Friday, December 9, 2011

Are We All Judging Each Other?

Obviously, there's no one really keeping score
on how we parent. But sometimes it feels that way.
“The more one judges, the less one loves.” ~ Honore de Balzac

A short time after I began writing this blog I was at the park with my kids when I was recognized by one of my readers. I was surprised, flattered and a little freaked out. Not because she recognized me, but because I suddenly realized that if I was actually recognizable, there might be any number of people who are aware of my parenting philosophies and who could be watching to see if I practice what I preach! 

I can't imagine I'm the only one who considers how others perceive me when I am parenting in public. For example, when your sweet child throws an ear splitting tantrum in the supermarket, suddenly it feels as though a million eyes are on you, each one deciding if you are parenting appropriately. Obviously, the conclusion those strangers draw is totally subjective, but no one likes to feel judged. Then why do we all do it so often?

I was recently at an indoor play space with my kids and was watching my son play in a ball pit that included a large slide. He was feeling a little energetic and was jumping off the slide and into the balls below. The mother of a little girl who was also there began to get rather agitated that he was going to either hurt her daughter or hurt himself. I kept hearing her suck in her breath and encourage her daughter to tell my son "no, I don't like that" when he got too close. This, of course, had the opposite effect as he was now intrigued with this girl.
Why would I care so much about what a stranger thinks?
Why would I give someone else so much power?
I began to notice my stress level raising. I imagined the mother was judging my son as being too aggressive and me as being too permissive. I told my son to stop, he was overtired and feeling mischievous so he ignored me which ratcheted up my stress. I felt the other mother's eyes boring into my head. My son made a move to jump back into the pit, I heard the woman say "no!" and I snapped at her that my son wasn't going to jump on her daughter...she looked shocked and said she hadn't thought that. Did I imagine the whole thing? Was my fear of being judged to be an ineffectual parent creating scenarios? Whatever the reality was, I was mortified and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to avoid this woman. 

As I look back on it, I wish I had been more centered and more confident that my son's behavior was not something that needed stopping. He was being a little rowdy, perhaps, but my tense demand that he stop doing what he was doing only made him want to do it more. And why did I care about what some stranger thought anyway? I will never see her again, why did I need her to decide I was a "good" parent? Why did it matter to me that she think my son was a "good boy"?

I know that I am too concerned with what other people think. It's an issue I have dealt with most of my life and wrote about earlier this year in my post Perfection Is Perfectly Impossible. I've actually let go of this need to be perfect in many areas of my life, but I'm aware that when it comes to my parenting, my fear of being seen as doing it badly or ineffectually is very powerful. I've noticed as well that it's very easy to get caught up in accepting (and wanting) praise when my children behave in socially acceptable ways as if this means I must be a wonderful person to have taught my children so well. The biggest problem with this is that I then must also believe the converse, that when they are misbehaving, or acting out, that I am somehow to blame and must be not only a lousy parent, but a lousy person. 

I think about that Balzac quote often. If I am judging myself so harshly, how can I be loving myself? And if am spending so much time not loving myself, what am I modeling for my kids? And why am I putting so much power in the hands of others? 
“Our dependency makes slaves out of us, especially if this dependency is a dependency of our self-esteem. If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.” ~ unknown
How could I be anything less than an awesome mom
when I have such awesome children?
I think everyone passes judgment at one time or another, sometimes without even realizing it. Probably, deep down, part of the reason we do it to make ourselves feel better. It's like why we watch trashy TV...we get to compare ourselves favorably and feel superior. But of course it doesn't actually work in any deep and meaningful way. 

So the next time a parent gives me a disapproving look because my daughter isn't wearing a coat in the cold weather, or someone yells that my son should hold my hand when we cross the street, instead of feeling the sting of their criticism, I am trying to remember that anything these other parents are saying shows more about their character than mine. 

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

Have you ever felt judged about your parenting? How do you handle it? I'd love to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments below. 
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