How to Deal With People Who Criticize Your Parenting

Two young mothers sitting on sofa at home with their babies

It starts while your baby is still in the womb — the questions posed as curiosity, but are ripe for criticism. “Are you going to have an epidural?” “Are you going back to work?” “Are you still drinking coffee?”

Once the baby arrives, the questions and comments simply escalate to critiques about where your baby sleeps to what she eats and how you interact with her. From here on out, it seems as though your parenting techniques are open to commentary from everyone, whether it’s your own mother or a random stranger in the grocery store checkout line.

Everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to something as ubiquitous and life-changing as parenthood. While it can be easy to shrug off advice from a stranger, it can be harder to swallow when criticism comes from someone you know well, such as a close friend or your mother.

It’s not always a bad thing to get an opinion from another parent, particularly if you’re already questioning a discipline technique you’ve adopted. Having your methods challenged can either cement your views or open your mind to another possibility.

That being said, unwelcome commentary tends to get old. When you run into criticism, there are a number of ways you can handle it gracefully.

Your Mother

Remember, your mom really has the best interest of her grandchild at heart (most of the time). However, things have changed quite a bit since you were born so her views might be slightly outdated — or they simply might differ from yours.

After all, you are two different mothers! First, accept that your methods aren’t going to be exactly the same, and ask her to do the same.

You can, though, make things a little easier by asking your mom’s opinion on things that you don’t care much about. Don’t really care how your child is bathed? Ask her if she thinks you should do the bath time routine every day or every other day.

Ask for stories about when you were little — your mom will likely start to realize how different things are done now. After all, she didn’t have to worry about how much time you spent on social media as a kid and she probably didn’t make you wear a helmet when you rode your bike.

At the same time, you’ll validate her as a worthwhile source of parenting advice. So show that you value her opinion, but make it clear that you may not always agree, even if she makes valid points.

Your Mother-in-Law

The above advice works just as well for your mother-in-law as your own mom, but sometimes it’s a little harder to accept criticism from someone who isn’t related to you. So it’s best to get your partner involved.

Explain how you feel about these unwelcome comments, and ask your partner to be the one to step in and say, “Thanks for those words of wisdom, Mom. But, we’re not OK with our kids eating processed food every day.” This is a particularly good idea if your mother-in-law already sees you as defensive.

A Friend

Just because she’s been your bestie since elementary school doesn’t mean you’re going to parent in the same manner. If this is the case, take certain hot topics off the table, like co-sleeping or boundary based discipline.

Keep in mind that all parents have different tolerances for misbehavior. So while your friend may think it’s acceptable to let her child jump on your furniture or show off for guests, don't lose your friendship over a few philosophical differences.

As long as no one’s children are at risk of being neglected or abused (or their choices affect the well-being of your children), live and let live — just don’t talk about it. Of course, you have to stick to this yourself. If you don’t appreciate your friend commenting on your decision to ignore temper tantrums, then you need to skip the commentary about the dangers of spanking.

A Coworker

You can’t get away from them, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them in on all your parenting tactics. If, however, they find out that you’re doing something that they don’t agree with, you might be in for some questions.

When you leave early to pick up a sick child from daycare or when you attend the company picnic with your family in tow, your co-workers gain insight into your personal life. And while it can be very healthy to talk about kids and family at the office, sometimes those conversations lead others to offer their unsolicited advice.

Just because you have a great amount of respect for their business acumen doesn’t mean you have to agree on child-rearing. The secret to dealing with it: End the discussion by changing the topic.

The conversation might go like this: “Are you still breastfeeding? It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” Your response: “Yes, we are. Have you seen the edits on that memo? It needs to go out today.” Everyone moves on.

An Acquaintance

When you have a neighbor or a great aunt who offers one-liners like, “I used to pick my child up and put him in his room when he acted like that,” ignore the advice when you can. Or, offer a one-sentence response such as, “Thank you for the input, but that’s not what we choose to do.”

If the unsolicited advice or commentary about why their discipline strategies are better than yours, you might have to simply grin and bear it. There’s no need to get into a heated debate or lengthy justification for your parenting strategies.

There are lots of different parenting styles and discipline strategies. And the way you parent your child should be unique to your temperament, your child’s temperament and the needs of your family. Just because someone else’s parenting strategies are different doesn’t make them better.

Someone Who Just Won’t Listen

Sometimes you need to draw the line prominently in the sand, whether it’s an obnoxious aunt or an annoying friend of a friend. It’s hard to be confrontational, but when you’re often feeling belittled, you need to speak up — particularly if the person is constantly criticizing you in front of your children.

Allowing them to offer commentary on your decisions indicate that they have a say in how you raise your children — and they most certainly don’t. Therefore, once you’re tried to politely deflect or ignore comments, tell the disparager that you don’t appreciate their input and, if they don’t stop, you’ll have to limit your time in their company.

It’s important for your mental health to surround yourself with encouragers, not critics. Break playdates, skip dinners out or, if necessary, leave early from family gatherings.

In some cases, it might just be that you don’t like to be around them in certain situations, such as when your kids get together; however, if you change the situation to a girl’s night out in which you’re not discussing the little ones, you might be able to tolerate the critic.

Of course, you have to be kind to yourself, too. After all, you can be your worst parenting critic! Take another person’s advice into account when it makes sense to you, but also remind yourself why you’ve made the choice in the first place.

It’s your choice to make your own baby food, strictly enforce bedtime and limit TV, and you had reasons to make each of those decisions. Tune the criticism out, even when you’re feeling judged by others, and rest assured that you’re making the best parenting choices possible for your family.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.