You’re Not My Mommy: Why I Won’t Answer to the Parenting Critics
It all started last Saturday when our eldest daughter came into the living room, where my husband and I were in a cold-induced haze of tissues and cough syrup, and said, “Mom, Dad, there’s a lady outside yelling at all of us.” And we said, “Okay honey,” because that’s such a shame for her and we are too busy being sick. And then she says, “She’s in the front yard and she wants to talk to you,” at which point we began pointing frantically at each other and saying “You do it.”
I’ve been parenting for just over a decade, and I’m a work in progress. I regularly seek parenting advice, because none of us have this all figured out. We won’t even know the outcome of our parenting until it’s all said and done, so there’s just no point in claiming any authority on the matter.
However, I have been entrusted with three precious little beings who claim me most of the time. I know them better than anyone in the world, and I am the expert on the particular way they want their sandwiches cut this week and which ingredients better not end up on that bread, among other things. We do the best we can.
So there we were, joint forces, facing an otherwise pleasant older neighbor, who began berating us as parents in our own front yard. She was deeply worried to the point of tears that we weren’t properly watching our children as they cavorted down the street past her house. I say cavorted, because one is a new biker that weaves and wobbles and another sings at the top of her lungs and acts out key scenes in Disney movies as she walks. It was bound to draw attention.
Our primary crime was allowing a 5, 8, and 11 year old to go from our house to a friend’s house around the corner without us “supervising” them, which I think is Latin for “hover over like a panicked chicken.” She went so far as to accuse us of being more interested in our “me” time than we were in caring for our children.
I am so bone-tired from caring for and about my children that I was just stunned into silence. My husband, ever cool under pressure, responded with calm, low tones, slightly tinged with condescension, as he was holding back all of the things he likely wanted to say.
The reality is we are surrounded by critics.
They are online, they are in our front yard, and they are in our head. This whole Jerry Springer episode got me thinking about parenting in a digital deluge of neuroscience discoveries, fear mongering, and sage advice that is so much better than our parents’ sage advice. Because let’s face it, many of us don’t have an actual parenting plan. We are just trying to not make the mistakes our parents made that irritated us the most. One moment we are told to hold our children close and watch out for traffickers lurking in every playground, and in the next moment to let them run, cage free like the wild animals they really are.
It’s nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction as advice flies at us from passersby and websites at warp speed. And if you dare stick your little pointer finger out and type in a comment on some hot button parenting topic (you know the ones), you will be publicly flogged not just for your obvious ignorance but for being a generally terrible human being. Really? This is the point where I want to just unplug everything and live in a Hobbit hole.
Here’s the twist. Sometimes I really need help.
Lately, we have needed guidance with a sticky situation we have with one of our kids. I’ve read blogs and books on this topic and asked friends, gleaning from the wisdom and experience of others. It has helped me feel less alone, as well as given me some direction. This is the best of what a connected, information-laden world has to offer, and I don’t want to shut myself off from all of the positive growth that’s still out there for us.
I want to stay open and engaged in the well of resources around me, while remaining grounded in my own beliefs as a parent. I want to be above the fray of judgment and self-doubt that undercuts my vital role as parent of these three amazing people.
Some of the reasons I don’t answer to parenting critics and what I’m doing instead.
They are my kids, and I am not yours. This is a basic legal issue but some people get confused.
I strongly believe that our kids are ours for a reason, and we are uniquely equipped to parent them, whether they are straight A students or not, neurotypical or not, biological or not. And I want to applaud, on repeat, all of the parents who are engaged and doing their best to mold and shape the next generation. It’s a crazy tough job.
Parenting is not one size fits all.
We could talk all day about what is age appropriate for our kids or how much screen time to allow. Those can be helpful discussions, and sometimes they’re just what I need. The problem is the cookie cutter approach to parenting that leaves us feeling aghast when our kids do not fit that mold. We all know deep down in our gut that our children are unique beings with unique needs. When we try too hard to fit a pattern, we often feel defeated.
I chose to not parent out of fear.
I’ve noticed that what makes my temperature rise is not advice about parenting, it’s fear. Advice given in a spirit of fear or obligation leads to feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety about what’s to come. Advice given out of love and camaraderie settles into a good place in my soul, and I can keep it or discard it with no qualms. I am shutting out, unfollowing, unsubscribing from anything that leaves me feeling discontent or feeds my inner critic, and only listening to people that build me up. Everything else is unworthy of my most precious commodity – time.
I can parent confidently, even though I make mistakes.
In this particular case of Gibbons vs. The Neighbor, we are doing our best to ensure our kids’ safety while also encouraging their freedom and responsibility. We have found what feels like a healthy balance for our kids at this stage of life, and our opinion matters most in this scenario. We are the chosen two for this little bunch of girls. So we are going to parent with confidence, own up to our mistakes when we make them, and recalibrate as needed. Our kids will feel more secure when we show them a peaceful, united front.
Judging is for perfect people.
In case you are wondering, we made peace with our neighbor, my kids are still biking, and she probably doesn’t like it. Life goes on. People online and offline will continue to criticize us for the blunders they think we are making, but we get to decide which voices we want to let in. And we are best served by voices that are trusted, that truly care about our families, and that share wisdom from a place of love and respect, even when we disagree.
How do you respond to parenting critics? What do you do to fuel your confidence instead?