It never ceases to amaze me how much judgement goes on in the parenting community. Even the tiniest decisions become controversial and anyone is willing to judge you based solely on what they see or the very limited amount of information they know about you.
Rather than simply complaining about it or telling people to stop the “mommy wars” I am trying to understand why we do what we do, and look for better alternatives. I have written about The Ten Things Us Mothers Can Learn from Fathers and about how to look for inspiration in 10 Ways To Be Inspiring and today I am going to talk about one of the reasons why I think we are so critical as parents.
There is a concept that when we look at others what we see a reflection of ourselves, good or bad. While I used to just chalk it up to my “perspective” when it came to what jumped out at me about people, it wasn’t until recently that I realized it had more to do with me than I thought.
In my case when I look at someone I will tell you the things that jump out at me above all else:
- Whether they are pregnant, or might be pregnant.
- Whether they are fat or thin.
- Whether they have roots in their hair.
- What they are wearing.
1. I am having issues coping with my fertility and so I immediately notice any and all pregnant women (even if they might be just overweight).
2. I have body issues (and have my whole life) so I either feel sorry for, or jealous, of extremely thin people and likewise scared and repulsed by overweight ones.
3. I incessantly colour my hair, and always have time to do it so I never understand how other people can walk around with obvious roots showing.
4. I think my appearance is important and my clothes say something about me. So I look on in a weird mixture of disgust and jealousy at the have-more-than-mes and a mixture of pity and thankfulness at the have-less-than-mes.
Now that you know way too much about me, you are probably wondering why. The reason is that I believe the reason we are so judgemental towards other parents is because we are all insecure as parents ourselves.
Babies do not come with a manual. Even worse, there is no one way to be a good parent . This “freedom” easily leads to confusion and doubt, which can leave parents totally confused as to which paths to take, methods to adopt, and voices to listen to.
So, naturally the first things we see in other parents are our flaws. Their flaws are either really reflections of our own, or our attempts to make ourselves feel good in that we have successfully mastered certain aspects of parenting.
For example, I have a friend who commented that she doesn’t think big families work because every time she sees a family with more than two kids, the kids are dirty. From this comment we can make several deductions about her.
Insecurity: Perhaps she is struggling to parent her one child and can only reassure herself by believing that those parents with more children must struggle even more than her.
Self-Assurance: She has decided that a key indicator of being a good parent is having clean children, and her children are always clean, thus she is a good parent.
Fear: Perhaps is afraid of being judged for having dirty children and she works very hard to keep her children clean. She is relived it is someone else’s children that are dirty and not her own.
By taking the time to examine thoughts like these not only can we learn more about ourselves, we can learn to change the way we think. My friend does not need to validate her struggles. Parenting is hard, and we all struggle with different aspects of it but that doesn’t make her a bad parent. And while finding what works for you and makes you feel good is great (like having “clean” children) she should take pride in her achievements for what they are and not from the fact that she lives up to expectations (which are hers personally) while others don’t.
I believe a confident parent would not notice the amount of dirt on people’s children, and if they did they would not be concerned with how or why it got there. Instead they would be focussed internally on their own challenges and see the world in terms of themselves rather than others. They would be concerned with living life outwardly and being present rather than internalizing and judging.
Honestly, as parents we would never want our children to think about other children the way we think about other parents or act towards other children the way we act towards other parents.
Your Challenge: The next time you find yourself judging another parent because their child is screaming through the grocery store that they want a chocolate bar, or you see me and my son walking our dogs with our pajama pants on ask yourself, “Why does this bother me?” “Why am I noticing this in the first place?” and you will amazed at what something completely external teaches you about yourself.
Creativity and imagination are wonderful gifts and it is such a shame to waste them by imagining horrible things about other parents and creating false realities simply to make ourselves feel better.
Look around you for the things that inspire you as a parent and use them to motivate you and lift you up, and to eventually motivate and elevate others and hopefully one day we can all become part of a supportive parenting community.
Thank you for reading and as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.