Thursday, April 5, 2012

Parenthood and Judgmentalism...

A friend recently posted a great Huffington Post article on Facebook. Kara Gebhart Uhl wrote "Apologies to the Parents I Judged Four Years Ago." I agree wholeheartedly with her sentiments in this piece.  Although I cannot commiserate with the pre-baby judgmental perspective, (as I sincerely tried to withhold judgments), I certainly never could have fully appreciated the extreme joys and challenges of parenthood, as illustrated in her article.

Link to article is as follows...

I find the psychology around judgmentalism in general, so fascinating.  Pre-parenthood, I have observed a wide array of types and sources of judgmental attitudes and remarks.  The common pervasive theme, however, seems to be insecurity.  People strangely feel better about themselves by putting others down.  From the immature elementary school girl variety, i.e. "let's 'de-friend' so-and-so this week because she is wearing the wrong shoes" to the catty college variety of gossiping about and critiquing others.  Seriously, who has the time and further, what a turn-off! (Not that I was spending my time much more wisely/nobly much of the time in college...happy hour anyone?)  Nevertheless, I never understood people who, on the surface, seemed to have it all (smart, driven, charismatic, fun, level-headed, good-looking, etc.), and yet would sit around and gossip (insecure, perhaps?) about the tedious and superficial 'shortcomings' of others...It is one thing for someone to confide in another over a conflict with a close friend, but a very different sort of cattiness to critique others they hardly know.

Then, of course there is the smug/righteous variety of judgmentalism, which is particularly pervasive in parenthood.  This is the infamous know-it-all type, the "my way is the absolute best/right way".  I am sure everyone has experienced this from in-laws to busy-body neighbors and relatives.  Finally, the most offensive, is the ironic judgmentalism by some uber-religious folk.  I have always found it strange that in many cases, those that are hyper-vigilant about following religious practices (i.e. never miss church on Sundays), are sometimes THE most judgmental, unhappy, and mean-spirited.  Of course, this attitude is highly hypocritical, since it is a fundamental cornerstone of Christianity to be accepting of others, and to "not throw stones"...

Given the drastic life changes and challenges of 'successful' parenting (however one may define it), it is clear to see how and why the onslaught of parenthood often generates unprecedented judgmentalism.  Even the most 'successful' individuals according to traditional measures (in our careers, communities, sports, etc), are suddenly faced with feelings of confusion and insecurity we have never experienced before.  Do we let the baby sleep or wake them to eat? Is it better to swaddle or let baby move free? Bottle or breast? Put baby to sleep in your bed or in her crib? When and how to introduce solids?....and of course, as the child grows, so does the complexity of questions and their implications....Will too much TV cause ADD? At what age are sleepovers appropriate? How often and when to allow computers, cell phones, and video games? What about driving, dating, sending them off to college (ok, ok, my heart rate is rising!)

The whirlwind of conflicting philosophies and advice from pediatricians, parenting books, and veteran parents/grandparents is enough to drive even the most level-headed parent insane. Although trite, the "until you have walked in their shoes" saying could not be more relevant.  As parents, we all have different challenges and circumstances.  Some of us are single parents, with the monumental task (financially, emotionally, spiritually) of raising children alone.  Some of us are faced with other challenges: the loss of a job, sickness of a spouse, aging of parents, relationship issues, divorces, injuries, or addictions.  And as any parent can attest, the intense, unconditional love we have for our children presents very high stakes for our attempt at 'successful' parenting.  Unlike any personal challenge we have faced in our lifetime (academic, athletic, career, relationship-related, etc.), if we fall short as parents, those we love the most will suffer.

I truly believe as parents, we do the best we can.  The absolute, unconditional love we have for our children precipitates this truth.  But we must recognize that what works for us, may not work for another.  We have no place to judge others when we have never "walked in their shoes." Meanwhile, we must realize we are often our own worst enemies.  We are hard on ourselves, over-think decisions, and wonder whether we are following the right path.  Sometimes these insecurities cause us to be defensive and uber-sensitive about remarks of others (when in reality they are NOT judging).  Interestingly, this dynamic further exacerbates the perception of judgmentalism surrounding parenthood.

Unfortunately, those adorable, cuddly, cooing, and chubby babies did not come with instruction manuals.  (Otherwise, I might challenge the 'warranty' section on a daily basis. ; ))  Parenthood can be exhausting, difficult, often grueling indeed.  There are days and situations in which we feel less than adequate, if not like complete failures.  Yet, we also have moments of success, evidenced by the hug or kiss of our child, their smiling faces, fleeting moments of cooperation and sharing, their excitement and passion for living and learning.  And, if we approach it one day at a time, with the support of our families and communities, mixed with a little humor (and wine, of course), we will hopefully look back one day and remember parenthood as the cute little old lady in Target always does.  Even if we are skeptical of her remarks as our toddlers are fighting/melting down in the cart...we can only hope she is prophetic as she says with a smile, "Honey, enjoy these days because they are the best times in your life!"

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