As a parent, I pretty much think that the way I choose to do things is the best way. I think most parents probably feel that way, otherwise they would change what they’re doing. After all, all good parents want what’s best for their kids. We try to make decisions based on what we think will help our children grow up with the best possible outcomes.
When it comes to parenting, it’s easy to be judgmental. I know what I believe are good parenting practices, and I also know what I think are bad parenting practices. Yet the truth is, no parent is perfect and different things work for different families. Just because something works well for me doesn’t mean it’s the only way. So why is it that as a mother, I feel the right to judge other parents for their decisions?
Today, I was at a women’s group at church when another mom gave me some advice, and I caught myself being judgmental. She suggested that I try a sleep training method to help my son sleep well on his own, with a more predictable schedule than what he follows now. I’ve also noticed that while several other mothers and I prefer to keep our babies with us during these gatherings, she chooses to utilize the childcare that is available. For a few moments, I started to categorize us into two different groups in my mind. I was in the attachment parenting group, because I respect my son’s natural schedule and I prefer to keep him with me as much as possible; she was in the conventional parenting group, because she wants her children to be as convenient for her as possible. On some level, I began to think that I probably love my son more than she loves her children. Of course, that’s an absurd (and offensive) conclusion to draw from my small observations! But still, that’s where my mind went.
For the rest of the day, I thought about how judgy I was in that moment, and how judgmental many parents (myself included) tend to be about all sorts of parenting issues. Right now, the big debate is focuses on vaccinations. There are parents who choose to fully vaccinate their children, parents who follow a limited schedule, and parents who choose not to vaccinate at all. It seems that no matter what your decision, you will be judged harshly by somebody who holds an opposing opinion. And that’s just one of many, many parenting issues that people have become very opinionated about.
Parents much choose what they feel is best for their child, their family, and themselves in every area imaginable. Whether to exclusively breastfeed, bottlefeed breastmilk, supplement with formula, or exclusively formula feed; when and how to wean; whether to co-sleep, put baby in a crib to sleep, use sleep training, or nurse to sleep; whether to use mechanical mothers (swings, bouncers, etc.), and how much to hold baby; whether to respond to cries, or let baby cry it out; whether to spank, or use positive discipline; whether to limit separation as much as possible, or condition baby to accept separation; whether to allow young children to use screens, or to raise a low-media toddler. These are some of the many choices we must make as parents, and it seems that whatever we choose, we will end up judging others who choose differently (whether consciously or not).
I think we need to stop it.
The truth is, there are very few absolutes when it comes to parenting. Experience, logic, scientific research, emotions, and even spiritual guidance can only get us so far, because in the end, most issues can be convincingly supported on both sides. Vaccinations can be dangerous, but so can not vaccinating. Breastfeeding has many benefits, but formula feeding and other feeding choices have benefits too, and in some cases, are the only option. Co-sleeping is vehemently warned against by some doctors and parents, but enthusiastically supported by others. In reality, there are no perfect answers to these issues; there are just the answers that we choose. And except for cases of genuine abuse or neglect, most choices that a parent can make are not wrong or right, they’re just choices. Why is it so hard for us to accept that?
For me, at least, it’s very hard. I treat other parents kindly and don’t criticize their choices to their faces, but at the same time, I can’t help but cringe inwardly at some of the things I see. For example, I feel very strongly about a baby’s need to be responded to quickly, competently, and lovingly when they cry. When another parent talks about letting their baby cry it out, I can’t help but feel that they’re making the wrong choice. Physical punishment is another area in which I feel strongly—I hate the idea of a parent striking their child as a form a discipline. To me, it’s just not acceptable. Personally, I base my parenting philosophy mainly on what I’ve studied of child development, and these issues have been well-studied. This only serves to make my opinion even stronger, and I find it difficult to believe that doing things a different way can be the best thing for any child. But what I need to remember is that research is not infallible; scientists once believed that the Earth was flat, after all! Just because child development experts generally agree on these things right now doesn’t mean that the opinion won’t change in the future. In the end, I have to make my own parenting decisions and other parents have to do the same. The answers are not always (or usually) as clear-cut as the popular opinion of the day makes it seem.
So all of that to say, I am going to strive to not judge other parents for their choices just because they’re different than mine. Parents who do things differently than Cory and I are not less intelligent or less competent as parents, and they don’t love their children any less, and vice versa. (And on that note, new parents like us can make the best parenting choices for their families, just like any other parents. There aren’t amateur parents and professional parents—there are just parents, doing the best that they can).
Whether you feed your child an organic, vegan, gluten-free diet or whether you let your child eat fast food today, let go of the judgment. Whether you oppose vaccinations or fully support them, let go of the judgment. Whether you spank your kids and use time-outs or whether you use hugs and words of affirmation, let go of the judgment. If you don’t have children yet but plan to one day, let go of the judgment about what you think you’ll “never do as a parent.” If you don’t have children and you never plan to, let go of the judgment about what people who are parents are doing wrong—it’s a hard job, and most of us are doing our best.
Let’s all let go of the judgment and learn to treat our differences with respect and understanding, in parenting and otherwise.