If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know that CTWM is a judgment-free zone, much like a certain fitness chain you may be familiar with. We preach from the gospel of “thou shalt not judge thy fellow mama” around these parts, and we try to practice what we preach. And blog about it.
However, what we don’t often talk about is the other side of the coin: what do you do when, inevitably, despite all your best efforts to practice non-judgment, in hopes that other moms afford you the same courtesy, someone makes a catty comment about your parenting? Because oh yes, mama, someone out there is going to judge you at one point or another. And that sucks, for those of us quite earnestly taking the high road with our vows of non-judginess. But does one judgment warrant another in return? I think not.
Here’s what you can do instead:
1. Rehearse a Response, and Have a Plan.
I’m not saying you need to put a lot of effort into a word-for-word response, unless it makes you feel better. But if there’s a particular parenting practice or lifestyle that you know is going to be a topic of hot conversation—maybe you homeschool your kids, or you formula feed by choice, or you had a homebirth, like me—it helps to have a go-to line when nasty naysayers rear their ugly heads.
Again, I’m not saying you should hurl back a snippy comment. And certainly not a judgy one. I find that countering opinions with facts is a good way to respond to a judgmental statement. For example, when people tell me that “homebirth is dangerous!” I counter by stating that, actually, research suggests that homebirth may be safer than hospital birth, as the extremely high maternal mortality rate in the U.S. (one of the highest among industrialized countries) seems to be connected to a lack of evidence-based practices in hospital labor and delivery procedures. Am I going to have a list of handy links or article references in my head to support that in the moment? No, of course not. But that doesn’t need to stop me from saying it. My faulty recall of the past research I’ve done on the subject is a lot more convincing than Judgy McJudgerson’s knee-jerk reaction. But I suppose that being more convincing is not really the point. It’s about maintaining the right frame of mind in a situation in which your beliefs or lifestyle are being tested.
2. Find Your Tribe.
The best offense is a great defense. I do believe that belonging to a community of like-minded moms will steel your resolve in those moments when your parenting beliefs, attitudes or practices are being challenged. It can be really lonely feeling like you’re the only mom out there who does things the way you do, or believes in the philosophy to which you’ve subscribed. It helps knowing that someone, whether it’s your best mama friend or large group of bloggers, like the brain trust of women who write for this website, has your back.
3. Practice Stoicism.
When faced with a rude comment—and even more so online than in person—it’s so very, VERY tempting to lash out at the person. It feels so good in the moment. And then it doesn’t. You might make a scene, causing onlookers who maybe even side with your opinion to feel embarrassed in your presence. And worst of all, despite whatever logic and sense is inherent in your argument, no one is going to get that now, because you’ve just come off as off-kilter and out of control. It’s really a win for the person who cast the original judgment in the first place, and perhaps even a confirmation in her own mind of how correct she was to judge you in the first place.
Author and media strategist Ryan Holiday, who has just published a book on the philosophy of stoicism, defines the concept thusly: “The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.” What a great attitude to have, and one that gives us some much-needed peace in an argumentative world.
I wanted to write a longer blog piece arguing with this writer, who quite obviously is an anti-homebirth mom with some serious hangups about childbirth, from what I can gather based on an article she wrote a month ago claiming that homebirth is a cult, and that all of us who do it are ignorant and unreasonable. I was so furious when I read the article, that I almost wrote up my angry response and tweeted it at her right then and there. Then it occurred to me that this is exactly what clickbait-happy writers like her want: attention. Not gonna give you the satisfaction, babe.
Ok, so there’s more to the story than that. I honestly got busy, and then all the fire went out from under me as day by day went by without me responding. And anyway, I realized later that I’ve kind of already written that article. But my point is that a philosophy like stoicism will serve you, and everyone around you, quite well in a world where everyone needs to have the last word. So when gabby, judgy folks open their mouths and prattle on, shut ‘em down like they did in ancient Rome. And save all that fire and passion you have for your cause by redirecting it into positive energy, to help educate, inspire, or lend a helping hand to another mama out there—not by wasting your time typing out cogently written blog posts that are just going to fall on the deaf ears of someone too self-righteous and pig-headed to see past her own biases.
Eh, yeah, I’m being passive-aggressive, and probably not so much stoic. And this is where Michelle or someone else on here will probably swoop in and remind me to practice non-judgment in criticizing others … maaaaaybe our dear Elissa Strauss suffered during the course of her own births, and it traumatized her to the point where she has an axe to grind with natural birthers everywhere. I don’t remember, and I’m not reading her
stupid poorly supported article again to find out. I am SO tempted to link to it here, but then, you know, the contradicting myself and all …
Anyway, congratulations! You’re on your way to finding your zen in the middle of a world obsessed with commenting on other people’s parenting. Like most other obstacles in life, you can’t stop the judgment from happening, but you can control how you respond to it. If you’re like me, you’ll respond with more snark than stoicism—but hey, I’m a student of this stuff too, so I’m still working on myself. That’s more than I can say for a lot of people.