Almost all parents feel judged, almost all the time. Our Tuning In survey showed that nearly 9 in 10 parents across the board feel judged (90% moms and 85% dads), and almost half say they feel judged all the time or nearly all the time (46% moms; 45% dads).
Why do people judge parents? Perhaps it’s because they believe parents are doing something inappropriate or harmful to their child—spoiling them, being too harsh—and the judger wants to protect the child or educate the parent. One mom in our parent discussion groups explained: “If you discipline your kids, another parent might think that you’re being abusive. If you don’t discipline your kids, then they’ll think you don’t care about your child.” Another shared: “I go to restaurants and sometimes I have my kids screaming and that’s when you get looked at—people who just don’t understand or maybe forgot how it was.”
The problem is that judging and criticizing parents only causes them more stress and makes it less likely they will handle these challenging moments in ways that are sensitive, appropriate and effective for their child. In fact, close to half (43%) of parents we surveyed agreed that: “I discipline my child differently when we’re out in public”.
Picture these typical scenarios:
Jess is in the mall with her 2 ½-year-old, Camille, who is throwing herself on the ground because Jess said “No” to going into the candy store. Camille is writhing and trying to kick Jess, and is shouting that Jess is a “very bad mommy”. Onlookers stare and scowl, and a group of other moms start whispering. Jess, feeling totally humiliated, becomes furious with Camille for putting her in this situation. She grabs Camille’s wrists and through gritted teeth tells her that she must calm down, “NOW!”—that she is making a scene and acting like a baby. This only escalates Camille’s screaming which results in Jess threatening to leave Camille on the floor of the mall as she pretends to walk away, which only catapults Camille into further hysterics. Feeling embarrassed wanting this miserable experience to end asap, Jess comes up with a reason why all of a sudden it is actually okay for Camille to get candy, which she announces out loud for all to hear: This will be Camille’s one treat of the day, but come hell or high water there will be absolutely no dessert after dinner! Jess escorts the now fully-recovered Camille into the store to make their purchase, instead of following her gut instinct—sticking to the limit.
Four-year-old Simon’s cousins, whom he hasn’t seen in several months, are visiting from out of town. When they arrive, Simon hides behind his father, Jed, and refuses to go outside to play with them. Jed acknowledges that it’s been a while since Simon has seen his cousins and is about to suggest that he and Simon go outside together to ease the transition. But Aunt Jackie interrupts: “You really shouldn’t baby him like that. He’ll never be able to make friends on his own if you always rescue him.” Jed starts feeling really anxious, and starts to question his instincts. He turns to Simon and directs him to go outside to play on his own. Simon starts to cry and holds more desperately onto his dad’s legs. Jed gets increasingly frustrated and annoyed and tells Simon that if he keeps it up, they won’t get to go to the playground later as they had planned.
The message to judgers—if you love and want to support kids, you’ve got to love and support their parents. The way you treat parents affects the way they treat their kids. When you show empathy and compassion, parents are more likely to remain loving and sensitive to their kids. Criticism makes parents feel incompetent, and makes it more likely they will react in ways that are harsh. This leads to children feeling ashamed and bad—leading to more negative child behaviors. It’s a lose-lose all the way around.
The message to parents—don’t fear the judgers. Don’t give them power by allowing them to influence how you respond to your children. Tune them out and stay focused on what your child is struggling with and what she needs from you to cope. Trust yourself: You know your child and what she needs when she’s having a hard time. It’s not your job to please the judgers, it’s your job to raise a child who can cope with life’s frustrations and disappointments, and who knows you have her back. Check out more strategies for handling tantrums in public here.
We’ve got expertise on child development. You’re the expert on your child. We’re in this together. Hear more from parents about what they think, know and need – and get useful tips and resources at zerotothree.org.