16/03/2017 03:52 SAST | Updated 16/03/2017 12:02 SAST

When Parents Go All Judgy

Becoming and then being a parent is a constant time of change. It takes major adjustment to this, nothing-can-really-prepare-you-for, new role.

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I remember as the mother of a ten-dayish-old baby being sent off for a rest by an older family friend while she kindly took care of my son. From the room next door within earshot, I heard her saying something to him in that voice, you know the voice, the "I can't say this to your mother cause it will sound so judgmental so I shall say it in a high pitched sing-songy voice as if I am asking a question to you, even though I am abundantly aware that you cannot answer" voice.

I heard her say this to my crying child in that voice "Does your mommy not want to give you a dummy." Needless to say, I didn't rest. Rather I lay there going through a litany of responses in my head and true some of them were downright sing-songy too. Problem was no matter how many retorts I could summon in my hazy head, I was left feeling judged and feeling like I was screwing something up. I thought various combinations of, "Maybe I haven't tried hard enough with the dummy", "How come the other babies take to dummies like they were born sucking them?" If only he took the dummy maybe he would cry less, is he crying too much...?" You get the ugly picture of my slippery decline into parental self-doubt.

Becoming and then being a parent is a constant time of change. It takes major adjustment to this, nothing-can-really-prepare-you-for, new role. So why then in the midst of all this newness and upheaval of life as we knew it, do people go all judgy on us? And it's not just our friends and family. What with the pervasiveness of social media, the potential for judgment is everywhere. It trickles from our inboxes and various social media feeds into our psyches.

Truth is we do judge. Let's just admit it and get it out there. And the reality is we have to judge, we have to make choices about what we think, feel and do. It's ok to have an opinion and to make choices for our kids. It's what we do with that opinion that can turn things ugly. It's the unsolicited, overly critical, nasty and insensitive stuff that gives judgment a bad name. There are the uber-judgy with their overt, "Shouldn't that child be sleeping, eating, speaking properly and cooperating on every level already." But there are the subtler sing-songy passive aggressive voices amongst parents that hit hard at the various stages and challenges of all that parenting brings. In reality, we are all quite capable of being The Judge and The Judged at different points, depending on the subject matter so its helpful to think about both these roles.

The Judges


It is helpful to ask ourselves before we speak "To what end am I about to make this comment." If the answer is to just shout out my thoughts with zero intention of actual engagement, then chances are we should swallow the thought. Warning: This can be extremely difficult! It is particularly difficult when you feel strongly about something the other parent is doing. But if you are saying something for saying somethings sake, you have to realise that it probably won't be well received. In fact it is likely to come across as attacking and most of us are not too receptive to contrary ideas when we are being attacked. I am not talking about serious situations where some kind of intervention is vital like a child being hurt in any way.

Try a little tenderness

If we come from an empathic viewpoint that takes into account what may have shaped the other parent's thoughts and behaviour, it can help to level the playing fields and perhaps open the ways for a real conversation to be had. That child throwing an almighty tantrum in aisle number four of the supermarket has a story behind him and that parent comes with a whole story too. So us sweeping in as aisle number four's parenting super-hero expert can intensify an already explosive situation. And this goes for all aspects of parenting including but not even vaguely limited to the breast feeders, the bottle feeders, the natural birthers, the Caesar deliverers, the Ritalin givers, the anti-Ritaliners, the home-schoolers, the mainstreamers, and yes even the dummy suckers and the non-suckers! Everyone has their story and everyone makes their choices. The vast majority of these choices are based on loving their child. Conversations are good. Attacks are just plain unhelpful.

Delivery is key

Even if someone asks for your advice or opinion, delivery is key. It's the difference between being outright nasty as in "I can't believe you think its ok to stick your child in front of the TV all day; no wonder she screams and cries all the time." As opposed to, "I found with my daughter that she gets irritable after she has watched long periods of TV." Thing is if you have something to say deliver that thing wisely and rest assured we can all see through an inauthentic attempt at false kindness.

The Judged

Hang on a second what do I actually think?

Sometimes when we are being or feeling attacked, we fail to stop for a second and ascertain what we really think about the issue at hand. When we are clear in our own minds on a matter, we are less likely to be crushed when friends, family or media go all judgy on us. Whilst we can't be crystal clear on every issue out there, having our values in place can help guide us when we lurk in murky territory.

Maybe they do have a point

As hard as it may be to stomach that judgy tune that gets sung our way, if we dig deep into the mature adult zone, we might try hear what's behind those passive-aggressive words. Sometimes they may just have a point. Maybe their delivery sucks but the content has some value. If we can stop and think about what they are saying, digest it and decide if it has real relevance then we are proper grown up and mature. And for bonus Higher Grade points, we could actually go a step further and advise on the poor delivery, saying something along the lines of, "I recognise that you think I should do X another way but I would prefer it if you spoke to me about it as opposed to attacking me on the issue." This can really shift a negative dynamic.

So after all that my son ended up taking the dummy and just loving it. This led to my husband and I spending many a sleep deprived night devising intricate contraptions to keep the dummy in his mouth so that we were not slaves to the dummy falling from his lips. These included rigging something up from the ceiling and something Velcro oriented. Neither came to fruition and we remained slaves to the dummy for some time. I often looked at my son and thought in that voice, "Your mommy should never have given you a dummy."