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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… http://presenceparenting.com/feel-safely/.

      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.