Why getting judgey about parenting is ok

Yotsuba & Aaaaargh!
YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT LOTUS BIRTH MAKE ME FEEL LIKE THIS! Photo by Flickr user Manic Toys, used with Creative Commons license.
This tweet showed up in my reader the other day: Realised something about myself today: I am not non-judgey enough to read Offbeat Families. I don't even have kids! WTF do I know?

I laughed and appreciated the tweeter's perspective: how I wish more people on the internet would admit "WTF do I know?" But here's the thing for me: The key to reading Offbeat Families isn't to avoid all judgement, but to recognize when it's happening. Seriously, I'M judgey as hell, and I publish the freaking site!

For me, the goal is not to kill the judgment (impossible! irrational!) but to observe which issues make it flare up. I think there's a lot to be learned from observing one's judgments, and "Wow, I'm a judgmental bitch. Maybe I should work on that…" is just the first and most obvious lesson.

For me, when I feel parental judgment flare up (and trust me, this happens all the time on Offbeat Families!) I use it as a tool to examine my own motives and values. That judgey feeling tells me, "Uh, clearly this is a topic I have some strong emotions about…why?" I try to ask myself why I care — what are the ramifications of someone doing something differently than me? What can I do in my own life to ensure that I'm living with integrity on this issue? What are my personal experiences with this issue that make it so important to me?

(Obviously, there are limits to this concept: I think we can all agree we have judgments about child abuse and neglect — but then again, it's intense to see how opinions vary on what exactly constitutes abuse or neglect.)

In running Offbeat Families, my goal is NOT to find consensus. (Impossible!) Nor is my goal to eliminate all judgement. (Although I do eliminate judgmental comments.) My goal is to expose readers to as many perspectives as possible, so that we can examine our own beliefs, learn from our judgments, and gain greater insight into our OWN parenting values.

  1. I'm judgemental. I just try to follow the rule "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".

    30 agree
    • My mom always said that to us growing up, and it has stuck with me and my siblings ever since. I really think it's an excellent thing to live by. :)

      4 agree
    • I'm Canadian and sometimes it feels like the "if you haven't got anything nice to say…" line is a national motto.
      No, I don't always agree with all things but I love to hear about different perspectives and lifestyles if only because it helps me to identify the things that I feel are important issues in my world.

      13 agree
    • "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" is pretty much at the core of the Empire's commenting policy. I've often said that you can tell a really unpopular post by a complete lack of comments.

      Seattle is only 90 minutes from the Canadian border, so I think a lot of that non-confrontational vibe is found here — as a native Seattleite, I certainly feel it. At its worst, it's agonizingly passive. But it's also conductive to a lot of interesting discussion.

      4 agree
  2. I love this post. This is the philosophy I try (with varying degrees of success) to live by in all areas of my life and not just in connection to parenting. At the end of the day, I WILL have my own opinions, and I WILL disagree with others, but so what? Those strong, negative emotions can help me grow, and some of my most satisfying relationships are with people with whom I "agree to disagree".

    4 agree
  3. Just like the tweeter, I don't have kids yet either! I like to read offbeatmama because it helps me see issues from another side. It doesn't always change my mind on an issue, but at least I can understand it from another angle. I totally am a judgmental bitch though,and I am sure that comes out WAY too often, but reading websites like Offbeat Mama helps me step back and take a short stroll in someone else shoes.

    8 agree
  4. This makes me feel heaps better about being judgmental and without kids!

    Though I acknowledge that I am SUPER judgey about parenting choices, I try to keep it to myself unless I believe that parent is putting their child in serious danger. For example, I would rinse off my cousin's baby's pacifier every time she dropped it. After 3 times, my cousin rolled her eyes, popped it in her own mouth and then back into her baby's mouth. At the time, I was skeptical about the safety of that VS rinsing in hot water, and when I looked it up, I found out that it just makes the germ situation on the passy worse. But, it's not gonna kill her, so I left it alone.

    • I gotta say, you get a lot less judgemental in some areas once you have a kid. And more so in others. In your example – your cousin probably picks up the pacifier hundreds of times a day and has become a good judge of when a floor is clean (or clean enough) versus dirty and needs to be rinsed. Plus it's her call, even if you think it's gross. :)

      2 agree
  5. i fully embrace my right to be judgey as all hell when it comes to my parenting decisions. I definitely don't think i have the right to shove those judgements in other people's faces. and i totally embrace the opportunity to have my judgey-ness be turned ass oved teacup and learn something new about myself, other people, and/or the crazy vast array of options open to life…with and without wee ones…

    3 agree
  6. I'm totally judgey and I am a complete boobnazi, but I just bitch to my hubs instead of being rude about it online. Although if someone is seeking info or seems underinformed I have no problem kindly pointing them in the direction of resources.

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    • My poor husband must think I'm the judgiest bitch in the world (but he would never say so). At least once a day he hears "oh my GAWD, I am SO SICK OF PEOPLE WHO DO X, I can't believe what IDIOTS people are, and here's all the reasons why they're WRONG!!!"

      9 agree
  7. Great post! I can really be judgmental of people's life choices (including but not limited to parenting choices). It's particularly frustrating because being judgmental is a pretty big no no in my chosen spiritual path. When I feel the judgeyness coming up I just keep reminding myself that part of what makes the world such a cool place is that there are tons of different types of people who do things tons of different ways. If we all did everything the same way the world would be boring :)

    3 agree
  8. Does it count that I am judgmental of people who are judgmental of my choices?

    1 agrees
  9. I think judgment is born of the totally human need to analyze what others are doing vs. what we're doing. I've also said before how I think its tied to our need to believe we're making the best choice in order to not lose our sanity, so its easy to turn into my choice vs. your sucky choice.

    I think this site has a tough but important mission in monitoring the amount of outright judgment expressed when we compare our experiences and choices, while acknowledging in the very content here every day how varied and emotionally charged those choices can be. I admit, I've scoffed at my screen aplenty while I try REALLY hard to keep it out of my comments!

    1 agrees
  10. I was actually thinking that exact tweet earlier today. I flick through the Offbeat pages throughout my day at work (ahem) and I find myself only glancing at Mama.
    I don't have kids, but I have TONS of opinions and snap judgments about parenting. And, unfortunately, my snap judgments tend to be "Stop being so fussy! For the love of God, it's a KID. Humans have been around for millions of years. I THINK you'll be fine" or worse "Good luck with that crap in a couple months."
    But, as you say, at the end of the day… what do I care? Go forth, mamas, and raise your kids however the heck you want. What I care most about is that they're raised to be generally open-minded and loving individuals. And yaknow what? It really seems like that's what everyone here is hoping to do.

    4 agree
  11. I not a mama yet and I definitely am judgy on how some of my friends raise their kids but the more I read offbeat mama the more I look at things from various perspectives. I am bringing the offbeat mindset in to my daily life. I stop myself from being too judgement of others in my head and I love it. To each her own.

    • I think I was more judgey before I became a mama!! =D It was like I had all these plans and ideas for once I had a kiddo, for how things would and should be . . . but now that we're in the midst of raising him, all our best laid plans went out the window. We just do what works for our family and I can't fault someone else for doing what works for their family! Though I still reserve the right to judge and vent to my hubby! =)

      3 agree
      • Someone once said "It's easy to parent before you parent."
        I have found this very true. I can honestly say that I had many ideas about how I would parent, but many (many!) of those have changed as I have actually faced the reality of parenting.

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        • That is so true. I don't have children yet, but I do teach and it is difficult not to judge (or at least scoff at) the choices some parents make. I have to keep reminding myself that I don't know the full story, and I don't have kids, so what do I know?

          On the other hand, I sometimes think taking every opinion into account is important too. It is hard to see the picture when you are inside the frame right? So maybe it is hard for some parents to see the rights and wrongs of their parenting decisions when they are just struggling to ensure they make ends meet.

  12. Love this! I find it really annoying when people say "I don't judge anyone." Um, yes you do – I'm pretty sure it's an evolutionary tactic to take in observations about the actions of others and react to it in some way. Judging what others do is how we learn more about our own views on something, it's just that you don't necessarily have to then share those views with them.

    3 agree
    • I file "I don't judge anyone" in there with Stephen Colbert's "I don't see color." :)

      6 agree
  13. THIS I try to ask myself why I care — what are the ramifications of someone doing something differently than me? What can I do in my own life to ensure that I'm living with integrity on this issue? What are my personal experiences with this issue that make it so important to me?

    I was saying something very similar the other day to someone about examining bias. I was saying how we ALL have bias – and the trick to not letting your bias turn you into an asshole is learning to recognize it and examine it, rather than just letting it take over.

    3 agree
  14. This post is awesome.
    And I would just like to say that since reading the offbeat empire on a daily basis – I have become a lot less judgmental. Those "crazy hippies" that breastfeed until their kid is 4, the "gothic weirdos" with their pale makeup and victorian dresses are no longer weird or crazy – but rather people i can tip my hat to. after all – they're living their dream. Doing what makes them happy. And not giving a damn about what society deems "appropriate."
    On top of that – I've been able to learn so much by keeping up with what other fringe groups are up to these days, esp when it comes to child rearing.
    So thanks offbeat empire! ya'll are awesome!

    5 agree
    • I totally agree with this. Whenever I go to a wedding or see a parenting style that someone points out to me is "weird", my reaction is usually "Is it?"

      I've gotten so used to seeing such amazing ways of self expressions and different ways of raising kids that I dont even notice when something is different to the norm.

      And thanks to the offbeat empire I can usually add something along the lines of "oh that's really big atm in (insert place)" or give the person a basic understanding of the reason behind a certain parenting philosophy.

      I may not personally agree with a certain method of parenting but I LOVE learning about them and seeing where those beliefs come from.

      5 agree
      • This: "And thanks to the offbeat empire I can usually add something along the lines of "oh that's really big atm in (insert place)" or give the person a basic understanding of the reason behind a certain parenting philosophy."
        MADE ME SO HAPPY!

        1 agrees
  15. My family of origin in very negative & judgmental in the way the talk about people. (its almost like entertainment for them!) A couple of us – in order to break the family habit- try very hard to not talk about people in a negative way. No gossip. No bitching, and most important but most difficult for me, no repeating the same judgmental rant multiple times to multiple people. And also trying to not respond/engage when others do it- we try to redirect to positive topics. They sometimes just keep talking as if the dynamic has not changed, but at least we don't feel that we are participating. It is that 'don't say anything at all' thing, but more than that, it actually changes the way you think and act, with practice. I also remind myself that, at least on the outside, I am a good target for judgment!

  16. Great post. And timely (for me) because I just wrote a post about how our daughter loves her doorway jumper, and how I was annoyed at such toys (think: exersaucers) being referred to as "circles of neglect" by some attachment parenting/Montessori parents. We like to consider ourselves as subscribing to the attachment parenting approach, but I certainly won't judge someone who decides, say, that strollers are best for them (I wear my baby) any more than I want to be judged because I give my kid a little bouncy time every once in awhile.

    In short, thanks for this. Here's hoping that our "judge-y" views makes us think, and being forced to think makes us all better parents/aunties/etc.

    • "circles of neglect"??? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I have no opinion on jumpers or exersaucers – I've just never heard that term before and find it hysterical!

      9 agree
      • My wife had a hearty laugh when I mentioned it to her, too. Ridiculous!

        And, I mean, seriously? If that isn't a term to make one parent pissed off at another, I don't know what is.

        1 agrees
    • We had tongue-in-cheek names for Tavi's toys .. his play-mat was The Neglector 1000, his exersaucer was The Neglector 2000, and his jumper (which he hated, but we tried) was The Neglector 3000. It was always good for a laugh. :)

      2 agree
      • My son's walker I lovingly refer to as Ankleslasher. That kid can get some Fred Flinstone-type speed in that thing and if I don't jump fast enough, he'll crash into my toes or ankles.

        3 agree
      • We don't have kids yet. But I can't wait to use this term… only if it's for my own enjoyment!

    • "referred to as "circles of neglect" by some attachment parenting/Montessori parents."

      …Wow. What would these same parents say about my friend who has scoliosis? Her baby is HUGE. (She's only four months, but is wearing 6 mon+ in sizes due to her lankiness). Momma can't carry the baby around that often because it hurts her back. Putting the baby in stroller allows them to travel. Which I personally think is much better for baby/family mental health than carrying the baby full-time.

      Judging only serves to shame other parents. Its not really the least bit helpful.

      3 agree
  17. When I was pregnant with my son my Mom told me to never think anything bad about anybody's kids/parenting because it will bite you in the ass and I have to admit it's true! I am a believer in Murphy's Law :)

    2 agree
    • Totally, I grew up with this too. I also grew up with the addage to never hurt anyone or seek revenge once you have kids because the fallout of hurtful actions could hurt your kids and then how would you feel? Thought it was a little superstitious/batty at the time(the above frame of mind includes beliefs in the evil eye etc)but guess who's biting her tongue now!
      Unless it's physical abuse. Can't stand that sh!t.

  18. I get very judgmental and irritated over others' parenting choices, but I have to remind myself that I have absolutely no control over other peoples' choices and how their kids turn out (and if they're like me, then my vocal judgements of them will just make them more eager to keep doing what they're doing). But, I do have some control over how my kids turn out. Why spend the energy on something I can't control, when my own kids need that energy?

    • But I do get a delicious satisfaction over all the reason why I think my parenting is better than others, and putting them down in my head. I'm just not going to argue about it in public or on the interwebs.

  19. I've only had "Holy Shit, I strongly disaprove" feelings over one post on this website, and I bit my toungue. But theres plenty of things I totally judge about in real life. I'll give you a non-parenting related example:
    Coworker: "I never eat vegetables."
    Me: "You must have the most painful, messy poops ever, and you're gonna get scurvy!"

  20. I realized that I had no right to be judgmental when I got divorced. I thought my marriage was solid, and that everyone had messed up relationships – geeeeez was I wrong!!! So now I try especially not to judge other relationships, but parenting is another story, and it's kind of tough to keep quiet sometimes, but I try to abide by the same principle – that I have no idea what I'm talking about!

  21. Thank you so much for this post! I know I'm judgmental and I know what sets it off. I'm especially bad when it comes to young parents and parents who don't seem to be interested in their kids. For me it's a bitterness over my pregnancy as a teenager- I didn't get to keep my baby so am extra judgey of people who don't seem to "deserve" kids. I keep my mouth shut and give myself some serious tellings off- afterall it's attitudes like that that stopped me continuing the pregnancy. I hope that being aware of why I'm being judgmental can help me to give others and myself a break!

  22. Great post. I appreciate that this topic can be discussed so honestly and non-judgmentally. :)

    1 agrees
  23. I've found myself reading parenting blogs when I realised kids are DEFINITELY something I want in my life, mostly to get a handle on what this whole parenting dealio is about, and I do find myself mad judgemental. My biggest trigger points are 'natural' parents (wait, whut? I was planning on raising my kids in a cybernetic Skinner box, but whatevs), and vaccination. I'm endlessly shocked to find parenting bloggers writing (to my mind) misguided posts about not vaccinating their kids, and it kind of freaks me out. I'll find myself avoiding blogs that I otherwise like because the anti-vaccine stuff skeezes me right out.

    I wish I could say that I'm accepting of others' decision not to vaccinate, but it really scares me, because it's an individual choice that ultimately affects all of us.

    So I'm mad judgey too. Let us all embrace our judginess!

    7 agree
    • "I'll find myself avoiding blogs that I otherwise like because the anti-vaccine stuff skeezes me right out."

      That is sooo me. After having that happen to me a couple times, I just won't even bother getting attached to a blog until I've searched the word "vaccine" and various related words and not found anything pseudoscientific.

      In fact, that's how I found this post, and your comment… by searching "vaccine".

      3 agree
  24. What a wonderful post. Coming from South African, being different in any way is hard. People here are not as open to new and alternative lifestyles. Most of our society (excluding a very small number of families that I have not had the pleasure to meet) are still very conventional when it comes to parenting. I always try to keep an open mind and TRY to keep my toughts and comments to myself. I do find it hard to NOT stand up for alternative families when conventional folk start judging others. Thank you OFFBEAT MAMA for opening my mind and heart to different people and ways of thinking.

  25. Internet cookies to Ariel and all the other offbeat moderators! Was just directed here from a more recent post and want to thank you all for your work. Growing up, my family embodied all of the negative stereotypes that people have of poor people (multiple dads, lots of kids, etc) and people didn't have a problem directing that judgement at us kids. So, I really appreciate the tone you guys have struck with Offbeat Mama. It's so much easier to learn about other's experiences/perspectives when you're not hiding behind a defensive wall. Thanks!

    2 agree
  26. I love reading this site to find out what people are doing as parents and I definitely find I develop parenting opinions despite not being a parent myself. One thing I think this site has helped me do is to examine my kneejerk reactions (which I keep to myself because no parent wants advice from someone who doesn't have kids) and try to reframe judgment as "I think I would do that differently but I'm sure her/his children will still grow up to be reasonably adjusted contributing members of society and if they don't it won't be because of that."

    Very rarely have I encountered anything that inflames my judgement enough that I cannot reasonably say that to myself… and when it does, I examine further.

    1 agrees
  27. How do you not be judgmental when — from your perspective — you are "just trying to help?"

    For things like wipes, lotions, shampoos, disposable diapers, sugar, TV, etc. there is controversy, and maybe you should hold your tongue.

    But what about things that haven't happened yet? Some people don't think circumcision is child abuse, and some do. If someone already circumcised their son, maybe it's not your place to say. But what if they haven't yet but have told you they are planning to? If you are trying to stop the action before it can take place, how do you do it without being judgmental?

    • Two things:
      1. Ask before you offer any advice.
      2. Frame everything as just YOUR experience, which acknowledges that their experience (and therefor decision) may be different.

      So for instance, you might say, "Are you considering whether or not you want to circumcise? Would it be helpful to hear what we went through in making our decision?"

      3 agree
  28. I'm so happy I found offbeat mamma. While I am not as eccentric as other mammas here, I am off the beaten path, which includes respecting everyone for whatever choices they make, whether I think they're right or wrong– they may not think those choices are wrong. Now, locking your child in a closet– obviously wrong, and it should be rectified. Smacking your kid in the middle of the store for acting like as crazy as a box of frogs? Grey area. I just let people do as they do, as long as they understand and respect that I will do as I do. Generally we all get along then.

    P.S. May I have more DIY blogs? I love you guys for them… its actually how I found you in the first place! <3

  29. Ariel & Stephanie…what I find the most helpful, personally, when I read thought-provoking posts like this is when you include ways to use the issues to consciously and thoughfully bring awareness to MY OWN stuff. Example: "For me, when I feel parental judgment flare up, I use it as a tool to examine my own motives and values. That judgey feeling tells me, "Uh, clearly this is a topic I have some strong emotions about…why?" I try to ask myself why I care — what are the ramifications of someone doing something differently than me? What can I do in my own life to ensure that I'm living with integrity on this issue? What are my personal experiences with this issue that make it so important to me?". I love being able to support others through this community, but I am mostly here to find clarity about the values and parenting styles that best fit me and my family. This includes challenging those ideas from time to time. So…thank you, thank you, thank you for helping me do that here!

    1 agrees
  30. This is such a fantastic post! It has really made me think differently about judgement and about how I can deal with/use my own feelings of judgement when they come up, to make me a better person/parent (or even just to be more clear on who I am as a person/parent). I hadn't thought of it this way before! Thank you!

  31. A lot of folks in the comments have repeated the belief that one should keep quiet because "I don't know what I am doing". I find that I try to keep quiet, for perhaps an opposite reason, I have found what works for us, for now, and I would guess that whomever I am observing is doing the same. It enables me to feel confident, and to not judge another — at least theoretically. :)

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