Breastfeeding or using formula? Working or staying at home? What’s the best bedtime for toddlers? Should babies cry it out, or co-sleep, or be fed on schedule?
Let’s face it, raising kids involves making countless decisions that can shape you as a parent. Your internal GPS — intuition — can guide you, of course. So can insight from friends, your spouse, or folks online. But with so much advice swirling around, parenting can be confusing. Are you doing the right thing? It depends on whom you ask. And thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, there are plenty of harsh critics waiting to let you know whether you’re on track — or not. Oh, the scrutiny!
“Surveys show that 95 percent of moms feel judged by just about everything these days,” says Michelle Borba, Ed.D., a parenting expert and author of 22 books, including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
Unsolicited feedback or dirty looks from other moms in the grocery store can make parenting stressful. Borba goes so far as to call it a form of bullying, which can undermine your parenting assurance. “When you have less confidence in yourself, you’re more likely to be judgmental of other moms,” Borba says.
You might even change your parenting style. According to Borba, one out of three moms makes a different parenting choice because she feels criticized by another mom. A better idea? Remember that there’s no cookie cutter approach to parenting. What works for one child won’t necessarily work for another, even within the same family. To boost your confidence, stand up for yourself. Here’s how to handle criticism from know-it-all friends, relatives, and cyber parents.
When somebody criticizes you (as in, “I can’t believe you’re still breastfeeding,”) stay cool and calm. “Bullies love a response,” Borba says. Resist the urge to insult them with a cutting comeback. Instead, take a deep breath and respond with a simple line, such as “I hear you,” or “Thank you. I know what works best for my child,” in a firm, strong voice. “Practice your response ahead of time so you can deliver it in the heat of the moment,” Borba says. Use firm body language, too.
As a mom, you need layers of support, including an inner circle of women you who make you feel valued. “Find truly supportive friends — moms you can confide in who you know won’t take what you tell them any further,” says Sue Hubbard, M.D., a Dallas pediatrician and host of the The Kid’s Doctor. It may take some play date experimenting to find your inner circle. The pay-off? “Moms who receive support are confident, happier, and more fulfilled,” Hubbard says. That said, the mommysphere on the Internet should not be your inner circle. “There are many decisions you can make on your own or with that inner group of friends,” Hubbard says. If you decide to share via social media, use the front door rule: “If you don’t want to put it on the front door for your own mother to see, don’t push send.”
Trust your “momtuition.”
Sometimes, you just know you’re right about a parenting decision, so go with it. “Don’t second-guess yourself or go online to get others’ opinions,” Hubbard says. Similarly, if you have a tough parenting decision to make, such as whether to put your child on ADHD medication, get an expert’s advice.
As a mom yourself, it’s impossible not to question other moms’ parenting tactics. Still, resist the urge to inflict your opinion. Instead, stop, think, and consider the potential big picture. Recently, for example, Danielle Smith, founder of Extraordinarymommy.com, was on an airplane. A woman with a preschool-age boy sat in the row behind her. “The child, who was sitting above the wing, kept telling his mom he couldn’t see. When the mom said, “Will you just shut up! Everyone is looking at you,” I started to judge her,” Smith says. “Then I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute. You have no idea what her day has been like. You’ve told your children to shut up before.’” Instead of a snarky response, Smith held her tongue. Hubbard agrees with Smith’s “stop and think” approach. When you feel the urge to judge others, “Ask yourself, ‘I wonder what happened in that mom’s life to make her feel or act that way?’” Hubbard says. If you decide to intervene, share your ideas in a positive manner, such as “Would you like to switch seats so your son can see out the window?”
Being a parent is tough enough. We need to work towards supporting one another, instead of belittling others parents’ efforts.
—Sandra Gordon is an award-winning freelance writer who reports on health, nutrition, and parenting. Read her book, Save a Bundle: 50+ Ways to Save on Baby Gear.