kid covering ears

This article is number 2 out of 4 in this series of “Parents Judging Other Parents”.

Parents judging other parents has become so commonplace, it’s almost like one of the milestones you get hit with once you become a new parent. It’s like, skin-on-skin bonding, diaper changing, dealing with judgment over your parenting – kind of in that order.

And it comes from everywhere. Your mom, in-laws, nurses, daycare, colleagues, friends with kids, friends without kids, family members, neighbours, that lady in the queue at the supermarket… Everyone has strong opinions and it’s very often those opinions don’t gel with yours.

Problem is, nobody is wrong – or right! Nobody can say they’re doing a perfect job because it’s pretty much a learn-on-the-job situation. Even if you have more than one kid, it doesn’t mean you know better. In fact, you probably thought you got it down pat after the first one, and then the second one comes along to tell you that EVERYTHING you learnt before isn’t going to work with them.

Kids are unique. We are unique. We all have different life experiences and values. Therefore, it’s only natural that we’ll adopt different parenting styles. What’s NOT natural is for us to feel like we have to judge other parents, especially putting them down, in order to feel like we’re doing a great job as parents.

Even if our approach to parenting may be new, innovative, trendy, or even 100% effective, it doesn’t make other parents’ approaches any less valuable.

Because it’s not about what works for us or what we’ve learned – it’s about what WORKS FOR THE KIDS.

In this article, I’m going to share 10 areas in which we need to stop judging other parents. I myself am guilty of some of them. Are you?

To breast or bottle has been a loooooong ongoing debate amongst parents, especially moms.
Photo by Luiza Braun on Unsplash

Breast vs bottle

I’ve personally encountered this “breast vs bottle” debate many times. Go onto Facebook and join any group about breastfeeding, and you’ll be banned if you even mention the F word. That F word being “formula”, of course.

Breast milk is considered the “ideal infant food” because it contains antibodies from the mom that helps protect the baby from illness, and it also adjusts as the baby grows to make sure they are receiving what they need. Yes, that is the magic of Science. But guess what, breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay.

A mom should never be made to feel guilty about it, or made to worry that they’re making a wrong decision. We all have to understand that formula is NOT evil. Lactation expert Dr. Courtney Jung with the University of Toronto says that “For things like I.Q., asthma, allergies, eczema… there’s almost no difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding.”

She goes on to debunk the “Breast is best” stigma, noting that “the evidence that breastfeeding makes a difference is just inconclusive. The fact is, formula feeding is a completely safe and nutritious alternative to breastfeeding.”

In all honesty, I’ve always abided by the “Fed is best” rule. We’re all just trying to do the best for our children, and it really doesn’t matter how they’re fed, as long as they are fed, healthy and safe.

Sleep routines

You know how when you ask in a parenting forum online which co-sleeping bed is best, and then get barraged with comments that you should be sleep training your child instead of letting them continue to sleep next to you?

Welcome to the debate when it comes to sleep routines. Some experts recommend training toddlers between the ages of 1-3 to sleep in their own crib.

Some say that “extended co-sleeping can discourage children from achieving what’s known as ‘night time independence'” – the ability to comfort themselves and soothe themselves back to sleep should they awake in the middle of the night – which is apparently a key step in healthy emotional development.

Yet co-sleeping, not sleep training, is considered more “biologically appropriate,” according to James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. He says that co-sleeping helps babies to “breathe more regularly, use energy more efficiently, grow faster, and experience less stress.”

For me, “who-sleeps-better-where” was always my guiding thought. I co-slept with my baby because we both slept better that way. And when he reached a certain point, he would wake up more easily next to us than he did in his own room. But part of the reason why we co-slept in the beginning was also because we lived in a tiny loft apartment – it wasn’t like there was another room to put him in! So just go with the flow and situation. Whatever works best for your family so that everyone can get a good night’s rest – that’s the best solution.

“My favourite food is CANDY,” says my son unabashedly.
Photo by Pete Wright on Unsplash

Kids diets

I’ve had parents snub their noses at me before because I give my child candy – not only on the weekends but the weekdays too (OMG) and more than once a day (Double OMG). When he was littler, I’ve had parents chide me for letting him drink fruit juice – “water or breast milk only!” – or for letting him bring store-bought muffins to school – “home baked only!”

You know, not everyone has the time and energy and opportunity to bake healthy oatmeal cookies for their kids’ daily school snack boxes.

So you can tell I’ve definitely hated being on the receiving end of this… yet I’m also so guilty of having judged myself. Parents who have chosen a gluten-free diet, sugar-free diet, organic-only diet for their children… Yes, I admit, I’ve thought to myself, “Seriously? What’s wrong with normal food??”

But you know what, I don’t know their story, I don’t know their kids, and I certainly don’t know if they might have any health reasons for choosing the diets they do. As long as our kids are getting the vitamins and minerals they need, do we really want to put all that effort into judging others based on what food they eat? Now the only time I care about someone else’s kid’s diet is if I’m throwing a party and I want to make sure they’re not allergic to nuts or something. Otherwise, nope, not falling into that trap again.

How much screen time is “too much”?
Photo by McKaela Taylor on Unsplash

Screen time

I once posted in a parenting group to find out what kind of series their kids loved so I could introduce that content to my child too. I got a few suggestions, but also comments to the likes of “Why not just play with him? I play with my child, because interacting with them is the best, not putting them in front of the television.” Like WOW, did that reek of judgment!

First of all, is there actually a correct answer – like actually according to the Arabic numerical system – as to how much screen time is the right amount for a child?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends 1 hour a day for kids aged 2 to 5 years old, and extending this limit to 3 hours on the weekends.

But really, if your child is not yet in school, and you work from home, or have to do some house chores where you cannot carry them around with you, is it really so bad to put them in front of a screen for a while? Or if you’re sick at home and need to entertain your child for a while – can’t you outsource entertainment to an electronic device for a while? Are there really no benefits to screen time?

A study of 171 preschoolers in which kids were randomly assigned to watch episodes from literacy series “Super Why!” were shown to outperform other kids in pre-reading skills such as alphabet recognition and letter sounds. Meanwhile, in another study, kids who were randomly assigned to watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” showed greater emotion recognition and empathy. So perhaps the emphasis shouldn’t be on how much screen time they’re having, but what kind of shows they’re watching?

Anyway, over time I’ve learnt not to judge because you really don’t know what kind of situation someone might have at home. Being able to play and interact with our kids every hour of every day is ideal, but it really isn’t practical or feasible in some situations.

Discipline methods

Okay, I admit. I’ve pooh-poohed parents who have seemingly “let their kids get away” with inappropriate behaviour. You know you’ve felt that way too, like “Wow if he were my kid, I would have…” And then you start to think, “No wonder he’s so [insert not so nice adjective], because his parents just let him run all over them.”

*Hand raised* – Been there, done that. But you know what I realised, I can’t tell if the kid is misbehaving because of ill-discipline or if it’s because they’re struggling with ADHD. I can’t tell if they’re acting out because they’re just an exhausted toddler who really, badly needs some sleep.

When it comes to discipline methods, us parents seem to belong in one camp or another. There’s the camp that believes in time-outs. The camp that believes in punishing by taking away privileges. The camp that believes in putting a positive spin on it. Heck, there’s the camp that still believes spanking is a good thing, even though The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has already declared physical punishment “legalized violence against children”.

Apart from hitting a child, I personally can’t tell if one discipline method is better or worse than another. I think it all boils down to the child. Coaxing a child to do their homework simply with words might work with your firstborn, for example, but your younger child might need more incentives and rewards to motivate them. Time-outs work on some children, and yet only seem to exacerbate the situation with others. Some kids will stop misbehaving with simply a glare, others will need to be stopped kicking and screaming.

Either way, I think we’re all trying our best to raise well-behaved children, whether we put our kids on “the thinking chair” or facing a wall for 3 minutes. As long as we’re not hitting our kids, I think it’s safe to draw THAT line.

Should we judge if a parent buys their kids “too many” gifts?

Material things

I found myself judging one time when I saw on my Facebook newsfeed a mom who had posted a picture of a stack of presents for her daughter’s third birthday. It’s normal for a kid to receive a bunch of gifts on their birthday, sure. But then I read the caption and it said “15 presents here just from Mommy and Daddy! Wait till we add the 6 from Grandma and Grandpa! And the rest that will come from the birthday party!” That’s when my jaw dropped.

A three-year-old child is getting, what, something like 30 presents for her birthday? “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” popped into my brain. “These parents are clearly spoiling their child.” I judged. I couldn’t help judging. It happened automatically and my brain didn’t filter it from getting to me.

But you know what? Later on I realised that I probably buy my son 30 presents too. I might spread them out over the whole year, a small gift here and there, just one for his birthday, but still, they do add up. Maybe these parents don’t buy their kids gifts on any other day but their birthday? Fact is, I don’t know their story. I don’t know their situation.

We often judge what parents give their kids, and let’s admit, it’s mostly associated with parental income. We get a little bit jealous when other parents can give their kids stuff we wish we could give ours, and that jealousy shows itself in judgment of those parents for “going overboard” and “spoiling their kids”.

This mom whose picture of presents under the Christmas tree went viral with the hashtag #TooManyPresents came under fire online for buying her kids 300 presents to celebrate the festive occasion. Did I judge her immediately when I saw the picture? You bet. But then I read her response:

“I LOVE spoiling my kids in the festive season and I work damn hard to make sure it is every bit as amazing as it can be… You could buy your kids two presents and still have a little terror. My kids know the difference between right and wrong and they appreciate everything they get and they don’t get spoiled throughout the year.”

She said that she “was shocked how judgmental people were,” thinking that she was “a bragging parent with spoilt little brat children.” She summed it up by saying, “…what I buy my kids is my business, no one else’s.”

I’m not buying my son 300 presents for Christmas, but I agree, what we buy our kids is no one else’s business. If parents enjoy spoiling their children with gifts, and their kids are thankful and grateful and not spoiled by it, all the power to them.

This kid is getting a global education!
Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash

Lifestyle choices

I’ve seen judgments about parents who take their kids to music festivals. I’ve seen judgments about parents who take their kids with them travelling around the world, skipping conventional school and “homeschooling” them on the go instead.

I’ve heard people have something against parents who take their kids on “too many holidays” and others who don’t take their kids travelling at all. Parents who take their kids out for Sunday brunch every week, parents who drop off the kids at their grandparents every weekend, parents who choose for a babysitter to take care of the kids so they can go out on date nights. Parents who choose to cook every night, parents who can’t cook. ALL these parents face judgment in one form or another.

Since when did we have to check in with others before deciding on our own lifestyle choices? Remember when we were teenagers and we were all like “This is my life and you have no right to tell me what to do” towards our parents? (No? Just rebellious little me? HAHA) Maybe we should adopt that kind of attitude but in reverse now. “That is your life and I have no right to tell you what to do.” There, if we all just had that kind of mindset we wouldn’t think we had any right telling other parents that their lifestyle choices somehow offend our sensibilities. *rolls eyes

Family composition

I promise I’ve never judged any family made up of the same gender, fluid genders, or any type of non-genders. But what I’ve been guilty of judging before – sister wives. Sure, it was more of a “WHY on earth are they all attracted to THAT man? He’s not even handsome!” but a part of me was definitely judging their choice of family composition. I shouldn’t though. It really is their choice. It takes a village to raise a kid, so their big family is probably really helpful.

You know what, some parents want 16 kids, some are okay with just one, why do we care? As long as parents can afford to raise all 16 kids, not just financially, but also spending the time, energy and effort on helping each of them emotionally and mentally, hey, that’s all good. The only time it would be an issue is, in the words of this one Quora answer, “If you got 10 kids but know you can only feed 2 of them, then you need a reality check. Sorry, not sorry.”

Otherwise, I really don’t think it’s our place to judge how many kids they want, who they want their partner to be, if they choose to do it alone or with a partner, partners, group of partners, different partners, one partner on the weekdays and another on the weekends… You’re getting my drift, right?

Toys will be everywhere for a long, long time…
Photo by Odd Sun on Unsplash

State of the home

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably already realised that your home will never be neat and tidy for the next… how old is your child? Take the age they’re likely to move out at, and minus their current age. That’s how long your home will still be messy lol.

Let’s face it, work + cooking + laundry + dishes + bath time + bedtime routine + time with your kids… How many things can you squeeze into your daily routine as it is? It’s completely understandable if you look across your home and toys and crayons are strewn in places they shouldn’t be, or if one too many dust bunnies are nesting under your sofa.

Neatness is not in everyone’s DNA, and some people struggle with OCD more than others. How upkept someone’s home looks should not be reflective of how “good” a parent they are because they’ve successfully managed to parent AND keep their home beautiful. Don’t forget, some families also have cleaning help.

Just the same, just because you walk into someone’s home and it looks messy doesn’t mean they are a failure at this parenting thing. It just means they have a lot on their plate. It just means this is a family home that is very well lived-in.

Also, did you know that having OCD doesn’t just mean they’re “neat freaks” or obsessed with cleaning? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, now classifies hoarding disorder as a type of OCD. Which means, if you notice someone having a cluttered or seemingly disorganised home, it can also be a form of OCD, and not just because they’re lazy or terrible at time management.

I was once guilty of judging another family’s home because it was so pristine and orderly, you couldn’t even find a strand of hair out of place in this living room. I got judgey when I realised that their little girl was not allowed to jump on the sofa, run around the living room, play with her toys on the coffee table, etc. I would never put my desire for tidy living as a priority in my life over my kid, and so I judged. But what if this parent was struggling with an OCD need for a tidy home? See, the thing is, I don’t know their story at all. I know nothing about how they live their life. So it was definitely not right of me to judge.

Instead of judging them, I just decided to let her do what she couldn’t do at home. I invited their daughter over to our place for a playdate, where she was allowed to jump on the sofa, run around and play with toys everywhere she wanted to. It reminded me that instead of spending time judging other parents, we should instead keep our focus on the kids.

Being a mom

From the moment your foetus was mango-sized, you might have already gotten judged for… for lack of other ways to describe this, being a mom.

We had already decided to move 10,000 km away when we realised I was pregnant. We couldn’t cancel the move, so it turned out that I would be moving to another country, jobless, homeless and about 6-months preggers. The judgments poured in, flimsily disguised as concern, but mostly shakes of the head at the thought of me doing such an irresponsible thing as having a kid in a foreign country without even a roof over my head.

Granted, it was not the best of situations, but I am happy to report my son has never had to live on the street with a cardboard box for a roof.

People judged that I wanted to put my baby in a hammock instead of a crib. (I also said they put babies in boxes in Finland and was told off very firmly that it’s “child abuse”.) They judged that I put him in a bouncer in front of “Baby TV” while I cooked. They judged that I put him in daycare for a few hours every day so I could have some peace and quiet to myself. They judged when I wasn’t able to easily move past my postpartum depression simply by “being positive” about it.

Being a mom is sometimes such a weight on your shoulders – and it has sometimes nothing to do with your child, and everything to do with the amount of judgment you get from, usually, other moms.

You’d think we’d support each other since we understand what we each go through as a fellow mom. Still, the moms shaming moms tradition continues. It’s terribly unhelpful, and only serves to tear other people down, rather than lift them up. Surviving motherhood is best done as a community, not alone. So please, let’s stop perpetuating this horrible cycle of judgment and start learning how to help each other out on this shared journey of parenting?

In the previous blog article in this series on “Parents Judging Other Parents”, we talked about some of the possible reasons why we tend to judge other parents.

The next blog article in this series will touch on ways that we can try to stop judging other parents.

In the meantime, do share your thoughts in the comments below. What are some areas of parenting where you find yourself being judged or guilty of judging others?