What To Do When People Judge Your Parenting Style

 When I first became a mom, one of the things that caught me a little off-guard was how often people would voice their opinions of my parenting style. The thing was -- it was not just my parents, in-laws, or friends offering their two cents, but also random strangers who felt the need to chime in. While certainly there were times when the advice offered was a pearl of wisdom for me to cherish and apply, other times, well, let's just say their comment needed to be pushed aside and forgotten.

In the beginning, what I needed to do was figure out what I needed to tune in and what I needed to let in one ear and out the other. Certainly, it was a skill that took some time for me to learn, and also one that I have not yet entirely mastered. However, I've found that by asking myself a few questions I can better evaluate when it is worthy to actively listen to someone's advice or when the advice is simply unhelpful criticism. Perhaps you'll find these tips helpful for you as well.

Ask Yourself: Are They Offering Solicited or Unsolicited Advice?

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Before you prickle at some comment that seems to cut you to the quick, first pause and ask yourself this important question. Did I open this door by actually asking for the person's opinion? Or is this truly unsolicited advice? If it is the former, while her insights might still sting you, accept the fact that you invited the person to share her thoughts with you.

Respond: Clearly Vocalize What Kind of Support You Need

I've been right there myself, having my feelings singed a time or two (or three or four) when I asked a person advice, and I didn't like what I heard. Yes, perhaps the person could have delivered her opinion with a little more sugar-coating, but I shouldn't blame the person for having an opinion when I asked them for it.

If you find yourself in that same boat, fuming over advice that you technically asked for, consider these points.

  1. Clarify what you need from the person. For example: If you have decided to let your baby cry it out to sleep at night, instead of asking a friend what she thinks, ask specifically for her support. You might say, "I've decided to do this. I know you may not agree, but what I need from you is ___________ (just to listen, your encouragement, no judgment, etc)."
  2. Make sure if you ask for advice you are ready to hear it. When you ask for advice, in a way it exposes a certain amount of vulnerability on your part. Make sure your heart and mind are in a place that can accept that the person may tell you something that you didn't exactly want to hear.
  3. Seek out people who are educated on the topic and can effectively share their wisdom. You will find that different family and friends are great resources for ​different topics. For example: If you are suffering from ​low milk supply, turn to a friend who is a member of the La Leche League rather than the friend who did not breastfeed.

Ask Yourself: Is She Trying to Be Helpful or Hurtful?

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So what can you do when you receive unsolicited advice that feels as if someone squirted lemon juice on an open wound? Before your defenses go on high alert, just take a moment and see if you understand the heart of the person. Is she speaking up because she genuinely cares for you and for your family? Did she attempt to speak her piece respectully and lovingly?

Respond: Set Clear Relationship Boundaries

If so, you may want to restrain the reaction of becoming overly defensive. Weigh out in your mind if her insights have merit and apply or (gently) reject them accordingly. It may be helpful for you to focus on her heart rather than her advice.

However, what if the person was less than well-meaning or even if it was well-meaning but unwanted advice, and you feel that it isn't something that you can simply "let go" or "ignore"? You might consider setting healthy boundaries with the bearer-of-unwelcome-advice. In as positive a way you can muster, let the person know that you are comfortable with the parenting methods you have in place and that you are not looking for advice on the matter.

Ask Yourself: Am I Reading Between the Lines?

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Sometimes it is easy to make the mistake of misinterpreting advice. We add meaning or emotion that was never intended by the giver. We replay the interaction through our minds in the time following and sometimes over-analyze what was really said. I think that is particularly true in our world of electronic conversations (Facebook statuses, tweets, texts, and emails). We are even more prone to read between the lines, filling in meaning that was never, ever intended by the sender.

Respond: Actively Listen and Ask Questions If Needed

To be sure that you aren't taking more out of her comments, take steps to engage in what is known as active listening. This method of listening involves using verbal and nonverbal cues to give your attention to the speaker and allows for you to communicate what message you understood the person to be conveying.

Provided you don't need to keep your boundaries solid, you may need to communicate more with the person instead of less. If you are unclear of what was said, ask for clarification. "Did you mean to say _________? Can you elaborate a little further." When you communicate well, it can help build your relationship rather than harm it.

Be particularly mindful that electronic communication is a huge stumbling block for misinterpreting someone's comments. Those few printed words on the screen don't always mean what you think it means. Consider the following sentence, and note how meaning changes when emphasis is placed on different words.

  • I didn't say he took the money.
  • I didn't say he took the money.
  • I didn't say he took the money.

Inflection and tone of voice are often lost in written communications, and we lack the ability to ask for clarification. So, if you read a Facebook status that leaves you thinking, "Was that directed at me?" or an email that starts to make your blood boil, either let it go or seek out the person for a face-to-face (calm) conversation. You might be relieved to learn you were completely mistaken.

Ask Yourself: Does Pediatric Advice Support The Suggestion?

Female doctor examining baby boy.
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There is a plethora of information circling out there among your friends and family that, quite frankly, isn't golden wisdom but more like hogwash. Whether it be any of the many myths about alcohol and breastfeeding or how soon you can turn your baby forward facing in the car seat, there are going to be times when people offer you suggestions that your pediatrician would advise against.

Respond: Ignore Them or Inform Them

In these instances, you've got a choice to make. You can either let the conversation drop by simply smiling and nodding, or you can use it as an opportunity to inform the person. You've got to know which method is best based on the situation and the person.

Many times, it could be a person from an older generation who is rather stuck on the phrase "Well, when I was a parent..." You can either give a simple, "Is that so?" and let her have the platform (meanwhile you can mentally work on your grocery list as she rambles on). Alternatively, a simple message that goes along the lines of, "Well nowadays doctors actually recommend _____, and I am comfortable with that."

Ask Yourself: Am I Being Defensive?

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Finally, pause to consider if there really is nothing wrong with what the person has to say. The problem just might be that it is a sensitive topic for you or you actually have an issue with the person and not the advice. Sometimes as parents, we have our self-defense mechanisms in place. We might be frustrated at the behavior of our children, and so we put our guards up high. Additionally, we might feel as if our in-laws always are criticizing us. Suddenly, every comment that is made we turn into a dagger that cuts to our heart.

Respond: Listen With Your Mouth Closed

If you know you are defensive, you might want to listen. Just listen, without feeling like you have to justify your parenting choices. If it continues, simply being honest can help diffuse the situation. Verbalize that this is a topic over which you are feeling a bit sensitive, or let her know you need to hear encouragements rather than her suggestions.

The next time you find the steam rising inside you as you listen to what you perceive is a critique of your parenting abilities, before you do anything, reflect on the situation. By taking the time to think before you react, you might actually find some helpful insights and avoid an unnecessary confrontation.

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