I hate judgment, especially when it comes to parenting.
It’s presumptuous and self-righteous and, worst of all, it only serves to obscure – if not outright obliterate – the empathy that should be both the prevalent emotion and the primary response to seeing another parent struggling. We all live in the same huge glass house, surrounded by miniature, walking, talking, wrecking balls, and we’re all barefoot and bloodied, like John McClane.
Being given a hard time when your kid isn’t behaving is the last thing a parent needs.
It’s difficult enough being responsible for the safety and development of a brand new, slowly-developing, borderline-feral human being without someone explaining to you everything you’re doing wrong.
It’s never right to judge. So why do I want you to judge me?
It’s okay, though, because there are no perfect parents. We’re all fumbling around, trying our best to help our kids survive long enough to become flawed parents themselves. But that doesn’t mean I’m not trying to be perfect. Or at least better. And that’s where a little judgment might come in handy.
You know that popular coffee-mug platitude about dancing like no one’s watching? Let’s make that mug a little bigger; I’d like to add “parent like everyone’s watching.” Because, first of all, many of them are watching, the sanctimonious assholes; and second of all, their attention might actually help.
Sometimes being self-conscious can be useful. When you’re with your kids, they have a way of focusing your attention so intensely that it’s easy to forget there are other people around. Sometimes maybe you forget yourself a bit, you forget all the parenting tips you’ve read, and you overreact. And sometimes maybe the judgers ARE right, not to butt in, of course, but in recognizing that maybe you’re not at your best.
Maybe occasionally being confronted by some socially-challenged person who shakes his head at your technique, or makes some snide remark about controlling your kids, can be a good thing, or at least a constructive thing. If you let it.
No, the resulting feelings of shame and embarrassment and anger and rage aren’t constructive, nor is following that person out of the store and picking a fight. But the awareness that there are people like that out there, people who can make you feel like shit about your parenting, even when it’s not your fault, can be a positive. It can motivate you to hang onto your patience a little bit longer, to keep your voice a little bit lower, to give your tantruming four-year-old the benefit of the doubt (at least until you get home and let him know how you really feel!) To avoid giving the judgers any ammo or satisfaction.
I’m not saying we should walk on eggshells to avoid the wrath of miserable individuals with nothing better to do than pile on when they see someone struggling. It’s not our responsibility to prevent others from being rude to us. But you know how putting on a fake smile and pretending to be happy often leads to a boost in mood? Parenting can be the same way. There actually may be something legit about faking it until you make it. Maybe sometimes just knowing there are people out there waiting to pounce is motivation enough to avoid giving them that satisfaction.
I’m not suggesting that those nosy, moralistic, holier-than-thou busybodies are right, because of course they’re not. It’s never right to behave that way, even if they are right about your parenting performance. Presuming you know the first thing about anyone else’s circumstances, and presuming you happen to know “the secret to raising children,” is bullshit, and if you’re that kind of person you need to take a good look in the mirror. Especially if you don’t have kids of your own.
But two wrongs don’t make a right. So instead of keying their cars or flipping them off, maybe we should thank them. And not in the backhanded (but plenty valid) “you’ve helped teach me, and my son, who we don’t want to be” kind of way, but in the “I sincerely want to thank you for helping make me a better parent. Despite your being a terrible person” way.
So go ahead and hate the player, odds are they deserve it. But don’t hate the game.
Win it instead.