When I'm out with my kids, things sometimes happen that I know lead to judgmental glances from passers-by: When my two-year-old daughter defiantly sat down on the subway platform, took off her shoes and screamed, "I can't walk!" For example. There was no way I could make it look like I was in control of the situation. I knew our fellow travelers were watching, some with contempt, some with pity. I was ready to deflect criticism at that point. I adapted to it.
However, sometimes I feel like I'm content to mind my own business when someone criticizes me out of the blue. One day I was with my children in the park next to our house. I was pretty pleased with myself for getting them off their screens and out the door. As far as I was concerned, I had won. Then a lady across the street yelled, "Are you going to let him do that?" I looked over at my son, who was excitedly hitting a tree with a stick (my kids love to hit things with sticks). His tone implied that I was some kind of tree-hater who created monsters of destruction.
I was immediately triggered and experienced a wave of embarrassment. I was worried about the screen hours I'd racked up, but here was proof that I was a terrible parent in many other ways as well. At the same time, I was stunned. I found something else for my son to hit with his cane, but it seemed inappropriate. Should I make him apologize? To the tree? And as for my own negligence - where should my acquittal come from?
I know I shouldn't need validation from strangers that I'm being a good parent, but it's hard not to criticize — especially when it's the only feedback I get on any given day.
And I'm not the only one to be publicly berated. AMott Survey 2019found that more than half of parents faced criticism about their upbringing - most commonly from their partners, but also from other relatives, friends and strangers.
"Almost every parent I've worked with has a history of receiving verbal or non-verbal 'feedback' in public about their upbringing."Nanika Coor, a psychologist in Brooklyn, told HuffPost.
If you - inevitably - receive a public complaint about your education, here are possible responses and some other things to consider.
First, identify why the criticism might trigger you.
If, like me, public criticism confirms your deepest fears that you really are a terrible person - then you're not alone.
Criticisms like this “unleash a lot of the judgment that parents felt growing up. Many of us adults have this indignity of not being good enough.”Chazz Lewis, educator, parenting coach, and podcaster, opposite HuffPost.
Emotionally activated in this way, we separate ourselves from the logical parts of our brain.
“Your fight/flight/freeze system is triggered,” explained Coor, “triggering internal feelings of shame, guilt, defensiveness, anger, or a combination of these emotions.”
This can lead us to lash out at our critic or shut down and run the other way.
But instead of reacting right away, we want to stop and think about what the person is saying and who is saying it. Where could they come from? What is your relationship with them?
Decide if you want to interact with this person.
"The only person you can control is yourself. You can't control what the other person says or does," Lewis said. If the person criticizing you is someone you've never met or if the tone is mean, perhaps the most appropriate response is to end the conversation.
On the other hand, if you are in a relationship with someone, it could be an opportunity to positively influence them. With "family members spending time with your child and being part of their support system," Lewis said, these conversations can be quite rewarding.
"Perhaps come back to them at a time when your child is not within earshot and you are both feeling calm and connected," Coor said. She also suggested sharing articles or podcasts with people you want to start a dialogue with about parenting decisions.
But if public criticism of a family member or friend becomes a habit, you may need to set a boundary with them.
"Start with the best of intentions," said Kristene Geering, director of education atparent lab, said HuffPost.
"They may have genuinely felt like they were helping or didn't realize how much they hurt you. Find a way to let them know you value their opinions but want them to talk to you outside of your child, or maybe you'd prefer them to keep some opinions for themselves.
Think about how the interaction might affect your child.
"There's an opportunity as a parent to really communicate your values," Lewis said. Will you admit and show your child that "the stranger's opinion is what matters most and we should avoid the judgment of others at all costs?" said Lewis.
“Beating and hitting them because they attacked you or because you feel attacked are not the values we try to instill in our children,” he continued.
Depending on how the criticism was phrased, you may also feel - appropriately - protective of your child. Geering noted that she sometimes placed her body as a barrier between her son and the "uninvited tastemaker". She said it shows the child you have your back and lets others know you're in "mama bear" mode.
In such cases, you can turn off the critic with a short sentence. Geering suggests something like, "It does exactly what it has to do. Have a nice day."
Lewis recommends, "I see it differently."
Coor offers: "Huh - that's an idea", "we seem to have different opinions on this", "thanks - I get it", and "I'm listening - this is what we found for our family".
Psychologist Laura Markham fromOh! Educationadds that you could even throw in something like, "The problem with being a parent is that each of us can make our own mistakes."
Personally, I've come to the conclusion of using "thanks for your feedback" to end these encounters quickly. I found it helpful in dealing with all the "It's too hot/cold/rainy/windy/sunny to have the baby outside!" comments I received.
"The person criticizing is likely to have much less of an impact on the child than the parent's response," Coor said. But if your child seems upset about the interaction, it may be worth returning for questioning at a later date.
In this case, Coor advises, "Be careful not to project your own concerns onto your child. You may not have been affected as negatively as you fear. Just report what you saw: "I noticed that you looked scared when this person spoke aloud to you. you about crying. Some adults find it difficult to hear children's cries.'
You want to prevent your child from feeling embarrassed by unwarranted and unsolicited criticism.
Geering noted that "especially when accompanied by a scolding or apologetic parent," such criticism can make children think, "I'm bad." "That's why it's so important for parents to step in and reshape things."
"Kids might think they got their parents in trouble," Markham said.
Sometimes someone will say something like, "In my day, we would have beaten him."
If so, Geering suggests answering, "We've learned a lot over the last few decades about how children grow up, and spanking of any kind is never okay. No one is allowed to spank or hurt my child. Ever." You want your child to hear you say that this is a boundary you will definitely enforce.
Think about what you can learn from the situation.
Public criticism can provide you with an opportunity to regulate your emotions and set an example for your child. But perhaps there is also a chance to learn something from the criticism itself. Maybe you haven't really been paying attention to what your child is doing and you want to thank the person who called him.
Markham remembers one such incident. "[There was] a man sitting in front of my 3-year-old son on a plane who turned and snarled at me, 'That kid is kicking my seat!' In fact, I hadn't even realized it was happening and it was sure it wasn't malicious on my son's part. I just said, "I'm sorry. Thanks for letting me know." So I said to my son, "The poor man is having a hard time. Everyone deserves to enjoy their air travel. Let's be careful not to touch his seat."
Other times, your response to someone - whether it's your child or the person who made the criticism - may not have been what it should have been. Maybe you got it right. Now you have the opportunity to learn from your mistake and model this reflective behavior for your child.
If you're trying to emulate your own parents or trying to unlearn old, familiar ways, "you're going to make mistakes," Lewis said.
"It's important for us to know because if we don't know and we don't remember that, we're going to punish ourselves. We're going to be embarrassed. And that's going to stop us from being vulnerable enough and open enough to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, and improve from mistakes" , he continued.
“The most important parenting tool is self-compassion,” says Markham. "When we treat each other with compassion on a regular basis, we are less threatened by others' criticism."
We cannot and should not strive for perfection because we will never reach it and will probably get lost along the way.
When you inevitably make mistakes, use them as an opportunity to teach your child how to do meaningful repair work and offer a heartfelt, heartfelt apology.
Geering reiterated, “It's not your job or your goal to be perfect. When you really understand this concept, it gives you the freedom to step away from the world's unsolicited opinion leaders.”
Finally, think about what is most important to you. “Look at your relationship with your child. When you feel secure about your connection with your child – that's the most important thing, no matter what other people's opinions are,” Coor said.