We’ve all been there, right? Maybe it’s a fit in the grocery store. A refusal to share at a play date. An iPad addiction. Or maybe a nasty attitude taken with family members. No matter what, every kid does their fair share of things that invite judgment from others. Every mom has felt that cringey, “let me just crawl in a hole somewhere and die” feeling . . . most of us, several times over. It’s just an inescapable reality of motherhood.
The Bible rightly says, “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Not a single child of ours manages to prove that saying wrong. But to spend our time trying to manage others’ opinions of our mothering on top of doing all the work of mothering is just too much. This post will give you some strategies for shrugging off judgment when your kids do cringe-worthy stuff!
“We’re Working On It”
Oh, this phrase. It has come to my rescue in some truly cringe-worthy moments. My oldest son used to growl, scowl, and actually take swings at people who tried to talk to him. And he did not limit this behavior to strangers–it was grandparents, my friends, my extended family members, Sunday school teachers, etc.
I would turn beet-red, apologize, and try as best I could to smooth things over. Thank God for one friend who said, “I totally understand. He needs his space!” However, most people would act shocked, as if they couldn’t believe this three year old didn’t want to smile and talk with them.
Then one day, I witnessed one friend pull her fit-throwing kid off the ground during a church get-together. With a smile, she used this simple phrase to address onlookers: “We’re working on it.” She immediately received knowing looks, sympathetic nods, and even a couple “I’ve been there” acknowledgments.
I realized that no one in the crowd was approaching the situation in judgment at all. But my friend’s admission allowed them to easily voice that truth.
There are definitely people out there who might roll their eyes and mutter, “Someone should really DO something about that kid.” They probably don’t have kids or don’t remember what it was like when their kids were that little! Either way, they’re in the minority.
My genius friend has an incredibly active (and also genius) little boy. Once, when he was running away from her in the school parking lot, I heard her yell to onlookers, “Sorry! I forgot to give him his tranquilizers today!” It was the best.
Mama, you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you parent the way you do.
Whether you’ve chosen to spank or not, to breast or bottle-feed, to homeschool or public school, you’ve agonized over SO. MANY. DECISIONS. And you’re just doing the best you can. No matter how you’re doing it, you ARE feeding them, clothing them, teaching them right from wrong, disciplining them, comforting them, counseling them, and raising them to be productive members of society.
So, it’s okay at that moment when your kid is doing something horrifying, like running through a parking lot, to laugh. Sure, some may gasp in judgy horror; but, most of us will laugh right along with you. We are with you in the trenches, fighting the good fight day after day and still, STILL, they do crazy things that scream, “NO ONE IS RAISING ME!” Some may not admit it, but it happens to us all.
And, we’ll think of you when our own kids are wreaking havoc. My mind has harkened back to that day in the parking lot more times than I can count. Some days, I really need the reassurance that not every poor choice my kid makes is a fatal one. Sometimes, it’s really okay to make a joke, get the kid back to safety, and move on.
Start a Conversation
“Have you ever experienced this kind of thing with your kids?”
I know. You’re thinking that this kind of open invitation to more experienced, perhaps older, moms is going to result in unwanted advice that rails against your own convictions on child-raising. I know, because I thought the same thing.
When my kids were little, I had this strange idea that I had to be the expert on child-raising. I always had to have the answers for every behavior, illness, or other “problem.” What in the world?!
For every mother, we are ALWAYS entering new stages for the first time . . . for the rest of our lives! Why do we think we have to have ALL the answers?
What I discovered when I began asking this question was the opposite of what I’d expected. Fellow moms are FAR more interested in giving you grace than pouring on judgment. Again, they’ve been there, right where you are, just as worried and worn out as you.
When you ask this question, you may get an answer in the form of a well-used tactic that you can choose to try out later. You may get an answer that you can accept with grace but choose not to implement. But I predict that you’ll get more of this:
“Oh honey, I had no idea what I was doing. We tried everything. Eventually, they grew out of it. Don’t let it worry you too much.”
Take that relief to the bank, my friend. If there’s anything that parenting teaches a person, it’s how little control we have over another person. We can be a strong influence for sure, but we cannot control another’s thoughts, emotions, or actions. Our kids will be their own people, and in the process of becoming their own people, they’re going to try out some less-than-ideal options. Let’s not forget . . . we did too!
Change your Mind
This has been the most challenging part for me. Believing that others are looking on with sympathy and understanding when my kid is doing embarrassing stuff has always been hard for me. But now, as a mom with older kids, I can absolutely confirm for you that WE ARE. Please be willing to give your friends, fellow moms, and family members a chance to prove to you that they are on your team. I did not do this. The result was that I felt unnecessarily alone, constantly judged, and always self-conscious. I could have deepened relationships, grown in knowledge, and experienced such relief if I had been willing.
Choose Who Gets a Voice
One time, I did reach out to an older, more experienced mom about the way my oldest kid (at that time, 18 months old) acted with others. Unfortunately, she told me that he probably had deep insecurity due to the amount of travel my husband does for work. Seriously. That’s what she said. She also counseled me to talk to him about reducing his amount of travel for the good of our family.
Thankfully, I recognized the myriad of flaws in this well-meaning woman’s advice. She did not understand my son, nor did she respect my husband’s work responsibilities. My husband and I decided then and there that we would allow few voices to actually “speak” into our family life.
Sure, we were bound to receive advice, help, and pointers from many people over the course of raising our family. But we realized that we did not have to give every person equal permission or equal speaking volume. This counts for all the books, blogs, and Facebook rants too.
Some points of view are worth considering, especially if they come from a person who is heavily invested in your family. Others are not worth your brainpower and heartache.
Manage your Expectations
Remember that Bible verse I referenced? Keep it in mind! When we expect our kids to act like adults, we’ll be let down every time. If we expect them to do what we say just because we’ve said it, we’ll be disappointed and angry. When we expect them to understand social norms when they’ve barely begun to interact with society, we will be embarrassed.
“Foolishness” is the lack of good sense or judgment. They lack it because they weren’t born with it. They’ll gain it as they grow and learn. Give them (and yourself) the freedom of time to grow and learn.
We really are in this together. Your fellow moms have your back, my friend. Next time you or your little ones are having a rough day, DO expect us to be there for you with a smile, understanding, some compassion, and a hug.
Originally published January 2022.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.