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How to navigate the parent shaming spiral

Posted at 2:48 PM, Jan 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-17 16:48:12-05

Therapist Anastasia Pollock shares her tips below for avoiding and coping with the parent shaming/judging spiral.

Even with the most valiant of efforts, judgements are unavoidable. I hear people claim all the time that they pride themselves on their non-judgmental nature. However, if you are a human being, it is impossible to avoid snap judgments. This is because our brains are designed, staring in primitive times, to assess each situation and person to determine whether a threat existed. Fast forward to modern society and you will find, as long as you are closely paying attention to your own internal dialogue, that judgments will pop up several times a day. This is not bad. It is just what the brain does in an effort to keep you safe.

This is handy when we are faced with situations that may actually result in danger. However, it also happens when there is no danger. One of my own personal examples was when, before I had children, I saw a parent in the mall with a small child. The child was not wearing shoes and immediately I made a snap judgment as to how that parent was failing her child by not putting shoes on him. Fast forward to my own son who often refuses to wear shoes due to his tendency to revert back to the habits of his ancient ancestors, the cavemen, which is why we call him our Little Cave Man. My child has several pairs of very good shoes. Regardless of the fact that we are adamant about putting them on his feet before leaving the house, 100% of the time, he has them (along with his socks) off his feet within 5 minutes of being in the car. At some point, I have given up and if I am just running from the car to a restaurant or store, barefoot he remains, even in the winter. Now I get the looks I used to give others. The looks of judgment from people with great intentions who care about the warmth of my son`s feet. Little do they know that he has made his boundaries clear that he will not wear shoes and it is less painful for both of us if I simply bundle his feet in my jacket as we go from the car to a building. It has been an enlightening experience to have been on both sides of this situation.

So what to do? Judgments are often knee-jerk reactions that are inevitable. For the occasions during which you experience a snap judgment, I would encourage you to acknowledge that your judgment is coming from a good place and then remember that you don`t have all the information. When I catch myself in a snap judgment, I try to consider that there are likely extenuation circumstances about which I have no clue. I then try to put myself in the role of that parent who is likely stressed and just trying to survive the years of young childhood. A kind smile and encouraging word towards a stressed-out parent goes a long way in helping to alleviate some of the pressure a parent is experiencing as they are trying to negotiate insurmountable tasks such as taking small children into public.

For the parent feeling those judging looks, I would suggest making eye contact and smiling back. You could also through in a comment such as 'I`m sure you understand that it is important to pick one's battles too with the war in child-rearing'. This will likely help the person experiencing judgment to rethink their judgment and may result in better understanding. If you don`t feel the need to explain, simply ignoring the judgmental looks are also a good option. The most important thing for the parent trying to make it through the adventure that is child rearing is to remember that as long as your children are loved, nurtured, fed and cared for, you are doing a good job and your kids will be just fine, even when you aren`t perfect (welcome to the club!)

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