I sometimes worry that by adopting this new parenting philosophy of practicing non-judgment toward other moms, we are forgetting about the other, equally bad extreme: being so hesitant to express an opinion or take a stand on something, that we lose sight of our own values, worry needlessly that any innocent comment will come off as judgmental, and overthink matters that are just plain old common sense.
The reason for the scare quotes in the title is that I don’t believe the following situations are actually times when someone is judging us. Rather, these are times when we as moms, trying to be non-judgmental and supportive, find ourselves conflicted between doing the right thing and making someone else comfortable.
1. When a child is doing something unsafe.
A while ago, a mom in one of those Facebook groups I belong to posted a picture of her baby in his new carseat, and asked if it looked right. While some of the resulting comments were more strongly worded than they needed to be, most of the other parents pointed out what was incorrect – and dangerous – about the way the carseat was installed, and the child’s position in it. Ultimately the mother was grateful for the help, although she was put off by some of the less kind comments.
If you sense that a child may be in an unsafe situation, or if you’re just not sure, speak up! Just be mindful of the appropriateness of your tone and the words you choose. A toddler about to walk into an unfenced body of water is something that warrants a friendly but urgent shout (“Hey, your daughter’s at the edge of the river!”), perhaps even running over the grab the child yourself. I would think it obvious that shouting and running is not warranted if that same toddler is about to knock over a stack of tissue boxes on display at the grocery store, however troublesome. In the latter situation, the poor mom has enough to deal with from the judgey eyes of her fellow customers. In the former, I would hope that the mom would be thanking me profusely for keeping her child out of the water. But if I get the glare that tells me she’s annoyed that I intervened, I can deal with that. I will take an angry glare over a drowned child any day.
2. When a parent seeks out advice or opinions.
In a similar vein to that of the carseat mom on Facebook, it is totally ok to express an opinion about parenting when one is specifically solicited. I think this is fairly easy to illustrate.
Mom A: I had to give up breastfeeding. My nipples were bleeding, I was exhausted and angry all the time, and I cried myself to sleep every night. What a relief it was to finally be ok with using formula.
Mom B: I know that was hard for you, but did you try La Leche League, or a breastfeeding counselor? I was bleeding too until I realized that there was a better way to latch her. I am so glad I didn’t need to use formula!
Mom A: I have to give up breastfeeding! My nipples are bleeding, I’m exhausted and angry all the time, and I cry myself to sleep every night. I am ready to just give up and use formula – what do you think?
Mom B: I am sorry this is so hard for you. I support you no matter what you decide to do. I was bleeding too, until I realized that there was a better way to latch her. Do you want the name of the breastfeeding counselor I used? I also found it helpful to join a local La Leche League chapter.
3. When you’re talking to your sister or best friend.
I think we can speak a bit more freely with our closest friends and family members, because we respect them and come from a place of love. The lady who asks why your baby is not wearing socks in the grocery store, because it’s so cold in the produce section, is not coming from a place of love. But those who are closest to us, despite our differences and preferences, mean really well. With that said, if you have a broken relationship with a family member or former friend, then yeah, this item does not apply in that situation. I’m talking about the people in your life you are comfortable sharing anything and everything with – the friend who will tell you that a dress looks bad on you, or the sister who gently tells you that your spats with your spouse seem to be affecting your child.
In the moment, comments that are blunt yet well-intentioned can sting. Of course it feels like we are being judged when someone tells us, well, that they think we are wrong, or that they would handle a situation differently. There are some social circles in which I know not to talk about my homebirths or breastfeeding experiences, because however innocent my thoughts may be, I know the sensitivities of those particular individuals, and as a result I just don’t go there. But that doesn’t mean I feel the need to smile and nod or cheerfully change the subject if someone asks for opinion, asks what I would do, or make a comment about how it’s totally weird to give birth at home.
And I guess that’s a bonus item number 4 – it’s ok to ‘judge’ when you are adding your voice to the general discussion of one parenting topic versus another. If some lady rolls her eyes and calls a homebirthing mom totally irresponsible, I will offer my own experience and explain the research supporting the safety of homebirth. If she still disagrees, it’s no skin off my back – I did the research, she did not, and nothing I say is going to change her mind at that point. But if I overhear another mom say how awful she feels about her c-section, I’m not going to use the opportunity to suggest a homebirth next time to avoid another surgery — at least not right away. Over time, if I befriend that mom and the topic comes up on another day when she seems receptive to the idea, I will make that suggestion. Exercising discretion when voicing opinions is everything. I hope we never lose sight of that.