“My family are constantly judging my parenting”
I had a really interesting session with one of my one-to-one clients recently about how to manage perceived ‘judginess’ from wider family about your parenting style and decisions. The discussion started with the statement “My family are constantly judging my parenting,” but we ended up covering a lot of ground about managing our own feelings and our own self-judgement as parents.
It was such a valuable conversation, she suggested I share it with other parents. So (anonymously and without breaking any confidence), here’s a precis of how to manage when you feel that other people are being judgemental about your parenting.
“Why does it happen? Why are my family constantly judging my parenting? I don’t think I’m such a bad parent, and they are not bad people, but I feel really undermined.”
When family members give advice, it is usually from a genuine desire to help – they care about you. And, if they are also parents, they know exactly how hard parenting is and they probably want to help you out by passing on their own hard-won wisdom. The problem is, they don’t know your child as well as you do and they can’t understand your precise parenting challenges from the inside. It’s easy to look at one moment in another family’s life and draw conclusions about what they should (or shouldn’t) be doing. However, in reality, parenting is complex and context-specific. Other people’s advice often misses the mark and lands instead as judginess.
Grandparents can easily feel sidelined. By offering their advice, they might be trying to make themselves a central part of things again? Or they might have things they regret from their own children’s lives and want to make amends through their grandchildren? Perhaps if you could understand the deeper motivation behind their comments, that might help.
And, it’s also worth asking yourself whether the feeling of being judged is coming more from you than from them? Parenting while people are watching is stressful and we often parent differently in those circumstances. For example, we might give in to our child’s whining or bribe them to try and keep things peaceful while visiting family, when we wouldn’t normally do that. If we are already outside our comfort zone and perhaps unsure if we are doing the right thing, we will be much quicker to detect negative attitude from the people around us – and to interpret their words and actions as criticisms.
“How can I set boundaries with family members about what I’m happy for them to offer advice on?”
One way to head off unwanted advice is to make it clear in advance that you aren’t asking for advice. Pre-empt. If you’re complaining about your preschooler’s tantrums, for example, say “I’m not asking for advice, I know it’s normal, I’m just offloading because I know you’ll understand.”
Think about setting boundaries in ways that give family members a clear steer on what you would like them to do (rather than just the things you don’t want them to do). Divert their desire to be helpful into positive channels by being clear with family members about how they can best support you. Give them a specific role. Say, “I’d love to help my son with his reading a little more but I don’t have a lot of time, is that something you could take on?”
“How can I stop family members from passing comments when they’re upsetting me?”
Even if you agree boundaries in advance, that doesn’t mean that no unwanted comments will slip through. Make it clear that you value their love and support and will ask for their advice when you need it. Say something like “I really appreciate all your support. It means a lot to me. You know I will definitely come to you for advice when I need it. Right now, I’ve got this.” (See Managing Grandparents: resolving conflict for more on this)
If their comments are hurtful, tell them that straight and ask them to stop. It will help to keep things positive if you can take ownership of the problem by starting with “I” rather than “You”. For example, “I find it difficult when you step in and try to tell me how to do it. I know you do it for the best reasons but I find it hurtful. I would really appreciate it if you’d stop.” Conversations which start that way tend to be less confrontational. (See When parents disagree about parenting)
“What if it turns into an argument?”
Avoid arguing in front of the children. If necessary, postpone a discussion that is escalating into heated conflict. Conflict tends to generate defensiveness rather than the ability to understand the other person’s point of view. So, if the conversation has taken a wrong turn, agree to talk about it another time and give yourselves an opportunity to calm down and reflect.
If you know there is a risk of an argument, it can sometimes help to rehearse a little script in our heads to help find words which are constructive rather than hurtful.
“Why does it affect me so much? I can get totally wound up by just one stray comment that I feel is judging my parenting!”
We are a generation of parents who believe that being a good parent really matters. We want to get parenting right. And we want to be seen to be succeeding at parenting (even if we don’t feel that we are). The problem is, we have written ourselves a huge job description for what ‘getting it right’ looks like so it’s easy to feel like we are failing. And when we’re already unsure whether we are doing the right things, it is easy to feel judged when someone has a different approach.
“I find I can draw boundaries better with my mum than with my sister!”
Families are complex and different family members trigger us in different ways. The same comment can be experienced totally differently depending on who makes it. Try not to drag up emotions and arguments from the past or from other areas of your life.
Sometimes, it can be easier to get your partner to talk to a family member on your behalf if you are struggling to express yourself?
“I’ve tried talking to her and asking her to stop judging my parenting and she still won’t stop – it’s like she can’t help herself!”
Advice is almost always being given with good intentions – even if it is wrong or misplaced. If a family member offers unwanted advice, just smile and keep doing it your way. Hopefully they will get the message that their advice is going to be ignored and you are the one calling the shots!
There isn’t only one way to be a good parent. You know your child better than anyone else. Your child doesn’t need a perfect parent, they just need you. So, try to focus on the big picture, tune into your child, and reflect honestly on your own mistakes. That will make you the best parent possible.