“No judgment!” It’s a popular catch-phrase which has become a modern-day expectation. Rooted in political correctness and themes of equality, it’s a well-intentioned ideal but is it realistic? Or does the phrase lack credibility?
It’s a difficult yet important question to answer as it permeates our shared parenting experience, influencing our decisions and tempting us to doubt our instincts. No matter what parenting style we choose to follow we’re faced with judgment; it comes with the territory.
Sharing my unconventional views through Raised Good can be nerve racking with the fear of mass disapproval weighing heavily on my shoulders. To be fair, I couldn’t have chosen a more polarizing topic; the unbelievable effort we pour into our children means we all take parenting extremely personally and defend our choices passionately.
But, do we need to tear others down in order to justify our own decisions?
A survey of 26,000 mothers performed by Today Moms in 2011 revealed 87% of moms judge each other. The truth is we all judge, but why? Because we’re wired for moral judgment. It’s normal and natural. An area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is dedicated to the emotional aspect of moral judgment. It’s unavoidable.
At it’s core judgment is a survival mechanism, helping us make sense of the world around us. In and of itself it’s healthy to evaluate observations against our personal belief system, bolstering future decision making abilities, creating authenticity and shaping us as individuals. My sense is judgment becomes toxic when it’s made through a lens of ignorance or a vacuum of empathy.
As natural parents we tend to chart our family’s course based on scientific research, evolutionary biology and common sense rather than indiscriminately following the crowd or what society dictates. We need more compelling reasons than “because we’re supposed to” or “because our parents did it and we turned out ok”. We’re an impassioned minority, which is difficult for many people to handle.
I’ve been on the receiving end of hundreds of scathing comments after sharing my writing through mainstream media outlets: I’m no stranger to judgment. When I first read the criticisms I felt like I was being personally attacked; I was angry and upset and for a split second I felt like giving up, not on my philosophy but on being so open about it.
But, then I wrapped my arms around my kind, empathetic and insanely happy son and was immediately reminded why I’m so transparent about my choices; because our children need adults who advocate for their needs. If my words support or inspire one parent wading through a sea of hostility any momentary anxiety I feel is worth it.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
So, how can we cope with judgment in our daily lives as natural parents? For me, it’s starts with knowledge and conviction.
1. Knowledge and conviction
Beginning with a deep understanding of my parenting decisions creates an unshakeable conviction in my choices. It gives me the courage to breastfeed in public, defend my son when adults address him disrespectfully or shrug off embarrassment when playful parenting is the only solution.
It helps me discuss controversial topics calmly (most of the time!), while leaving no room for self doubt to creep in. But I appreciate all parenting paths are unique; if we can find common ground it can bridge any gaps as we navigate parenthood by offering guidance, inspiration and support.
2. Vulnerability and honesty
It sounds like an oxymoron when we’re considering judgment – wouldn’t it be easier to lie about our choices and avoid judgment altogether? Sometimes it’s tempting to do so and in exceptional circumstances it may be the best option, but by and large it’s important to parent in the light, not in the dark.
The fear of judgment can be so overwhelming many of us feel we have no choice but to lie. Sarah Ockwell-Smith of Gentle Parenting conducted a survey of 600 parents, revealing forty six percent lied about sharing their bed with their baby to a doctor, midwife or health visitor for fear of being judged.
I completely understand why parents hide the truth. But if we can find the courage to be honest, practices currently viewed as alternative will be seen as normal and with it, long-held judgments will melt away.
3. Resiliency and thick skin
Ultimately, if I’m facing judgment which can’t be counterbalanced with logic or empathy the thing that saves me is having thick skin. Find your truth and stick to it: you can’t please everyone and your top priority is your family’s connection and long term emotional well-being.
Try not to worry about what others think, draw strength from the positive influence your parenting is having on your child and do what’s right for you. No trail-blazer has ever walked the path without suffering many wounds along the way. This is the price we must sadly pay for breaking away from the herd, and living life on our own terms.
Is judgment the real enemy?
As the number of parenting choices explodes, alongside the exponential rise of social media, judgment is escalating. But, I wonder if the real issue is a lack of empathy. I wonder if we’re losing our human connection as our world becomes more fragmented, impersonal and competitive.
It’s easy to sit behind a computer screen and lash out against others who make us doubt our choices. When I receive negative comments I often feel like I’m the messenger being shot; that perhaps what I’ve said hit a nerve people would rather ignore, but need to hear.
But, when we let superficial judgment blind us, it throws up impenetrable road blocks, we label others, and healthy conversation stops.
As positive parents we’ve elected the take a road less travelled; the rewards are endless and the price we pay is coping with judgment. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeking to avoid judgement, or worse still, changing our behaviour to fit in with the mainstream.
In those times, I urge you to find your village. Find your tribe of positive parents who can help heal your wounds. That is what I hope to provide for you here and I am so grateful for the strength you give me. If we can be brave enough to open our minds, talk honestly about our choices and extend empathy and support to fellow parents who may follow a different path we’d all benefit.
“It is hard to swim against the current and risk the negative judgments of parenting peers. Yet, some do, and if enough begin to swim upstream, the river may change its flow.” Peter Gray, Free to Learn