Self Defense

What To Do When You Feel Judged As A Parent

It will happen and can be hard to shrug off because you care about being a good parent. These are the best ways to handle it.

Man sitting in room looking worried

Being judged is never on your to-do list, but it’s also nothing you haven’t dealt with as a boss, employee, or coach. People have opinions. They voice them. You eventually must learn to shrug it off. Or at least try your damndest to do so.

When you’re getting judged as a dad, however, and the critiquing comes from your mom or in-laws or the person in the checkout line or — the best one — anyone who doesn’t have a child, it hits harder. It’s also harder to let go, and for good reason.

“It matters so much to us that we’re a good parent,” say Emily Edlynn, licensed psychologist and author of Autonomy-Supportive Parenting: Reduce Parental Burnout and Raise Competent, Confident Children. “It hits at the heart of what feels most important.”

Here’s the first problem: As a parent of young kids, you’re already good at doubting yourself. Any critique, real or perceived, merely ups the runaway thoughts that you’re terrible at this and always will be. It also doesn’t help that this job offers zero of the markers that you’re used to that say, “You’re doing great.”

“You don’t get grades or annual raises,” says Amy K. Bach, licensed clinical psychologist and clinical associate professor at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

The next problem: Chances are, you’re probably trying to be a different parent than what you had. It’s only natural. You want to be more involved and more concerned with how your child feels. You may have no model to base this on, so all you do is encourage your kids to be expressive. And then they do just that, with words and tears, and, “It looks like kids are more out of control,” Edlynn says.

As a decent amount of this happens out in the open, people feel free to share their comments that carry the implicit message that you’re not doing it like they would, which means you must be doing it wrong.

The judgment hits hard. You’d like to tell everyone off, but you can’t alienate your support system, regardless of how unhelpful they’re being in the moment. So what can you do? The path forward requires figuring out when to ignore, when to push back, and when to give yourself a break.

What To Remember When You’re Feeling Judged As A Parent

Parenting is not a smooth curve. Some days are good. Others make you wonder if you’ve ever known anything. It’s crucial to remember this.

“There’s not an easier version you’re missing out on,” Edlynn says. And regardless of your approach, “There will be people who disagree,” Bach says. “Prepare for it and it won’t be such a sting.”

That chase for perfection isn’t expected in any other endeavor. It makes even less sense when it comes to parenting.

The comments are still going to come, and sometimes it’s not bad to react. But before you say anything, think about why people feel the need to “share”. They might see what you’re doing and be worried. They might feel self-righteous in their opinion. They might think they’re helping and would want someone to do the same. They might feel anxious because what you’re doing looks foreign to what they did as a parent or what they grew up with.

“It can feel like a judgment, but it doesn’t make it a fact,” Bach says.

It also doesn’t mean it’s totally false. You want to consider if there’s any validity with what’s being said. That shred of truth gets you to improve. Then you and your partner have to be clear on your priorities as parents. It means questioning what you grew up with and whether the stuff “that’s always been done” makes any sense. If you don’t examine what you’re doing and shore up your knowledge, you end up mindlessly sounding like your parents.

“You’re just shooting from the hip,” says Pamela Monday, marriage and family therapist in Austin, Texas.

When you get that list of what matters, you have both a guide and a reminder that, “We need to laugh. That’s why we watch The Goldbergs.” It doesn’t fix everything but you’re reacting less and more confident in your decisions.

Now you can directly address what bugs you about the person’s comments. The words are your own, but it should go something like, “I know you love my kids and I trust you, and I know I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, but I need the space to do that. The feedback isn’t helping me right now.”

“If you don’t say anything, you’re doing nothing on your behalf. If you’re just tolerating it, you’ll get more and more resentful and defensive.”

You’re setting a boundary, which could spark some defensiveness, but take that as a good sign. “It means you nailed them,” Monday says. You might instinctively avoid this kind of conversation because of the awkwardness. But sucking it up doesn’t help. “If you don’t say anything, you’re doing nothing on your behalf,” she says. “If you’re just tolerating it, you’ll get more and more resentful and defensive.”

You’ve also established a reference point. When that person pipes up again, rather than rehashing, you can hold up your hand and say, “This is one of those times.” They won’t remember at first, but with what Monday calls your “broken record line”, you’ve given them a nudge.

“It interrupts that unconsciousness,” she says, adding that it might not immediately take hold, but, “They will get it.”

In your exchange, you can also add, “You know what would help …” and then tell them. You’re bringing them in, and annoying comments aside, if they’re willing to help, you want to take it. Kids benefit from other voices. It gives you a break, and it might give your “expert” relatives a taste of not what kids are like, but what your kids are like.

Find Others Who Know What It Feels Like

There’s no guarantee any of this will stick. The people in question can still judge away, and think the job is easy because they’re leaving after a two-hour shift and are well-rested. They’ll probably never fully understand your situation so the judgments won’t vanish and neither will your frustration.

What helps is to find other dads and share stories. “They’re living a similar experience,” Bach says. They’ll appreciate hearing that “they’re not the only one” and they’ll feel less alone, making you feel the same.

Here’s another big reminder. Parenting is a huge industry with books, classes, and promises of never yelling ever again. “It’s all an “illusion”, Edlynn says, yet another kind of judgment and ridiculous standard to make you feel like you’re coming up short. That chase for perfection isn’t expected in any other endeavor. It makes even less sense when it comes to parenting.

“It’s impossible to do a job of this many hours in a day and for this many years and not make mistakes,” Bach says. “The best you can do is reflect and learn. That’s how you get better.”