My time spent working with families and interacting in parenting communities has taught me several things. One of those things is that no matter how you choose to parent your child, you will meet with criticism from someone at some point.
Often I hear, “My mom criticizes my parenting! How can I get her to stop?” Other times the criticism comes from friends, other family members or other authority figures. The first thing you need to understand is that you are not alone. Many other parents deal with criticism about their parenting style.
As an attachment parent, I certainly received my share of criticism concerning my parenting. There were many situations–from miscarrying after having nursed while pregnant, to choosing to home school and not using physical punishment–that brought criticism from friends and family.
The criticism stung at first. It made me mad at times. But, as time went on and others saw that what I was doing was working, they backed off. For instance, after I went on to have two successful pregnancies while nursing (one while tandem nursing even!), no one had too much to say about my choice. As my children get older and we continue to homeschool, no one worries about their socialization anymore. In addition, as my children have moved on from the difficult toddlers/preschooler ages into the big-kid ages and continue to display good behavior, no one questions our decision not to spank them.
Unfortunately, criticism can be difficult to combat in the early years of parenting, especially if you have one child. I remember those days all too well. I got through them, though, and you can, too.
Here’s how . . .
Criticism = Worry
Chances are that when someone close to you criticizes your parenting, they are worried about you or your child. If you decide to assign positive intent, you can see their criticism as concern. This softens it and allows you to deal with it differently.
When your mother criticizes your parenting, for example, tell her in a genuine way that you appreciate her concern. She will feel heard. This is the first step to diffusing the situation.
Appreciating her concern does not mean that you agree with her or that you will take her advice. It simply shows her that you are not looking for a fight and that you appreciate that she cares enough to speak up.
When I am at my best, my response to unwarranted criticism is, “Thank you for letting me know your concern. I will consider that.” (Note: If you use a sarcastic tone when you say this, you negate everything, so be genuine and be kind.)
One way that I avoided losing sleep over criticism of my parenting choices was that I was confident in my decisions. I didn’t come by my parenting choices by blindly following the latest fads. I researched everything. I talked with mothers who had parented children in the ways I thought were best and with mothers who had made other choices. I knew why I was choosing to co-sleep, to practice child-led weaning, to homeschool, to not use punishment, etc.
If you aren’t confident in your decisions, you will question yourself. When you are criticized, it is natural to ask yourself if the other person might be right. If you don’t know why you have chosen a particular parenting style or if you don’t feel confident in that decision, you may falter.
You Don’t Have to Explain
One of the biggest steps in learning to deal with criticism over my non-mainstream parenting decisions was realizing that I didn’t owe anyone an explanation for my choices. My parenting choices were between myself and my husband. No one else had a right to an explanation of why we were doing what we were doing.
Now, that doesn’t mean that getting an attitude with others and telling them to buzz off is a good idea. It just means that you don’t have to stick around and discuss your parenting with someone who is looking for a fight. If a family member or friend is getting too involved in how you parent, gently tell them that you’re not interested in discussing your decisions right then. You can promise to let them know when you are ready to talk about it.
Learn How to Change the Subject
One of the best tools I used when my children were younger and my parenting choices were unpopular was to simply change the subject when I saw questions and criticism coming.
When asked at a play date if my oldest (then 2) was still nursing by a mother who had clearly expressed her disgust with nursing past the age of 6 months, I answered that, yes, he was still nursing and then swiftly complimented her necklace. The compliment was genuine and I had quickly established a boundary with her.
Often, you’ll see this tactic called “bean-dipping” in the world of attachment parenting. As in, “Are you still nursing?”, “Yes, we are. Will you please pass the bean dip?” It answers the question in a gentle and kind way, but does not leave room for further questions.
Don’t Mistake Interest for Criticism
Not all questions about your parenting style will lead to criticism. You may certainly have had your share of criticism, but don’t let that cause you to miss an opportunity with someone who is truly interested in how you parent.
If you are questioned about your parenting style a lot you may become tense when anyone approaches you about it. In some cases the asker may have a sincere interest in what you are doing and how you do it. Don’t miss these opportunities to share your story.
For more information, check out Boundaries: When to Say, How to Say No
Get support for parenting and connect with other moms – join us in our private Facebook group for Positive Parenting Support.