One of the first things I realized when I became a parent was that everyone has the right to parent they way they wish to. Really. We are all such unique human beings so why would every parent expect or be expected to parent the exact same way?!? Enter the many different ways you can even choose to raise a child. For myself and my husband, it was attachment parenting all the way.
What I have also learned is that we don’t always see eye to eye on how to parent. Both from parent to parent as well as family and friends. Well and let’s just face it. Strangers too.
Recently I gave some serious thought to this idea when Kristin (hello Kristin!) wrote a request, really a plea for advice to our mama-group that we are in. Simply put, she had experienced some outside comments directed at the parenting style she uses (attachment parenting) and how to handle these comments gently.
I immediately thought of my work teaching Interpersonal Communication at Santa Barbara City College. One of the most important skills I teach all semester to foster healthy relationships is simply when someone criticizes us how to respond non-defensively to the criticism instead of the alternative (you know, not being nice). Of course, when someone comments on our parenting style it can feel really personal and hurtful. This is what we do now 24/7. It’s easy to feel angst. However, there are gentler ways of responding then using expletives.
Here are some tools to remember on “how to respond non-defensively to criticism” (because, they are criticizing).
So, when someone criticizes parenting styles, you can do the following:
Ask questions, decide what you think, and then respond or not.
1. Don’t respond or reply right away if you can.
It is very easy to become angry or defensive when you receive criticism. Especially as a parent. This puts you in a not so good position to be in and you might respond in a way that makes matters worse if you react right away.
Instead, think zen mama! So this simply means letting it go and processing it and coming back to it when you have some perspective. If that works.
2. Really listen to the criticism
Instead of attacking the other person for his or her words and building a hostile atmosphere try to calm it down. Try to remain level-headed, open and figure out how this message can help you.
Ask yourself questions like:
Can I learn something from this piece of criticism? Maybe there is something here that I do not want to hear but that could help me to improve? Remember, we are not perfect. And there are so many different ways to parent.
3. Remember: The criticism isn’t always about you.
Some criticism is certainly helpful. Some isn’t that helpful or just simply attacks. What can I do then?
Well, I can remember that criticism isn’t always about me. Nor does it come from people who are always 100% happy with their own life, week or day the day they decide to criticize.
So they lash out at you to release pent up negative emotions.
To lessen the sting of this criticism or attacks try to be understanding. By being understanding of this it becomes easier to just let such messages go instead of feeling bad or becoming angry too.
4. Reply or let go.
When replying, you can either agree with what they have to say OR agree with the speakers right to perceive it from their perspective. Because, to be honest, we are not perfect and sometimes they might be 100% right or they might have perceived us in a certain way that was not really true.
In other words, if a someone criticizes you because they noticed that you let your child simply have a melt down in public and they think this is wrong, you might simply say, “you are right, I do let my child cry in public. I hold them so they can have the space to work through it. I do think it’s really important for kids to let go of what they need to, even if it is in a public setting. I have taken workshops from Althea Solter who supports this kind of behavior.”
Or say for example, someone sees you changing your mind with your child and they tell you that your child walks all over you. You could then agree with their perception. “Yes, It might look like my child walks all over me because I just gave in, however, l in my relationship with my child, I pick and choose my battles wisely and we have already had a rough morning. That is why when my child wanted to the larabar in the grocery store and started to get upset, even though I really wanted her to wait for lunch I simply let her have it.”
Also, if you reply then try one or a few follow up questions if you think that could help you.
- What part of my parenting causes problems for you?
- When I parent this way, how does it make you feel?
- How do you think I can I improve it? (note, this is not one that I use as I feel that it puts us in too vulnerable position, but sometimes it helps to ask)
This sounds crazy but you can even thank them for their input. Most likely their response has helped you gain more insight on why you parent the way you do. Remember, you parent the way you do because you love your little one.
If they won’t answer your questions then they are probably just lashing out. And so it is time to let go.
By using the above, we address the issue instead of attacking the person (this can happen when someone criticizes us).
Oh yes, lastly, the most important thing we can do in addition to the above is remember to believe in oneself and the parenting style chosen.
Parenting is a journey. Till next time. Emma 🙂