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Parent Statements: euphemisms of judgement?

"My child doesn't get much media", said the mama to me as we watched our kids sit in front of a video, "so he is totally sucked in when he gets it."  I said: "Oh."  I feel like I have heard myself say the same thing of my own child.  

Later that weekend, after allowing my child to have a juice box offered by another child, I said, "My child doesn't usually drink juice," noting my child's high-energy response to the drink, "so he is totally hyper when he drinks it."

As I hear myself saying the above, I hear my unspoken thoughts "your child shouldn't drink juice".  Then, I hear the other mama's unspoken thoughts (or what I assume they could be): "your child shouldn't watch videos".  I had a sinky feeling in my stomach.  I am juding.  I am being judged.  But, it doesn't sound like it, does it?

No doubt you have heard similar statements before.  Maybe you have even made them.  Does it feel judgy only if one is already sensitive to the issue?  Or, this might go into the category of "over-thinking" things.


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When people have made a different decision about some parenting issue (juice, screens, what-have-you), both of you made a judgment about that issue - what's good, what's bad, what's acceptable/tolerable. That doesn't always mean you've made a judgment about other people. It's way too easy to feel attacked on things you feel sensitive about. If you want friends, you should probably develop selective hearing and memory when those topics come up, and save yourself unnecessary ruminating.

I say these kind of things unthinkingly... but it comes from feeling like I'm the one being considered an oddball and feeling a need to defend myself. Like tv and juice are the norm, so I must speak up for being different, else I will be overlooked and unacknowledged.

Any judgments about tv, juice, bedtime, whatever I have made are based on my own child's needs, not my personal idea of what is good/bad. Many are lucky to have children who aren't affected by small things, but those of us who do, have to be be vigilant and not swept into norms that don't work for us.

Actually, I find it all quite judgemental---my knee jerk reaction to the parent who says stuff like that is, "wow, did I ask you?" (though obviously, it's left unsaid).

While it's perfectly fine (and inevitable) that different decisions will be made about child rearing, the other mom depicted comes across as sumpremely smug and judgemental. And, quite frankly, not someone I'd even WANT to be friends with.

Some things to bear in mind about the Judgey Mommy - it's been my experience that when people say stuff like this, they're somehow jealous or defensive of something. Maybe in the process of micromanaging her poor kid, their relationship isn't as close as she'd like. Because otherwise, why be so freaking rude?

BTW, many studies show that exposing your children to any of those forbidden things, in moderation, won't have any impact whatsoever on your child's development.

A lot of it depends on the context and tone. There's a way to convey that your family does things differently without coming across as smug and judgmental. However, some people are going to interpret any statement about doing things differently as an implicit judgment on their parenting, not matter how you say it, and some lifestyle choices are going to make you sound like a self-righteous prig if you mention them, no matter how innocuously you do it. Not having a TV is the classic example. I almost never mention this to anyone because experience has taught me that - even in SE Portland - there's pretty much no way to tell another parent that you don't own a television without it being seen as a proclamation of holier-than-thou-ness or an attempt to out-crunch, even though that's the last thing you intend to convey.

As I was sitting at a high school graduation last month watching all these kids I know graduate I couldn't help but feel sad about all of the judging that goes on in the early years. I know several of the Valedictorians and even more of those graduating to top tier schools and you know what? Some watched TV some didn't, some were vegans, some ate fastfood regularly, one came from a totally Kosher home. They had working mothers, sahms, sahds, and one lived with grandparents. I think when our kids are younger we fool ourselves into believing these choices are more important than they ultimately are out of a desire to do good (or look good) but it is an illusion. When my kids were younger we followed the when in Rome school of life. In our home visitors respected our rules and way of living with the option to politlely decline an offer (please don't put cheese on my turkey sandwich) but I didn't rearrange everything to suit the visitor. . My kids did the same visting other's homes and we all learned a lot of tolerence and respect for the various ways people live without feeling entitled to foist our values or choices on others. Looking back I realize it helped us judge less and if parents insisted in being that way we usually moved away from seeing them (the worst is being preached to by a five year old parroting his parents judgemental comments). As this country becomes increasingly multi-cultural our children will need to learn to embrace and celebrate difference to thrive. I still get angry when I see a baby with no hat on but I am trying.

Yeah, I'm w/you, @Zinemama; plenty I just say in my head, because even when I've meant to be conversational or representing/presenting another approach, I've found that others get defensive (even months later!) and I don't see the point in stressing my mamma-friends about their choices. I don't mention the no-TV thing much, unless someone asks, "huh, your kids don't really seem much into [whatever's hot at the moment]. How did you manage that/do you guys do low-media" etc. And then I answer/explain/whatever.

@anon, I like the selective hearing strategy :)

@Spottie: I agree: I speak up on stuff that just won't be healthy/OK for my kid~based on unfortunate experiences in the past (because @Zumpie, while it's true most things in moderation/on occasion won't do diddly-squat one way or the other for most kids, there are other "normal, mainstream" things that, at least for one of my kids, WILL cause issues that go beyond "normal, mainstream" reactions, and that child is still young enough to warrant a spokeperson on his behalf.)

@Z, you and I should really meet up. Once again we agree completely.

Another good point in hand: my BFF was here visiting with her girls recently. At 16 and 13 they're both permanently attached to their phones, on a level I frankly found rude. But I said nothing because it's seriously none of my business. Not to mention the 16 year old is (and has been consistently since middle school) second in her class grades-wise. So much for media being terrible.

@MomOfTwo - if your child is special needs, that's a bit different. And everyone probably knows already---plus (s)he might not need or want a spokesperson to point this out. If we're merely talking allergic, that's also different and a health thing.

I still generally find the same parents who announce I don't this/that/or the other are doing it in a pretty sanctimonious and completely uninvited way. Not to mention, I've also noticed people who don't even have kids like to the judgey/dictatorial thing as well.

In other words, it really says a lot more about the person themselves than their parenting. And it's simply rude.

Z, I'm with you on the "when in Rome" approach. That's what works best for us.

Z, I love what you wrote. I have 3 kids and, the older they get, the more I realize so much is their own nature and not my nurture. Someone I know says, "My parenting philosophy is 'Do no harm.'"

I find this discussion interesting, because I often say those same statements about juice and media, etc. etc. Usually, it's because my two year old has become ecstatic to see a character from the movie Cars and I'm feeling self-conscious - "I really don't stick my kid in front of the t.v. all the time! He's only seen the movie once at Grandma's!" OR my kid is running around like a maniac after eating cake, and I am feeling self-conscious.

I guess I'm making these statements because of my own issues (which I need to get over, especially if they are making someone else feel judged), and not in judgment of anyone else's choices.

Now I'm thinking of all the times I have said things like "we don't eat meat," or "we don't have anything but milk or water in our house and we don't really miss juice..." and wondering if they were in context or were just my need to point out how we do things differently, not because it's better or worse, but because it's different. When I say that we never even turn on our tv in our house (we DO have one, though) I have to qualify the statement with "but we constantly watch DVDs or youtube on our computer" so I don't sound holier-than-thou. I remember a mom telling me once that she doesn't give her child sugar, and I replied that I didn't either, and then she challenged the yogurt I was feeding my baby. I was thinking cookies and ice cream, not every granule of sugar that is IN food. I did feel pretty judged, but I'm sure it was not intended that way. It was more that she wanted to relate, but couldn't because I couldn't understand her choices.

I actually had a brush with one of "these" moms today at a local coffee shop.
Our kids were playing together in the play space, and we were sitting close by. I had ordered a bagel with butter for myself and a muffin for my two sons, and we were casually munching them.
One of the other mom's children came out of the playroom and was enviously eyeing our food. Then she says to her mom that the baby doll she was carrying wanted something to eat. When her mom asked what the babydoll wanted, the girl said "a bagel and a muffin" -- obviously referring to our food.
Then the mom said "Oh, is (baby dolls name) carb loading? She must be training for a marathon." I just thought it was so rude. Even if she didn't mean it to come across the way it sounded, her "holier than now" attitude radiated from her being.
I just think that it's fine if all you feed your kid is raw kale and grass fed milk, but keep it to yourself for lord's sake. Or, if you want to educate the mommy population on the benefits of raising your children with no carbs, start a blog. Just let me eat my muffin in peace.
For the record, I also am committed to feeding my children healthy, mostly organic whole foods. We don't have a tv in the house. I fight gender stereotypes. It's just that if my sons want to drink the chocolate milk they get in the free lunch at the park, or want to wear a batman tshirt or star wars light up shoes, I just have the opinion that is is probably not going to ruin their lives.

I really try not to buy into the judging, but find myself saying these things sometimes because I fear the judgement of other mamas. Thanks for the reminder that I can probably just let that go....

When I make comments such as My child doesn't get much media, I am just trying to make conversation, not to judge. I really don't care how other people parent their children unless they are so permissive that their child hurts mine, otherwise it doesn't affect society or my perception of their parenting.

i don't/can't know if other people are parenting correctly/incorrectly/whatever for their own children, but i am always weighing out rights/wrongs within my own parenting. weighing, gauging, judging... making careful, judicial choices based upon all the info in front of me about what my children need at any given moment. that seems to be the work of parenting, for me. it is very likely that i could be one of those parents at a party, watching my child interact with the party, consuming special occasion treats of food and experience, while i'm off to the side commenting on it to whomever i'm chit-chatting with. i don't care what other parents choose for their children, per se. i'm terrible at small talk and usually i'm just rambling about stuff.

if i hear someone else make the statements the OP wrote about, i cannot determine if they are being judgmental unless i hear their tone and see the nonverbal cues. the words alone don't mean much outside of a fuller context. usually i think a statement like that reflects the speaker's own parental anxieties more than i take it on as a reflection of their opinion of my parenting.

i think even those valedictorians, for the most part, had parents (or grandparents) who were gauging and judging what was right and best for them. some could tell that no t.v. worked best, while others could tell it wouldn't matter. i don't think it is a one-size-fits-all formula (i.e. total access to sugar and t.v. for everyone will be just fine), and i don't think it always boils down to special needs. i think it comes down, even more, to parental care and thoughtfulness about their particular child/family.

I stumbled in this post some-on post this in social bookmarking sites, Yes Quite true when make conversation before judging. As a teacher I won't get bother if my child does'nt get much media. Just follow your thoughts .Thanks for this Good post!

Ever since my son was a newborn I have encountered parents mostly Moms who ake their opinions known... Which i take the "different strokes" approach.... However it's when these Mms press me on my thoughts, decisions that I find downright rude. When my son was a newborn and I went to a Moms group organized by the hospital where he was born. I was evn there 5 minutes and was the Mom of the only boy baby and immediately am being asked I I circumcised - yes/no, why, this Mother would never ad done if if she had a boy... etc.... I thought why would these Moms bring up topics not relevant to them, especially ones that are a tad loaded. I always chalked this up to the "Mommy Wars" maybe over simplifying it and not ll Moms with opinions fall into this but it's this idea that their notion of parenting is the best. Ties into breast feeding or not , sahm vs working, tv or no tv... Different Strokes and deep breathes....

Thanks for a great and interesting conversation! The initial post and all the comments have tuned me in more keenly to this complicated issue. We all make choices as parents and whether or not we mean to I think it does sometimes lead to some judgement, even if it is subconscious. After all, part making those choices is making a judgement call as to whether or not screen time or sugar is right for your kid/family. Reading through this post has made me more aware. I'm hoping I can catch myself in the act and then try and relax. We're all doing the best we can, right? And even if I perceive someone else is perhaps being judgmental, I hope that I find a little generosity and give them a break, too.

I think these statements are also a form of bragging.

Right on Delia!

I'm with Pauline and Rachel. I have said most of those things. I'm not bragging, or suggesting that my way is better, or whatever. I'm usually just making small talk, stating a fact about myself and/or child. It's not my job to worry about what you let your kids do, or don't do. My job is to do what is best for my family. If that includes organic food, no juice, no T.V, no meat, etc. should I feel like I can't talk about it because it might make someone feel self conscious? That seems so strange to me. It feels like some people are attracted to being catty and overly sensitive about parenting issues. It's like they want to believe people have ill intentions with everything comment that's made. Have a little more faith in your peers, life will be more enjoyable. Live and let live.

Hmmm, to those who put this as small talk---there are about 99 catrillion things that you could discuss (I work in sales, I make small talk for a living) that would be waaaaay less likely to make the other person feel potentially judged and awkward. The weather, the outfit their kid has on, work, something to commisserate on, etc...

Also "making small talk" generally doesn't entail making braggy-ish statements about oneself or one's family as an ice breaker. Every book or article on these basic social skills will suggest asking the other person about THEMSELVES or their family, or complimenting them. You know, so they'll like you.

I would say that the most common situation in which this "small talk" comes up is when I'm at some sort of gathering and my child grabs a sugary treat that's offered. Then, feeling bummed out that my kid will have a belly ache and/or will keep us up all night with night terrors, I usually find myself making the comment. I don't just walk up to strangers and announce our eating habits. I know that I will consider this thread next time I'm in a situation where I might want to make one of the above comments, and instead, I will bite my tongue and tell the person that they look pretty.

All kidding aside, I will try to be more sensitive when talking about hot button issues like this. Honestly, I'm not bragging- my poo stinks, too.

Ha! Zumpie, you just made me laugh. That's good, because usually you just make me mad (in a good way)!

@Debby, thanks---I do try to do my best to entertain and irritate, simultaneously! :-)

Hi I'm new to Urbanmama's and saw this topic so I thought I would share my story. For about four months my family lived with another family. The Mama of that family would often say "we don't" and use the word never. It felt judgy and I felt like I wasn't doing a good job. I would go through frantic episodes trying to be my/her best and live up to her ideals. Washing my diapers better (hers had no stains). Making sure Pepper never saw a screen, having the top brans this or that. Eating the best foods all the time. Ugh, towards the end of it Iw as worn out. And the blessing was that I realized I needed to feel comfortable with my choices. To believe that what I was doing for my baby was best for both of us. That I was smart, balanced in my parenting, Pepper was a happy baby and, yes, if did this or that sometimes she would turn out more than ok. I also needed to take back using my energy for the things I prioritized, not her. Who cares if all my diapers have stains! I was so happy when they moved. Beyond my point of showing how your comments my make another feel and the point of believing in your own choices, time and energy I also want to make a point of observation. One thing I notice is that when when mama's get judgy and say things like "We never..." there starts to be this don't ask/don't tell mode. It seems to isolate each other when again we should be bonding. When I go to the baby books at the Library I start to feel scared that if I reach out to other mothers that they will conflict with my style. At times I feel lonely and that I can't talk about what I'm doing because it may be triggering. So I ask, how do we balance feeling supported and connected with other mama's along with standing calmly in our own truth? How do we stay tolerant with out avoiding the topic or zipping the lip? Is the trick forgiveness, not taking it personally, realizing there are all sorts of babies and all sorts of mama's, finding a friend that is doing mostly what you are doing or all of the above? Glad to be hear and listen to all the different voices even the ones that trigger.

I wonder if we changed the language.... what are some things that have worked when your kids goes for something you don't practice in your family. I wonder if you could address your kid: "Oh honey that sweet treat will give you a tummy ache and keep you from sleeping well." Or I wonder if we all just said "No thank you." Curious to hear your ideas.

@AJ - I agree with the language. There's no need to announce "WE don't eat sweets/watch TV/etc" (the exception obviously being a case of extreme allergies or special needs). A polite "no thnak you" will certainly suffice. There's a way to convey all this without being smug and judge-y.

As for the woman you lived with, how irritating! When my daughter was younger, I went to friends who were generally similar in their child rearing approaches and philosophies. Also, if they are your friends--they'll help you, not judge you!

BTW - assuming that your diapers are clean (duh) then let's face it, they're to catch your baby's poop---like you said, who cares if they're pristinely white or not? Plus, getting them stain-free would involve a lot of bleach, which might irritate the baby's skin.

Oh----my MIL initially gave me (and my husband) lots of unsolicited advice. Since it was out of date, disproven and (in some cases) dangerous, I largely ignored it.

Trust your insticts and do what YOU think is best. You sound like a good mom!

AJ, I remember when an older relative came to help me during a newborn period, and remarked that when her children were young, she mopped her floor every single day. She's an exceptionally nice woman, but she didn't see everything my way, and that remark grated on me for some time, because I thought what she was really saying was that I was lazy. And who knows, maybe she was - I didn't feel very lazy during that period of my life. I felt exhausted. Over time, I've come to believe that that my response was my problem, not hers. (Although actually living with someone is quite different! You'd have to both be saints to not offend one another there.)
I used to find it amazing how many articles you could find with titles like "Ten things not to say to stay-at-home moms, (or working moms, or moms of twins, or moms of special needs, or adoptive moms, or young moms, or old moms, or gay moms, or blah blah blah blah blah). I've been some of those things and the impression you get is that people are so sensitive that one must not speak to them about anything with actual meaning. Even if every single reader of urban mamas agreed on some sort of etiquette where moms were unable to talk about their choices with each other, there's still the rest of the world that doesn't read urban mamas. I really think you hit on the answer, which is not taking it personally. Because the only other real life answer is shutting yourself away from other people - isolation, as you put it. Real people talk about their lives. Real people occasionally put their foot in it. Try to shrug and love and forgive.

@anon While I hear what you are saying I think we also need to give ourselves permission to have safe boundaries. There is plenty of grey area between shutting off people and being isolated and choosing to continually forgive and shrug off truly obnoxious behavior and innapropriate judgement.

I'll argue that "I mopped my floor every day," falls into pretty much the same harmless category as "My child doesn't get much media so he is totally sucked in when he gets it." and "My child doesn't usually drink juice so he is totally hyper when he drinks it." There is little to gain by getting offended by this kind of thing, even though it is easy to get offended by it. All of these children are going to grow up and leave home, and then what? Will we be volunteering at the food bank, letting our grey hairs get grayer when another volunteer says she'd never buy soup with such a high sodium content?
I think you can give yourself permission to have boundaries while still giving other people permission to have and express opinions about their own lives.

I dunno, I find such statements quite rude, myself. I would never dream of saying any of those things to another person--and would find it pretty offensive. And I'm hardly shut off from others---or prematurely grey.

I wouldn;t say anything in response, because why escalate it? But I'm mystified as to why so many here are so inclined to defend what really is, as Z so aptly notes, inappropriate and obnoxious behavior.

And it's more often than not been my experience that the same people who feel free to get judge-y like that, are the first to get thin skinned at any sort of perceived judgement or criticism of them.

I'm not defending rude or obnoxious behavior, in person or online.

I have to admit that I often respond to things like this with sarcasm. If someone says to me, "I mopped the floor every day," I would respond with something like, "Well I try to not mop the floor. I am conducting a science experiment to see how long it takes for mushrooms to spontaniously appear in the corners of my kitchen, and mopping would be disasterous to this study..." Or I would say something like, "I try to give my child as much juice as possible, because when she gets a sugar high and goes crazy, have been able to get some really funny video footage to post for all my friends on Facebook. So totally worth it!" Oh I can think of so many responses that would totally shut down the rude person. I have practiced several times with my unsuspecting mom, who then responds, "Do you always have to give me a wise guy answer?" to which I respond, "yes." The best one of all is, "thank god you came around to give me the right answer. I have been trying to do this for 7 years now and I have never got it right. Now I know the right way to do it. Thank you, thank you. I can now move on to other areas to focus on in parenting."

@Debby Laughing keeps me sane, too. Not long ago a mother was criticizing me for allowing my daughter what she perceived as too much freedom and so I explained that my parenting philosophy includes a great deal of benign neglect. She wasn't sure how to respond.

@Debby, heh---awesome. And precisely the answer such a judgemental comments should receive.

Speaking of TV, did you get to see the Modern Family episode where the gay couple is trying to parent by not saying "no" to LIly anymore and by making her her own"nap captain"? It was hilarious!
As much as I can't stand listening to self-righteous parents blab about the restrictions they put on their kids, I know I've done it myself because when you're a parent to a young child, you pretty much talk about parenting A LOT and some of those things just fly out of your mouth. I know I've said to other parents that my son doesn't watch tv yet but really its more that I can't get him to watch tv (maybe he's just not into reality shows). I've also pointed out in the past that he's a vegetarian and hasn't had juice yet but only because I didn't want someone to offer him a hot dog and a Capri sun when I wasn't looking. I've definitely loosened up on a lot of that since and can only hope I wasn't too obnoxious.

mimi, i loved that episode of modern family! and i identify with the rest of your comment. i hate to hear what sound like self-righteous and judgemental proclamations from other parents (from anyone, really), but i know i've made them. especially when you're new at parenting or struggling with parenting, it's what you spend a huge amount of time thinking and talking about. i wince when i think about saying that kind of stuff myself and try to cut people slack when i hear it from them. we're all doing our best, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not.

Thank Zumpie and Anon, for your comments and support. It is nice to remind ourselves that we will from time to time put our foot in our mouths and be overly sensitive with others. I'm finding I have to stop giving myself a hard time too. Like my intention to have no screen time for Pepper. Well I may need to used the computer and what is worse having her see what I'm typing or having her tug and scream at a mama who won't make eye contact. Oh how funny life can be.

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