It seems that everywhere you turn, someone has an opinion about the “right” way to parent. This has become more prevalent with the advent of the Internet, allowing information to be rapidly dispersed and attained with the click of a mouse. Working moms versus stay at home moms. Breast-feeding versus formula. Attachment parenting. Sleep training. It seems when it comes to parenting, no matter what you do you are always “wrong” and others feel free to voice their opinions loud, clear and often vehemently. And with so much information available, it can be overwhelming, leading to parents incessantly question their strategies and choices. So how do you handle this overload of information, mixed messages, the opinions of others, and your own fears?
1. Trust your own choices. If you are continuously second guessing your choices or questioning your parenting capabilities, you will be more vulnerable to the criticism of others. In addition, you will be more likely to perceive criticism when none is present. If you are comfortable and confident in your parenting, it will not matter what anyone else says.
2. Be realistic. Feeling comfortable and confident does not mean being perfect. You are not perfect and you never will be. So, be realistic about your expectations for not only your parenting but also that of your spouse and that of other parents as well. Some days, the best you may be able to muster is getting your child into the bath and feeding them left over pizza. You are still a good parent.
3. Think before you speak. The adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all” applies as much to adults as it does to children. If you feel the desire to comment upon someone else’s parenting or choices, first think what is the goal or purpose of commenting. Often there isn’t one. Just like you would not tell a stranger in a restaurant that her shirt is unflattering, you should not comment upon whether her child is feeding from her breast or a bottle.
4. Ask questions. As parents, it is only natural to talk about parenting. One way to have more positive discussions is to ask questions of each other. Don’t understand sleep training? Say, “Tell me about it. What are the benefits and challenges? I am curious and want to learn more.” This is particularly good with acquaintances, as questions, politely phrased, lead to less defensiveness.
5. Do not assume criticism. Not all comments or questions are criticism. Compare your reaction to these two statements. “I don’t know how you can work full time with two kids.” “I don’t know how you can run 26.2 miles.” Give others the benefit of believing they have good intentions and do not mean any ill will. You will feel happier as well not reading a criticism into every comment.
6. Do not be defensive. If you feel confident and you realize not all comments are criticism, you will not feel the need to defend any and all of your choices. Be open to discussions, differences and disagreements. After all, that is life.
7. Let it go. If you do find yourself confronted with a “mean girl” or just some random opinionated person at the store, most often you will find it best to just not respond. Typically such comments say much more about the person commenting than they do about you. Think about how you would encourage your child to deal with a bully and follow suit.
8. Use humor. If you do want to respond, try using humor. Humor has a way of pointing out both the absurdity of someone’s comments and your irritation while also minimizing the likelihood that a confrontation will ensue.
9. Stick up for yourself. Sometimes, if you have done all of the above and you believe the other person is being critical and mean spirited, whether it is repeatedly from someone you know or a one-time incident with a stranger, you may just find you have to stick up for yourself. Be calm, be brief, express your feelings and explain your choices and if it is someone you know, find a time to talk privately.
10. Focus on common goals. All parents are just doing the best they can. Whether you follow attachment parenting, sleep training, breast feeding or anything in between, chances are you all cleaned spit up from your shirt, jumped for joy to get a shower and ended up with cold coffee by the time you got around to drinking it…and this all just this morning. Bonding over commonalities is more helpful than focusing on differences.
The important thing to remember is that all parents are doing the best they can to raise their children. No parent is perfect and no strategy is right for every child or family. Differences of opinions and disagreements will occur. After all, they do in all areas of life. Yet it is more fruitful to focus on being supportive of one another than on being “right.” The concept of “mommy wars” is actually a media construct resulting from the deluge of information available with the advent of the Internet. It is your choice to engage in this “war” with other parents or to become an ally.
***I find that I have to add a caveat to this post. Most often I do not adhere to one “right” way to parent. Different strategies work for different families. But I feel that I do have to state that the above tips do not apply to whether or not to vaccinate your child. The one study that linked autism to vaccines has never been replicated, was found to be fraudulent, was retracted by the journal in which it was published, and the researcher lost his license to practice medicine. Click for further information.