How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment

Written by Amy on February 14th, 2012

Parenting Philosophies

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions With Other Parents

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.


Parenting can bring out the most interesting advice and remarks from people who we may not even know and of course, those close to us as well. Sometimes we don’t want this advice. Sometimes we resist it with every fiber of our being. There are many reasons for this, some of which we will explore. I would also like to offer some alternatives to reacting in such situations and instead responding respectfully.

The following steps can be considered now and applied in moments of receiving unwanted parenting advice and judgment.

The first step in learning how to respond respectfully to another person’s judgment is to listen. Yes, really. When we most want to shut down and run away, if we allow ourselves to listen with our whole bodies and not tout back we may be able to feel the essence of the message – even if it initially seems hidden beneath layers of judgment. This may take practice because in order to hear what another is saying we get to become comfortable with acknowledging our own feelings.

Inside of most advice, and even criticism, is caring. People have their own opinions and experiences with children and they want to share what they think is valuable. Sometimes we may not find the information valuable and  yet we can still connect with the concern at the base of the message. If you’re wondering why, keep reading.

The second step is in noticing our own judgment. We can judge ourselves super harshly, until we learn how to do otherwise. When you hear what another is saying about your parenting or children does it feed into your own self judgment or do you automatically sling judgment back onto the person you feel it is coming from? While you are listening to what the person is saying, feeling what you are feeling, just notice any judgment. We judge from our perspectives, which are developed through out our life time, and we can benefit from being aware of those perspectives so we can soften them a bit and connect more deeply with ourselves and others. This does not mean we must use advice or internalize criticism we do not agree with. We’re still talking about a very internal process here.

The third step is really allowing ourselves to feel the root our our reactions. The main thing that stops us from responding respectfully to unwanted parenting advice and judgment is a sense of violation in some form. We can feel hurt, judged, like we are wrong, or that what is suggested simply harms children. These feelings may have complete validity. We can benefit from honoring them on the inside through breathing intently into our bodies, noticing our breath acknowledge any emotional sensations, while inquiring into what we are really feeling. Am I feeling attacked? Do I feel this person has no right to offer me parenting advice? Do I think what is offered is abuse or maltreatment of children? Do I feel superior in my knowledge or experience? Notice the thoughts and related feelings. Don’t judge, just notice.

The fourth step involves examining your parenting values. While doing the above three steps for a while, make a list of your parenting values. What is really important to you and what do you want to model in relationship to others? Is it important to you that you model respect or advocacy? Can you combine the two? Is it important that you model sticking up for yourself or kindly thanking someone for what they offer while knowing you won’t use a bit of it? Can you combine the two? Is it important that you offer alternatives to parent bashing or is it important that you join the crowd? Can you choose a mutually respectful option for you, your family, and the world? Make a pact with yourself to explore options of respectfully communicating with those who you feel judged by if that is important to you.

The fifth step embraces appreciation. In the last few years I have found that the simple practice  of appreciating whatever comes my way to be profoundly healing. By allowing judgment from others to clue me in to my own self judgment or tendency to judge others, I can change the way I look at life and others. In appreciating even the unwanted advice I can see how to become more clear about the way I do want to parent, and put it into action. With each seemingly unwanted piece of information I get to examine and choose whether that fits me, and if it doesn’t what I am going to do about it. Am I going to become an activist? Am I going to educate others? Am I going to practice so intently that I walk my talk and it speaks for itself? Appreciating even the tough stuff can help us to make decisions about what we want, what we choose, and to apply it deeply to our lives.

The sixth step offers a response. Once the internal work is established, we can reply if we feel that is appropriate. There are several ways to respond respectfully.

One way is to remember the golden rule: treat others as we want to be treated. A simple “thank you” can suffice and it’s not necessarily directed at the information, but the caring at the basis.

Silence is also golden at times. No words can say a lot, especially when we’re working our inner process and not throwing back judgmental daggers. We can even smile as we consider what is being said and how we will respond.

Asking questions can help us understand as well as open the door to be understood. Sometimes a person will offer what we feel is criticism when they did not mean it that way at all. Sometimes it is meant that way in anger, but once explored we find out the person felt hurt by something we said or something unrelated. Some questions to open the conversation may include “Can you tell me more about that?” or “I appreciate you sharing with me. What brings you to feel that way?” or “I would like to understand. It sounds like you mean _____? Is that correct?”

Another possibility is to educate. If we are offered information that feels way off and we are familiar with alternatives that work, we can share. Instead of getting into a debate we can ask if the person is open to information and share from our personal experience such as “You know, I’ve tried that and what I’ve found works for us is …” or “That’s interesting, we do this and it works really well right now” or “I haven’t tried that, I will consider it along the way.” Considering doesn’t mean we must try it; we can certainly choose not to try something that doesn’t work for us.

The seventh step is to continue the inner work. As we become more comfortable parenting in line with our own values, judgment rolls off of our backs like water on a duck. It just doesn’t stick. The key to becoming comfortable is doing the work to parent with integrity and from what I gather, that’s a life long process.

Enjoy the journey, I know I am. 🙂

Photo Credit: JVShock


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it’s from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural – Just Don’t Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother’s groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the “Mommy-space” online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God’s Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles… — Jenny at I’m a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents’ worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting – Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she’s learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.

About The Author: Amy

cavechange My NPN Posts

Amy Phoenix is a gentle yet direct mom of five and author of Presence Parenting, a space to address the presence we bring to parenting, especially when feeling frustration, anger or rage.

21 Responses to How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment

  1. Dionna  

    I love your point about asking questions to clarify – that is something I have seen time and again to be so helpful. For example, the other day I posted one of the separation anxiety/respecting everyone’s needs pieces you helped me with. A commenter said something to the effect of “as a mother, I put my child’s needs at a higher priority than my own, and often that means I go without.” (or something) My first reaction was to bristle and take it personally – like she was accusing me of being a selfish parent. But I sat with it awhile, and I realized that 1) I was comfortable with myself and 2) she was probably speaking from the perspective of a mama with a younger child.I asked her a few questions to clarify, and yes – that is exactly what it was. Plus, she’d recently had some CIO arguments where parents had justified CIO by saying they had to meet their own needs too. She wasn’t judging me at all 🙂 We can always reach a deeper level of understanding if we take time to ask!

    • Amy  

      I’m glad you asked those questions, too, Dionna! I followed that conversation and enjoyed watching you come together a bit. With all of the various ways of approaching the role of parent it sure is nice in the moments when we can come together. 🙂

  2. Sheila  

    You make a point there in saying that our feelings about others’ comments often have more to do with what’s going on inside us than with what they said. I remember back when my son was tiny and I was working, I would sometimes mention that I was tired. Invariably I’d get sleep training advice that I didn’t want. It made me angry. Not because they were giving me advice — nowadays, that kind of advice just runs off my back. No, I was upset because what I wanted was understanding and sympathy. I wanted someone to say “Of course you’re tired, you’re a new mama,” while what I was hearing was, “If you are tired, it’s your own fault.” But that isn’t really what they meant. They just saw that I was tired and wanted to help.

    I don’t know what would have helped back then — probably just reminding myself they didn’t mean it the way I was hearing it — but what helps now is knowing that I am happiest the way I’m doing things than I would be any other way. And, of course, I’ve learned not to share certain things with people — I can’t complain about how my toddler slept last night on Facebook, because I WILL get a lot of negative feedback telling me I should have sleep-trained him a long time ago. Instead I go to a few trusted friends for that.

    • Amy  

      Sheila, you also make a really important point (as does The Happy Womb) about empathy! As we listen to others and we feel what we are feeling, we can be empathetic with ourselves and be more likely to ask for what we need (or at least recognize it so we don’t feel so totally put off when we don’t receive it from the person offering advice).

      Thanks for bringing that up. It is so important to give ourselves what we feel we need.

  3. The Happy Womb  

    Totally with you Sheila on the sleep advice/ just wanting empathy thing- MAN have we been there! I REALLY got that with my first. Amy – yes “feel the essence of the message” – totally – it can just be SO hard in the moment!

  4. Lauren  

    Ah, I always feel peaceful after reading your posts. I feel like that first step, of listening, is so important for me to practice. I want to immediately jump to judging and evaluating, but just taking things in as they come and observing what they’re saying and my reactions — I need to keep trying for that. Thank you for some new tools!

    • Amy  

      It becomes easier with practice and the beauty in intentionally noticing what we are experiencing is that we stop judging ourselves and others so harshly, or if we do – we notice that and have a bit more space to choose differently the next time.

      Listening is a lost art that we can all benefit from. It is amazing how healing it can be for both listener and the person who is listened to. Enjoy the journey. 🙂

  5. Acacia Moore

    Beautifully written, Amy. Thank you for you sage advice. I love that first step- to LISTEN and feel it in our bodies. I think I can use that in some other instances when I disagree with what another parent says, even if it’s not advice to me.

    • Amy  

      Absolutely, it allows us to feel beneath the surface of what is said. Sometimes people don’t even mean what they’re saying and even when they think they do, there’s often much more to the story.

      Anyhow, it’s a nice relaxing way to spend time with a person when we can just listen. It’s getting through our own judgment that frees up the process to allow it to become relaxing. 🙂

  6. Tara

    Very well written! This is my favourite bit “As we become more comfortable parenting in line with our own values, judgment rolls off of our backs like water on a duck.”. This is so true. The key is being confident and trusting in our own parenting decisions and then the opinions of others cease to bother us!

  7. Helen @ zen mummy  

    This is such a relevant and valuable post ~ I was hooked from your very first point. Sometimes I feel myself shutting down as soon as someone starts to talk: ‘ uh-oh, here comes the advice! Well, I do NOT need it, thank you very much’ 😉

    • Amy  

      Yep, and it’s a perfect starting point because it brings awareness to the often inherent tendency to defend. There’s so much we can open to, even when we don’t really want the advice. Human connection. 🙂

  8. wellness coach  

    Love this post! My wife and I used to get what we call ‘backseat parenting’ all the time, especially when we lived in the States. I got it the most when I was alone with my daughter. I one time had a woman approach me in the bank to tell me she was happy to see a dad and baby out together, but that my daughter looked cold. This was LA! Cold? Just because she wasn’t wearing socks.

    • Amy  

      I remember the no socks comments as well. It’s interesting how those just fade as we become more comfortable with how we parent (at least that’s what I’ve noticed, or maybe my babies are wearing more socks?!)

      One particular type of ‘backseat parenting’ that can feel frustrating is advice from people who are not parents. Doesn’t mean it has no value, though, sometimes it can be really helpful or is at least an opportunity to connect with another human.

  9. Carrie

    Yes I liked your suggestions, too!

    I really like the idea of listening to your body for your reaction. I find when I’m upset and I do that, I can realize faster why I’m getting upset.

    And then, I often discover that I’m upset because I am still uncertain over decisions I’ve made. For instance, I’m secure in my decision to do extended breastfeeding, and simply shrug off any comments about how I’m nursing a 22 month old. But I struggle with the vaccination issues, and when others (aka doctors!) talk to me about those issues I find I get defensive.

    Listening to my body helped me realize it’s MY issue – not the doctor’s.

    Really, another person’s comments are judgment only if you let them be judgment. Thanks for that reminder – and that this is a lifelong experience! 🙂

  10. Jeannette

    This advice is something I need to ponder and practice. My automatic reaction to comments about my parenting has been to say something sarcastic, which I realize only creates distance between my self and the other person (one of the in-laws, usually). I appreciate that these suggestions promote understanding and respect between the two parties.

  11. J

    I found your blog and am bookmarking this. I so need to read this again and again and again.

    Do you have any tips for remembering to do this in the moment?

    I have a very bossy mother in law who, unfortunately, is passive aggressive. With my own friends and family, I have no problems with open communication. However, my mil says she hates confrontation and if I ever get angry with her (the whole two times I have let my anger show) she ru ns home and cries to my fil, sil, and extended in-laws. Then, none if them will speak to me or my husband.

    She has essentially closed the communication between us by her actions because I’m so afraid of alienating my husband from his family.

    I know that my method of coping with this thus far- avoidance- isn’t the best way to deal. However, I just seem to shut down when she begins criticizing my parenting choices. I am quoet in the moment, but allow it to eat away at me until I finally get fed up and snap at her. (Though, honestly, I have never been incredibly rude, just a bit short. Yet, to hear her tell it to others, I have completely chewed her out. Not so.)

    Unfortunately, my husband works long hours and cannot be the buffer I wish he could, so I need desperately to learn some new techniques of dealing with her. I am growing a backbone slowly, but still have trouble. I could really benefit from advice on staying inwardly caln in the moment.

    • Amy  

      I commend you for wanting to work this out in new ways, to grow beyond avoidance and snapping at your MIL. What I hear you asking mainly is how to remember all of this in the moment while staying calm. Attaining such a goal is a practice, and it takes time. Avoidance can allow space for self-reflection, but it can also lead to passive aggressiveness so it’s helpful to be aware of where it leads you.

      I find a mindfulness practice helpful – and it can be done both in sitting/private practice for a few minutes a day and in the moment during situations like you’re describing. Here’s something I wrote to help prevent harmful action and it may be helpful in getting to know your reactions on the inside so you can create some space around them to respond differently…

      It also sounds like her stuff is her stuff, and yours is yours. Notice what you tend to own (feel guilty about) that’s not yours. If you are communicating something important with respect to her as a human being and she takes it personally, that may be her stuff and more about her reactions than yours. You can take what she says as feedback and adjust if you feel that’s helpful. Maybe just let her know you’d like to change the way you two communicate even when you disagree. She may or may not be receptive, but your intentions are on the table and you get to choose how you are an example of them. Take care.