep to myself, aside from a handful of like-minded friends. Still, I don't see how the chatterings of random people should affect grown women who *should* have some backbone so much! (Maybe I am being judgy of the lack of backbone, now?)

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen Powers

I don’t find it hard. But I accept that other people do, and I want to support them if I can. That “ur doin it wrong” message has been coming at me all my adult life about virtually all of my decisions. Repeated breaking from the norms builds up your resistance. :)

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori

My kids are grown now, so it is probably easier for me to feel confident about my parenting - they all turned out to be great people! I think it is your phrase "well considered parenting" that is important. I raised my children the way I did because I spent time researching and seeking to understand the needs of children, what we know about child development, etc., etc. So when people said to me "you are spoiling that baby" or "if you don't spank him, he'll grow up to be a mass murderer" and other equally helpful things, I was comforted by that research.

And that's why I'm not inclined to say "Who cares?" about this issue. I believe that parenting matters. I think there are many ways to be a good parent and to meet children's needs so they can grow to become emotionally healthy adults. I also think there are many approaches to parenting that are not helpful to children's development, and I think we should care about that. That's not about judging people. It's about thinking we need to support parents much, much more.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa Pitman

P.S. @ Mary Lynn...I still lay down with my 5 yo and will continue to do so as long as she'll have me! I enjoy the 20-30 minute dark quiet time cuddling with her as she falls asleep. As they get older, they spend so much time being active and running about, it's nice to be able to reclaim a sliver of physical closesness!

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGretchen Powers

Who cares indeed!!! We all do what we need to do for the benefit of our families. In my opinion there is really no right or wrong way to parent (within the law!) and while I enjoy hearing about experiences and what has or hasn't worked for other parents, I ultimately do what I want to do. I refuse to take blame or be made to feel guilty for things like, my kids needing/wanting me to lie with them at night. Why should you care how my kids get to sleep? I love this post Annie! More new parents need to understand that at the end of the day it's all about safety, love and positivity.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

@Teresa:

I agree.

My "who cares?" wasn't intended to imply that we shouldn't care about our parenting choices, because I do they are important. It was intended to convey that once we've made those choices, we shouldn't care so much about what others think about them.

Personally, I love discussions about the pros and cons of different parenting choices. I think they're important and useful. But I've learned to be able to navigate them without feeling judged by things that people are saying. I may disagree with something and refute it, but I won't go and have a cry over it.

February 13, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

This issue of judgment is the main reason why I started my blog and writing again. It really bothered me when my son was an infant and a couple women in my mom group (extended breastfeeders) made some nasty (and ignorant) comments to me about my decision to stop breastfeeding after learning about my son's severe allergies. And a couple very negative Facebook comments from close friends after I hired a sleep consultant when my son wouldn't sleep for more than 1-2 hours at a time and I was spiraling into sleep-deprived depression. (And he refused to co-sleep.) I tried every sling and wrap (from Ergo to Moby), and my son hated them and has always preferred a stroller. But now judgments don't bother me as much. When your baby is new, you are so much less confident in how you navigate the choices in modern parenting.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Smock

I think for me personally researching actually makes me feel worse. I don't want to know that one study says my kid is 10 more times likely to be crazy if I do option a while another one says my kid is 10 more times likely to be crazy if I do option b. So for the most part I just do what I feel is right with no research to back it up. Ha. The exception I make is car seats because I can watch a video and see the direct cause and effect. I've researched that up the wazoo. The rest of life has so many unpredictable variables. Yes, car accidents are not predictable but the development of a personality is quite a bit more complex. I try every day to just be the mom I'd want to have. I don't always manage it. And when I don't I try not to be too hard on myself.

I am very confident in my decisions on the more contentious issues, with the exception of breastfeeding. I am very defensive about that but it is solely because I wanted to breastfeed one child and couldn't. It was never my choice. It was just a weird set of circumstances. I think when you get to make a choice that you believe in it is easy to stand by it. When you are sort of cornered into doing something you don't want to do - the judgment stings.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

This is something that's always made me sad - we could be so united, so supported, but instead we turn on each other. Same thing with girls in the school yards and in high school.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie @Nat_Rea

I know what you mean about "who cares?" and I definitely care a lot less now about what people think. But I am with Teresa on the "I care" when it comes to other people's kids too. Actually I'm having a lot of trouble articulating my thoughts around this so I'll just leave it at that.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

It's natural for people who know (think they know!) better than someone else to think they can do it better, and a lot of people have the bad manners to express that. It's also natural for people with a new child and no experience to believe that others might know better and feel bad about thinking they've made mistakes and the possibility that those mistakes are grave.

There is nothing to do except the same thing people do whenever they face "suggestions" from a point of ignorance. Get informed enough to be confident in your choices, then you can selectively ignore the looks.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex | Perfecting Parenthood

The best advice I ever got from a mother of 6: Do what keeps you sane. When it's all said and done, and your children are grown, nobody asks you if you breast or bottle fed. They only want to know how your kids turned out so great.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSandra

Great post. We all need to respect what works for each family and get over it. If we aren't there for one another who is. One of my good friends is a crunchy mom. I am not yet we get along great and respect each other as women and moms.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNolie

Word, Sandra, word.

Annie, why is it bad when people ask you if your kiddos are sleeping through the night? It always seemed like a sympathetic question to me. I've never felt judged regardless of what I answered. The rest of those questions/statements are pretty egregious, though.

February 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarissa

Marissa:

I've never found it to be a sympathetic question. I usually find it is either a competitive one (i.e. my baby IS sleeping through the night, what YOURS isn't??) or attempting to open a door to give unsolicited advice.

I wrote a post a long time ago about why my answer to that question was always "I don't know." http://www.phdinparenting.com/blog/2008/6/4/does-she-sleep-through-the-night.html

February 13, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

You are so right! I wrote a blog post about this last year: http://peelinganapple.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/confident-parenting.html

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFiona

I strive to find that authentic "who cares" reaction to parental judgement. Thus far I haven't been super successful. Part of it is living with an anxiety disorder. My initial thought is always 'Yikes! I must be doing something REALLY wrong if this person felt the need to say something about it,' followed by 'Ack! I've damaged my kid!'

I am getting better at recognizing that it's the disorder and not the validity of someone else's opinion that freaks me out. But the freak outs still happen. As much as I want to, dismissing the criticism is really tough.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNadine

Great post and so true. I have a teenager and our choices with him don't slip under the radar. There's always someone who will judge.

I had no idea you struggled with the reverse issues in crunchy circles of being looked down on for having to wean early and not co-sleep. Those sound like they were hard days made worse by the judgments of others.

Two of my children were born via (emergency) c-sections, 1 was circumcised and weaned to a bottle at 8 months. I've lived through the judgment too. I now surround myself with people who are happier with their own parenting choices and don't seek to point fingers at others to make themselves feel better. Some of these people lean more toward attachment parenting, others toward more typical North American practices. And I know all of them love their children as much as I love them. No judgments.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Maven

Oops! I got the commenter wrong. That was actually Jessica's post on having to wean/sleep issues, not Annie's. Apologies.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Maven

It's exhausting isn't it. Besides avoiding people who I feel rightly or wrongly are judging my choices, which is basically impossible, I've decided to just do my best to accept every parenting choice without judgement myself. Respect! Great post.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I was thinking about this very thing the other day. We are about to go on vacation and stay with my in-laws, who are loving and kind, but judge me ferociously for my parenting choices. I openly admit I do get stressed and caught up in it all adn find myself changing my ways to avoid their criticism. This past year my daughter (7) has been facing difficult choices about being judged by her peers for the clothes she wears, books she reads, activities she enjoys. My message to her has been firm and consistent - if her choices make her happy, are safe and don't hurt anyone, who cares what others think. She has taken my advice very seriously and is now happy with a small group of friends who adore her, and she has shut out the voices of those who were trying to hurt her with her judging. Long story short, it's time to heed my own advice!

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I think it's important to remember that many people come to parenting a bit uncertain of their own approach. Those comments can undermine parents who are "on the fence" about their own choices, esp. those that differ from what their parents and friends and neighbors do. It is hard to be confident about breastfeeding when it's not quite working yet in the early days and all the voices around you say it was too hard and you should just give a bottle, or to trust that your child will sleep through the night alone one day if they are "still" waking ever couple hours at 1 or 2. Even the most confident of us feels a bit of doubt creep in now and then in times of stress, that maybe they are right, maybe I'm doing this all wrong. We don't live in a vacuum. We need support in our choices to help us when those doubts arise. For me LLL and the friends I made there became that community. As we become seasoned parents it is indeed easier to trust ourselves, but in those early days it can be very tough!

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

I just read the original paper by Rippeyoung and it´s an amazing read. At first site it seems to be criticizing AP, but it actually doesn´t. It saying that we mothers/parents shouldn´t be judging each other, but fight together to improve womens rights to pregnancy leave, the right to receive honest support while breastfeeding, the time to be parents without loosing our perspectives on any future job or career. The author criticizes Dr. Sears for being quite nonchalant about womens rights. He says you should spend more time with your kids working less, bet he never uses his power and influence to unite women to pressure governments to improve parenting facilities to do so, without harming their position on labor market. Why is it so many fathers still prefer not to work less/step back for a couple of years to be there for their kids? For the same reason, they would loose all chances of career making. It shouldn´t be a choice. You should be able to take care of your kids now and at the same time be able to get the nice job/salary you want when you return to work. So actually, I really really enjoyed the paper they are criticizing!!! Thanks for sharing!

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFemale Solidarity!

Female Solidarity:

My concern with the focus on attachment parenting in Rippeyoung's paper is that it doesn't consider the other types of pressures that are put on mothers and families.

One example is the anti co-sleeping campaigns that tell parents you're going to kill your baby if you let them sleep in your bed. For parents whose baby won't sleep if he isn't touching them, saying "just use a crib" is a ridiculous and impossible pressure to put on parents.

My point was just that no matter what type of parenting you chose, there is going to be pressure to do it differently from the government, from the media, from other parents, from your own parents. No matter what choice you make (other than a very narrow selection of choices that perfectly aligns with government policy), you won't be supported by the government.

February 15, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

With the recent buzz about relaxed French mothers parenting their kids without scheduled activities floating around the media lately, I've been thinking a lot about this whole judging or "parenting right or wrong" thing.

I struggled with this topic for a while now, and then took a step back. Having been an unscheduled child in Europe and now raising two kids in North America, our lives couldn't be more different. But is it 'wrong', or 'worse'? Or 'better'?

There are no answers, only a slippery slope. Ultimately you have to decide what works for you and your family and just do it. And make mistakes. And then correct them, or not.

Either way, I feel judged even when I don't hear the words spoken. I feel second-guessed even when there are no glares. I feel alone in a world full of advice, asked for and given unsolicited. And still, after 8 years, I'm stumbling along, just like everyone else.

One other point I struggle with is that when I ask questions of how other families do something, I often feel like there is a hesitation to enter that conversation. But why? The answer is again the judging, perceived or intended. They assume I want to compare to my kids, but sometimes a simple, innocent question is just that: a curiosity that has me wondering how someone else does it. Not to put them down, or copy their idea, just to educate myself to other possibilities. Maybe how they do it might help me out with a particular situation? Only way to find out is to ask...or share a story of my own. Except, that's the risky part, isn't it. What if someone judges someone else? What if I end up feeling worse instead of better? Is it better/easier/safer to just not say anything at all?

Like I said, it's a slippery slope.

February 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJavamom

A really powerful and thought provoking post. I never realised the huge impact it would be of becoming a mum and the weight of the choices that I would need to make. I really struggled in the first few months of motherhood to find my own parenting voice and not be tossed on the waves of others. Confidence at being a mother was not a strong point. It is a difficult thing to find and definitely a lot more difficult when everyone has an opinion.

February 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrinabird and Son

Thanks for this post. I struggle with an anxiety disorder and, having been the target of nasty comments from people in my neighbourhood (I'm the only single mom), I now avoid most other parents. For instance at swimming class I avoid engaging in conversation with other moms because I just *know* it will devolve into a game of comparisons and judgement. I also find that moms cut each other off and destroy kids' friendships over the most trivial of differences. In no group have I ever felt so alone...and I'm queer, so that tells you something!

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

THANK YOU for this. As a first time mom I learned very quickly that everyone judges. It's just a matter of being okay with that. Thank you for putting into words what has been on my mind since becoming a mom 7 months ago!

March 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

There's always pressure, and I agree that it should be fairly easy to shrug your shoulders and walk away whenever someone tries to tell you how to raise your child. However, it's hard when the criticism is family related, as they're not exactly willing to listen or understand why you're doing the things you're doing when it comes to raising your own kids. And what about your in-laws, or in the case of divorced households, the parents themselves! And when it comes to religion, common sense just goes out the window. My mom, who's a Clinical Psychologist, explained to me how to get around this, hopefully with minimal conflict. Here's the link in case you're interested: http://conversationswithmymother.com/divorced-parents-disciplining-children and http://conversationswithmymother.com/what-to-do-when-others-push-religious-views-on-your-kids/

Thanks for your post! Great read.

April 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMolly Skyar

Great post. I agree with you completely. So much judgment out there when it comes to other people's parenting choices. But you know....it doesn't stop there. We are SUCH a judgmental world when it comes to all things -- not just parenting. We judge others for their dietary and exercise choices, their marriage choices, their career choices. It seems like we're all one big judgy bunch of people.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMomma Sunshine

I still feel this from time to time and I've been doing this parenting thing for almost two decades now. The last few years have been significantly better when it comes to my younger kids- despite all the stress and self-doubt that comes along with behavior issues and diagnoses. This is because I have the ultimate proof that I'm doing something right: an intelligent, socially adept, talented, compassionate, politically astute, disciplined, ambitious, confident, funny, loving, well adjusted and KIND teenage son. He's the single BEST person I have ever known. (He's not perfect, I'm not one of those mothers with total blinders to her children's flaws... but his flaws are simple, normal human ones) A lot of that is innate to him, but obviously the way I raised him didn't 'ruin' any of the awesomeness he was born with... and the way he describes me as a mother? It makes me feel invincible... which is a huge benefit to his younger brother and sister, because when we have faith in ourselves and our choices, we are better able to be loving, patient parents and hear the instincts that are so important to making the best call for THIS child in THIS situation.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStef

you know, as my kids got older, i assumed that the parenting pressure would lessen. you know, newbie worries, guilt, insecurity account for many cases of judging…so i was looking forward to more experienced parents as i became the parent of more "experienced" kids. yeah. i was completely wrong. it is worse. the pressures are huge with older kids and the judgements can be brutal. the accounts of mothers, that i could share with you, shaming teenage girls would shock you. after 18 years of parenting, with my first kid now being an adult…i find the this stage is even worse. crazy, eh? parents need to be kind to each other, and our kids.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterangela

That about sums it up perfectly. It's something I discuss with my students in my Infant Care class - personalizing your parenting. There is no one "right" way to do it. There is no one "best" book or method. What works for one family may not work for another. What worked for your 1st child may not work for your 2nd. We need to have a little flexibility and a little respect for other's choices. That will go a long way towards being kinder to each other.

Whether they sleep in their bed or yours, nurse until 3 or bottlefeed, use a pacifier or at what age they have it taken away, all that matters at the end of the day is that they feel loved, secure, and are modeled the way to respect eachother and their things and others things and everything else is just a matter of what works best for your personal life situation. Judging is so pointless because no one is the same, yes everyone is the same. :)

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

Great post! I was a playgroup leader for a few “parenting hubs” in my community. We met weekly and it was basically an organized setting but the kids did free play activities, I had juice and crackers, flyers for upcoming events, etc. A time for moms and dads to socialize too! There was always comparing and judging and some of it the parents inflicted upon themselves based on what they thought they should be doing, what grandma did or what they read. It was sad but then I think my grandma probably felt it too! Her mother telling her this or that and also what she would hear, see and experience from her small community, whether it be a social group or family group. I think we’ve been casting judgment on one another for far too long. What works for one mother and father may not work for another.

December 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSommer @greenmom

This is an excellent post. Yes, someone will always think you're doing it wrong. I have a policy of always keeping my mouth shut about other people's parenting choices. It's not that I don't find myself having judgmental feelings about other people's parenting choices ("why is that mother letting her child" - fill in the blank). When I examine these thoughts, I do think they happen because I don't always feel confident in my own choices. I think we're all going to feel judgmental at times - the trick is to keep it to yourself. If we all do that, we'll create a much more accepting culture around parenting, I think.

December 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLexie Wolf

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