5 ways to take parenting criticism in stride

As a new mother, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed. When I was pregnant, I remember browsing through mommy forums that were filled with concerns about developmental milestones, requests for help with disciplining, product suggestions, and, yes, judgment from other parents.

The last thing a new mama wants as she is picking up the countless new skills needed to succeed as a parent is judgment from other mothers. Yet, criticism and disapproval seem to be some of the easiest things for mothers to stumble across these days, whether others are dishing it out face-to-face or from behind a computer screen.

When new mamas seek out advice (and even when they don’t), positive and re-affirming counsel is often overshadowed by hurtful remarks that can leave a lasting sting.

Of course, disagreements among parents are natural. That is how we grow and learn as adults. However, constructive techniques for asserting parenting opinions are often overlooked for more negative tactics.

When giving (and receiving) advice from other parents, it’s important to keep in mind that parenting values vary from culture to culture and from family to family. As long as our children’s well-being is kept in mind, there’s no right or wrong way to handle the many challenges we mamas face on a daily basis.

Do some parenting practices have better outcomes than others? Sure. But, there is usually an interaction between parents’ strategies and their individual children.

For instance, guidelines from the AAP recommend breastmilk for promoting optimal nutrition in infants. But it is important to remember that these guidelines are based on averages.

In some cases, children may have allergies to compounds found in breastmilk or may need more than a mother is able to produce. In other cases, breastfeeding may negatively impact the mother-child relationship by placing excessive strain on the mother.

For some reason, though, having a new baby seems to give others carte blanche on offering up unsolicited opinions, judgment, and criticism...even when they aren’t familiar with our unique little ones. The next time you find yourself in the midst of an unwanted critique, refrain from putting your fingers in your ears and singing La La La! Instead, try a few of these tips to combat the pressure!

1. There’s no such thing as a “Super Mama.”

Before you start to believe that you are doing everything wrong for your child, remind yourself that there is no such thing as a “perfect” parent. Many of us strive for perfection, but as long as we are just trying our best to promote happy and healthy children, no one can ask for more—and neither should you.

2. Put your foot down when you need to.

When someone is pushy with their suggestions, politely draw a boundary and let them know that you’re using the method that works best for you and your family.

“I appreciate the suggestion. I’m so glad that baby-led weaning is working for your family. My child really enjoys purees.”

It can be hard to stand up for your choices as a mother, but it also feels sooooo good to assert your beliefs when you feel the need.

This is a two-sided coin. If you have a different parenting technique from another mama, try to remember that the method that works so well for your little one may not work for another child.

If raising children was black and white, things might be a lot easier for parents...but they certainly wouldn’t be as interesting.

3. Talk it out.

Find someone to confide in that can relate to your concerns. It could be your partner, friend, or a family member you trust.

Sometimes venting our parenting frustrations to supportive loved ones can remind us that we are doing the best we can and that we aren’t alone in our struggles as new mothers.

4. Keep an open mind.

If someone is kindly sharing their thoughts or advice on parenting (even if you don’t agree), be cognizant that their input is most likely well-intentioned.

Especially when parents have children who are older than yours, you might be surprised at how often you find yourself later following the advice you once scoffed at.

Our own plans for how we will raise our children can change drastically as our tots (and our parenting philosophy) develop.

5. Don't take it personally.

In any domain, be it parenting or otherwise, if someone is unduly harsh in expressing their opinion, the most important thing to remember is that it is likely more about them than you.

Parenting choices are personal, so it can be hard not to take criticism personally. But, if it riles you up, take a step back to calm down before responding.

Better yet, take the high road and simply don’t respond at all! No one knows your situation as well as you and there is no need to explain your parenting decisions to others.

No one has all the answers. But, keep an open mind (and an open ear) and you might just pick up a few useful solutions that will help you reach your parenting goals. You may even pick up a few tidbits to share with other curious mothers along your journey.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

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