Reply turned post, parenting judgment style

I used to write more about mom on mom judgment than I do now. But, every now and then I see a conversation online, and it brings me back into the common discussion of what is acceptable to “judge” and what is not.

On PhD in Parenting, this conversation comes up every once and again, and it did on this post on parenting styles on vacation.

Here is my reply to the cries of “don’t be so judgmental!”:

I think there is a fat line between mommy judgment and deciding which parenting tactics aren’t for you.

I hate it when I see parents yelling at their kids, repeatedly, for doing something when they could get up and do more effective disciplining up close, but are too busy with their own texting or book or conversation that they don’t want to bother. Know where it’s worse? On a school playground. With both of my kids, I observed the playground first before choosing a preschool. If the adults huddled in a corner and yelled at the kids from afar, and missed acts of aggression, you betcha my kid didn’t go to preschool there.

But, I am not condemning parents who I see do that once as “bad parents”. I am not condemning the adults (teachers, teacher’s assistants, whatever) at the preschool [where] I saw this as awful teachers. In fact, I use this “judgment call” “opinion” or whatever you want to call it to catch myself, too. If I am doing something similar, like yelling at my kids repeatedly from my keyboard (who me? never…), I will think “You’re doing that thing you hate” and hopefully get off my tuchus and discipline more kindly AND effectively.

Are we really defending screeching at children from afar? Of course, a parent may have a hurt foot or a disability. Of course, a child may have an immune disorder, and may need stuff wiped down. I am the type of person to travel with snacks, but mostly because 1. the food at resort style places is obnoxiously expensive and 2. it’s usually pure crap. Do I judge parents who let their kids eat it? No, when I can afford it, I splurge a little and relax my standards for my kids. Are we talking about kids with severe allergies here who need their own food? No. And, again, I would never use that as some sort of end-all-be-all judgment of the quality of parenting.

We aren’t talking about exceptions, we’re talking about parenting choices, here. Screeching from afar = poor discipline, and I don’t feel overly judgmental saying that.

I was stuck in a long line at DisneyWorld once next to a mom who had just gotten out of a tour in Iraq. She was with her young son, who was the same age as my older son at the time. I still remember to this day the nasty and sarcastic way she talked to her son the whole time we stood next to each other, and it was the good part of an hour.

I have no idea what it is like to leave your child for a tour of duty in a war. Just thinking about it, and I do often, because I am a ruminating bleeding heart like that, makes me want to weep for our society. I cannot imagine what it would be like coming home and having to reconnect with a child, while dealing with all of the complex feelings and guilt. I am not judging this woman as a parent. What I do know is that the experience in the line for a mere 45 minutes of their life was excruciating to me, and it broke my heart for the boy.

She could be a great parent. I am not saying I am a better parent. I am not saying that I haven’t been bitingly sarcastic or nasty to my children, or that you couldn’t play back a recording of some things I’ve said that would make me cringe. Or that could easily be torn apart on a blog.

There may have been some problematic points in the original post in which she seemed to be guessing at motivations for the behavior, and I can see how that could rub someone the wrong way. But, criticizing screeching, or valuing a scheduled feeding for an infant who is howling on an airplane over just feeding the poor thing, is just looking at a snapshot of an action and reacting. It’s not mommy wars, in my book, and leaves room for a defense of such choices without name calling.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Reply turned post, parenting judgment style

  1. I have been an avid golfer my entire life, and once witnessed a father just berating his son incessantly on the driving range. It was so over the top, with no love apparent whatsoever. I could not deal with it any longer so I went over and said “You obviously love this game, and you want your son to play it too, but what you are doing is guaranteeing that your son will hate this game.” He immediately took a threatening pose and almost looked like me might get violent – “DON’T TELL ME HOW TO TALK TO MY SON!!”.

    I could only reply “Well I won’t anymore, but your bother me and the other people on this driving range, so at least stop abusing your child for the rest of us, if you can’t do it for your son.”

    That didn’t go over well either, but I never saw him at that range again. I have always hoped that that interaction did not have any repercussions for the boy, which was innocent in all of it, and actually appeared to enjoy hitting the ball when his father was not yelling at him.

    • MomTFH

      It’s so hard to decide how to react in a situation like this, and I don’t know if there is one right answer. I have read that if someone validates that a victim is being bullied, it does wonders for his or her ability to see the situation more clearly, and less likely to become a bully. I am not sure if your one action was enough, but I sure hope the boy appreciated it. I would think he will remember it for a long time, and be grateful.

      I said something to the mother during the long wait in line, but it was a little bit more subtle. She was berating him for his lack of ability to speak Spanish as well as his sister, calling him lazy and stubborn and other choice insults. I finally asked,”Have you worked on his Spanish with him, or arranged for lessons of some sort? He can’t really teach himself.” He was four or five at the time. She answered that his sister seemed to do just fine without such help, but dropped that particular line of complaints.

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  3. Erin

    I agree with you, MTFH, and I’d like to add something that I worry might be controversial: I think as a society we could do a better job of distinguishing between the actual intent of a comment and our own (emotional) reaction to it. I say this because I find people generally pretty defensive. Every single parenting decision, or birthing decision, or what have you, can get read as an attack on someone else’s. This makes having productive conversations difficult. There IS a difference between attacking a personal and criticizing a behavior/systemic problem. We need to criticize some behaviors, or at least have thoughtful discussions about them – in parenting, and in everything else. Sometimes I feel like the hyper-charged area of politics spills over into everything else, with people feeling attacked and defending their positions with everything they’ve got, regardless of the intent of the person’s original comment. Screaming at a child is not good parenting. yet it is something we all do from time to time. This does not make us bad parents. But hopefully a parent will think about his/her yelling – why I am yelling? What effect is it having on the child? Is it even helpful in discipline? What are my triggers and how can I stop? If I spend all my time being defensive about yelling [ie, don't tell me how to talk to my son!!!], I might not ever ask myself those questions. Defensive people are usually by nature those who feel like they are under a state of siege – everything is a potential attack, so they overreact. The opposite of defensiveness is confidence – ie, I know I am making the best choices I can given my set of circumstances. Then if someone says something even if it’s critical, even if it IS judgmental, it’s easier to shrug off.

    In addition, we all make judgments all the time for ourselves and our children – how we eat, how much tv we watch, what we do for fun, what’s acceptable/not-acceptable behavior in our household. No two households are structured in the same way. Making judgments about what you think works for you and your family is an essential part of being (otherwise one would be incapable of making any decisions at all). Where it veers into the unacceptable, IMO, is when it devolves into an attack on other parents in specific moral terms (She’s such a bad mother! I can’t BELIEVE she lets her kids eat that! No good will come of that. I would never do that! The latter is the worst, because it implies a kind of smug one-upmanshipment, which is often the flip side of defensiveness).

    • MomTFH

      I completely agree. When I posted on parenting boards more often, I wrote a post like this about once a month.

      Of course there are extremes in either direction. Extremely judgmental people exist on either side of any parenting or birthing issue. But, it doesn’t need to dominate every conversation, and doesn’t need to veto any and all opinions or discussion on ways to birth and parent, which, for the most part, can be reasonable. It can be hard to let your defenses down.

      For example, my kids are playing video games right now. They have been since before I woke up. Is it the most involved, dedicated parenting? No. If someone wrote a blog post about how her kids get homemade breakfast and outside time, not screen time, all vacation, then good for them. I won’t feel judged. A bit like a don’t measure up? Maybe, but that’s based on both of our free choices, and I can handle the trade offs I make.

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