Parenting in a Culture of Judgment

Parenting is hard.

It’s hard because of what we are trying to do — raise human beings to be independent, involved, compassionate, communal, and thoughtful. But it’s made much harder because we are doing it within a culture of judgment.

I went to dinner with some close friends the other night — all moms. Every one of us has made different parenting decisions. Some of us fully vaccinate, some don’t vaccinate at all, and some have an alternate schedule. Some use punishments, and some don’t. Some potty train with rewards, others without.

Most of us are just trying to figure it out. Our conversation turned to parenting, and one mom started to explain all the reasons for one of her decisions. Another friend (who had made the complete opposite decision) interrupted her. “You don’t have to explain yourself. You are the mom. You get to decide.”

The first mom took a breath. We all felt at ease.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how most parenting conversations go.

We make decisions about what kind of parents we are going to be all the time. Sometimes we mull over those decisions, research them, and discuss them with our co-parent. Sometimes we just react. Either way, the decisions are personal. We make them because of who we are, and judgment from others feels like a judgment of who we are as people. It’s easy to internalize that judgment, and to feel like we must be messing up.

We live in a culture in which your neighbors are more likely to report you to the authorities than to offer you help; in which you may be eviscerated on social media if you post a picture of your kids playing in a stream. We feel the need to either hide our parenting decisions or boldly proclaim them without equivocation. The world is hostile to parents. We are all trying to do our best, and yet we are treated like ill-intentioned child-abusers.

Navigating the minefield

So, what’s a parent to do? First, have empathy for yourself. Understand that this shit is hard! You are a loving parent who is doing your best. Even in those times when you aren’t at your best, or when you totally mess it up, you are okay.

Second, have empathy for other parents. And not just those you mostly agree with. There are parents out there who have thoughtfully and lovingly made choices that are the complete opposite of yours. And they are good parents too! Are you anti-vaccine? Have empathy for a parent who strictly keeps the vaccine schedule. Are you a “positive parent”? Have empathy for a parent who has decided to spank.

Why should we have empathy for someone who has different parenting beliefs? For starters, we would have a more supportive parenting culture. Having empathy for someone allows you to participate in an exchange of ideas. You will become more open to learning, and so will others.

But the most important reason you should have empathy for those you disagree with is because that’s what you want for your kids. That’s the kind of person you want to raise — someone who is open-minded and loving, compassionate and kind. How will they learn to be that if you are ranting about your neighbors being heartless idiots?

Those other people — those Trump supporters, those hippies, THOSE people — they are people! And they have reasons and personal beliefs too. If you demonstrate empathy in a culture of judgment, your children will have front-row seats of what love and respect truly look like.

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