The following is by editor Kara Fleck.
Last week I wrote about the three types of friends I think every parent should have. I know that having people in my life who don’t pass judgement on my parenting choices is very important to me. In fact, in today’s critical world, it is crucial to have a support system.
Not everyone will be supportive of us, however. Parents especially seem to invite scrutiny from others. Everyone has an opinion on how children should be raised and some of us find ourselves getting advice (and lectures) practically from the moment we announce that we’re starting a family.
Encounters with those who make us feel like our lives are under their microscope can be emotionally exhausting, to say the least. Then, there are those who take it a step further and openly criticize our parenting.
- Fact #1: We aren’t going to be able to please everyone.
- Fact #2: There are those who want to make sure we know that!
Normally, I am my own worst critic, but there are a few people that I cross paths with in life whom I suspect are trying for that title. Perhaps you’ve got someone in your life like that, too?
Now, I don’t always handle criticism perfectly. However, I am much better at handling criticism than I was, especially as a new parent.
I’ve learned some coping techniques over the years and picked up some things from parents wiser than I. I want to share a few of those with you today, in case you find yourself struggling with criticism.
Here are three strategies for dealing with criticism that work for me:
1. Don’t Mistake Curiosity for Criticism
I have pretty thick skin, but when it comes to my children, I will admit that there are some holes in my “armor.” Because of this, I can find myself on the defensive when someone starts asking a lot of questions about why my husband and I do or don’t do something a certain way as we raise our children.
I find that it is helpful to take a step back and really listen to the way I am being questioned. Sometimes people genuinely want to know why we do or don’t do something and a healthy discussion can occur, as long as I don’t start out on the defensive and too sensitive to the topic being discussed.
2. Agree to Disagree
There are those, of course, who question us but are not open to hearing the reasons behind our decisions. We’ve all come across that relative or coworker or acquaintance who brings up a topic up just because they want an opportunity to tell us all the ways that we are wrong.
In some cases, that comes from concern stemming from their genuine love for our child and I can appreciate, even value, that. However, I am my child’s parent and I have a right to make my own decisions (and even to change my mind or make my own mistakes).
I find that there are some issues on which certain individuals and I will never see eye to eye. In those cases, to preserve the relationship, it is best to find a way to agree to disagree.
That usually means having to actually say the words, “I can see that you feel strongly about this. I do, too. You mean a lot to me, so we need to agree to disagree about this and move on.”
Easier said than done in some cases, I’ll admit.
Which brings me to my final strategy …
3. Set Limits
You aren’t under any obligation to constantly defend yourself or your parenting decisions, so don’t waste your time and energy doing so.
Especially if you’ve already walked down this path with this particular criticizer, set a firm limit. You are entitled to set a limit on the time you spend together or the subjects discussed.
Just because someone wants to dish it out, doesn’t mean that you have to take it. And you absolutely don’t have to stand there and let someone criticize you in front of your children!
One of my favorite strategies for setting limits on critical conversations is to change the subject with the “bean dip” response - “Yes, Mrs. Busybody we are still ____. Can you pass the bean dip?” End of discussion. No arguing, no further discussion, that is it. If your subtle hint isn’t picked up on, smile and walk away. You have my permission.
Yes, the argument could be made that it is rude to walk away when someone is talking to you, but I would counter that it is equally ugly social behavior to openly criticize someone else’s parenting choices.
The “Bean Dip” (or pizza, or cupcakes, or whatever is nearby) response is something I first read about on a parenting message board years ago. It has become an inside joke between my husband and I when dealing with critical people - “Could you believe Mrs. Busybody at the company picnic today? I had to ‘bean dip’ her twice before she got the hint and dropped the subject.”
Draw a Clear Line in the Sand
Sometimes there are extreme cases of criticism where you have to set limits regarding interactions. “Look Uncle Bertie, we love you, but if you’re going to insist on bringing up XYZ every time we meet, then I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to spend time together.”
Now, do I think there is a time and a place for being an advocate for a parenting decision or a cause? Of course. But the company picnic or Mother’s Day lunch at great-grandma’s probably isn’t it.
Let Them Talk … You Don’t Have to Listen
Of course, with some people, none of these things will work and even if we walk away they will continue to criticize us. Somehow these people always find an ear willing to listen.
That’s okay. Their behavior says more about them than it does about you – and at least this way, if they are gossiping to someone else, you don’t have to listen to it.
How do you handle criticism?