by Shana Prohofsky
When making resolutions, many of us look to the past year to see what went well versus what needs improvement. As parents, many of us reflect on not only our own achievements and shortcomings, but those of our children, as well. This process can become especially difficult given the amount of attention that is given to parenting in our current culture. Social media posts, parenting blogs, and even parenting columns in well-known newspapers seem to be chock full of articles on parenting styles, and the subsequent judgment of parents who choose one style over another. There are articles on attachment parenting, free range parenting, helicopter parenting, mindful parenting, and bulldozer parenting just to name a few. But, for every so called scientifically backed method, there seems to be a counter method that is purported to be more effective.
In looking into this topic, I came across an interesting Psychology Today article by Dr. Stephen Mintz, who asserts that these parenting styles and associated labels have nothing to do with the actual physical or emotional well-being of children. Rather, Mintz says these styles, which are all supported and refuted by different scientific studies, play into the anxieties and fears that we have about the type of world our children are living in. He ultimately concluded that this preoccupation with parenting style has prevented parents from parenting un-self-consciously. More simply put, instead of following our hunches about what is best for our children, we are inclined to set them aside and follow whatever is the current parenting trend. We find ourselves in a mental struggle between being the parent we would like to be and the parent we are expected to be.
What are we as parents and caregivers to do when criticism, or even seemingly well-meaning comments are lobbed, whether it be following the meltdown in the grocery check-out line, a friend catching wind of misbehavior at school, or a top choice college placement not being secured? One way is to view the critique as misguided caring. Frame the comment by assuming that the person making the comment is worried and simply trying to help by doing or saying something. This person likely does not have enough information about the situation to give helpful advice, but perhaps there is no malicious intent. In this case, take the comment for what it is worth and move on secure in the knowledge that you, as the parent, are the most informed about what is going on and the best equipped to deal with the situation.
But what if the comment is indeed hurtful? Advocate for yourself and your child. Let the person know that what has been said or done was upsetting. Although this could lead to an uncomfortable conversation, not saying anything leads to continued hurt feelings and even resentment. How do you start this difficult conversation? Hold off on giving an immediate, emotionally charged response. Once you have had a moment to regroup, put your feelings into words, and constructively address the comment with clarity. You can even suggest an action that would be constructive in the given situation, if you can. However, if the comment from another is truly ill-intentioned and mean-spirited, ignore it as purposeless negativity. By not responding to these harmful comments in a hasty, negative manner, you are in fact modeling self-control and positive behavior for your children.
Parenting would be easier if everyone kept in mind that there is no one “right” way to successfully parent, and that no two children are exactly alike. Consistency, clear expectations, good listening skills, setting a good example, and seeking outside or professional support when needed are all important components of parenting. While there will most certainly be things that do not go well, it is important to focus on the big picture, not the minutiae of day to day life.
Are you hitting bumps in the road on the journey of parenthood? Are you looking for resources? Let’s talk. Please contact me by phone at (401) 428-4084 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some other sources on this topic:
Kira Asatryan, "Five Ways to Survive Criticism from Family Members," Psychology Today, November 16, 2015
Maurice J. Elias, Marilyn E. Gootman and Heather L. Schwartz, The Joys and Oys of Parenting: Insights & Wisdom from the Jewish Tradition. Springfield, NJ: Behrman House.