If you admit to the world that you’re not the Mother of the Year, folks will step forward agreeing with you, most in a spirit of camaraderie, one parent in the trenches to another.
But a few will come out of the woodwork just to tell you how you’re mucking up the job. I’m okay with this because I know it is a side effect of blogging and putting my parenting on public display.
But what about if you aren’t putting your parenting on display? What if you are just going about your normal day, living your life, raising your kids, and suddenly out of nowhere you find yourself being attacked.
If you are a parent, chances are a few of your choices have drawn some criticism.
I’ve developed a fairly thick skin for this, and most of the time I can laugh it off, because I know I’m not perfect and I know that it is okay that I’m not. But it seems to me that lately my social circle is abuzz with “mommy bashing” and comparison, as if those “mother of the year” awards actually exist.
Everyone has a passionate opinion on how children should be raised. I’m not convinced that is a totally bad thing, either. I’ve appreciated having my thinking challenged at times, either because it cemented my own views or because it caused me to open my mind to another idea.
However, there are those who take it a step further and openly criticize or attack the parenting choices of others.
- 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 out for that particular title. Perhaps you’ve got someone in your life like that, too?
Here are six 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, 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 acquaintance who brings up a topic up just because they want an opportunity to tell us all the ways that they think 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 next 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, or your kids, have to take it. And you absolutely don’t have to stand there and let someone criticize you in front of your children!
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.
4. Bean Dip ‘Em
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.
The “Bean Dip” (or pizza, or cupcakes, or whatever) 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 today? I had to ‘bean dip’ her twice before she got the hint and dropped the subject.”
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).
5. 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.”
I know from personal experience this isn’t an easy one, but it is sometimes necessary. My husband and I once had to deal with a relative who would repeatedly interject themselves into discipline situations with our children because they didn’t agree with our methods.
After trying to talk with this person, with no success, in the end we just had to draw a line in the sand and say, “look, this behavior won’t be tolerated any longer.” Unfortunately, they didn’t change their behavior, so we had to limit the time we spend with them. Is it sad? Yes, but we had to choose our battles and couldn’t allow the inappropriate situation to continue.
6. 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 to them.
I know it hurts, but 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.
As one of my mentors says, “your opinion of me is none of my business.”
How do you handle it when someone criticizes your parenting choices?