When Baby Mermy was born, I asked my midwife if the manual on how to raise him had also come out along with him. She laughed; I was only half-kidding. Maybe not entirely a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of situation, raising a child is definitely an experimental process.
Oh so when you are crabby, you want only this boob? Ok, got it.
Ok, so this high-pitched wailing means you want your nappy changed, not that you are hungry, sleepy, tired, or gassy.
Oh, so you are upset because the wipe is too cold? One warm wipe coming up (hastily rubbing wipe between hands to “warm” it up)!
You get the picture.
Trial and error is how we traverse the world of parenting. Sure, parenting books and guides, doctors and health professionals, grandmas and random strangers are full of advice to do this or that but not that or this, at the end of the day, it’s the parents that must experiment to determine what works best for their little one and family. This is by no means a small feat. Many sleepless nights will occur, hair will be pulled (both by yourself and your little one), tears shed, frustration and anxiety will take over, and timeouts for the parents will become necessary. At this time, the absolute worst thing someone can do is make a mama or papa doubt themselves as the baby’s parent and caregiver.
I often wonder why someone feels the need to criticize (and here I do not speak of those willing to listen to how the parent might be doing something differently), no matter what their intentions are, how someone else is raising their child. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child, but should we as parents not have a say in who comprises this village? There is absolutely no impact on the critic of how a child is raised. Except perhaps their own guilt as they consider how they have raised their own children and wonder if they have done it right. But, then why impose what one is feeling guilty of doing on the other; does the need to be proven right matter so much? And, often it is the mother who takes the brunt of this criticism. It seems that, as mothers, we have become fair game to anyone and everyone who has had a child (ever!), is considering having a child, or has come into contact with a child. All this does is exacerbate any existing insecurities and self-doubt the parents, especially the mother, have regarding their role as a parent. To me, that’s not okay.
So, how do you handle the critics without punching them in the face or snapping their bra strap as you calmly walk away? The few strategies that I have used thus far, with various success levels, include:
Nod your head, smile politely and walk, and then go home and do your own thing.
“Thank you for your feedback, but this works for our family right now.”
“Oh really, you did X? Tell me about it?” Generate an entirely new conversation.
“We are doing it this way, would you like to know more?” Those who are genuine in their feedback, will want to know more and attempt to understand your views. Those who aren’t, well, you can always walk away.
“Thank you for your advice, but this is a personal matter that I don’t wish to speak about.
Some of these strategies may work and help you deal with the critics in the moment. But, what about addressing how we feel about some of the negative critics once we are alone? Sometimes the commentary is much harder to shake off, despite us having used the strategies above. And, sometimes, the strategies above don’t quell the anger. Because there is anger at some of the feedback. It would be naive to assume there isn’t, and we need to be able to manage the anger without getting angry with the critic or personally suffering from its negative effects. Getting angry won’t change the critic, so why waste our much-needed energies on it? We need, instead, to manage it so that it doesn’t overtake us and cause us harm.
One of the first steps we need to take in avoiding the internalization of the critiques is to not feel the need to be seen as perfect by everyone else around us. We often get angry when someone questions/challenges/critiques us because in a way, we feel that it broadcasts that we are not perfect. Despite what is said, most of us want to hear everyone praising our parenting skills, never mind how open we are to receiving constructive advice and guidance. Remember though, that the view others take of ourselves should not inform our views of ourselves. Our worth and value is not tied to how we are perceived by others.
Also remember that the critic is an outsider to your situation; he or she does not live in your house or in your shoes and therefore, does not understand nor has the right to judge or condemn your choices. Advice from a caring soul can be acceptable; negative condemning criticism can be viewed akin to a dirty diaper that we throw in the diaper pail. Force yourself to laugh at the ridiculousness/stupidity of the comment/advice and let it roll off your shoulders. The first time you do this may feel strange, but with practice, it becomes cathartic.
We must also take special care to not compare ourselves or our children to other parents and their children. We are all individuals growing and developing at our own pace; comparisons only harm and cause unnecessary concern. Who has time for that? I would rather play or nap.
Sometimes, however, what critics say rekindles the self-doubt we may already have. The Buddha says “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Self-doubt can serve a purpose: it can create awareness within us and cause us to use caution or reevaluate certain choices depending on what they are. On the other hand, self-doubt can generate fear within us, cause it to grow, and gnaw at us until we can’t see beyond it. This is not something we should ever let fester. To react, we must practice mindfulness and focus on the positive elements of our parenting and remind ourselves that though doubt is inevitable, addressing that doubt is within us too. As parents honing our intuition and attempting to do the best by our children, and as people, we must show ourselves love and grace and accept that though we will experience negative emotions, like doubt, fear, anger, etc., we will not be governed by them. This takes practice but remember, you are worthy and deserving of your own love. You can override such negativity both from others and from within yourself and prevail. Easier said than done perhaps, but definitely worth it!
We have embarked on a most magnificent journey: parenthood. It comes with trials and tribulations, but more than that, it comes with a happiness and joy unlike any other. The negative commentary of others cannot and should not take away from that.
How do you handle the negative critiques and the critics themselves? What strategies do you use to prevent internalizing their negative comments?
United in diapering,