Who is really expecting you to "do it all"?
I was asked to address the feelings of guilt a parent may have in balancing their own needs and desires with those of their children. I must add I am not a parent myself, so I have to speak theoretically, but I do hope at least having an explanation as to why you might feel as you do will help alleviate some pressure you put on yourself, and some of my tips come from my time in Further Education when I taught and programme managed courses specifically for adult learners many of whom were returning to work after having "parent" as their identity for a long time.
Are we REALLY being judged?
The answer to that is probably yes, by ourselves, by our children, perhaps by our immediate families, BUT whether it should affect us as much as it seems to is another matter. Judgment in essence is not really “bad” or “good” – but almost an instinctive part of living in a community.
When we live in a society with others (and this is evident in the animal kingdom), we tend to understand our “place” in the pack through acknowledging ourselves in comparison to others – with the goal being access to resources. In humans, we are fighting less over a perceived scarcity of food and water, but (especially in the social media world), a need for acknowledgment and validation. Further to which, building self-esteem has focused on appreciating the self…but often in comparison to others (eg. I didn’t win…but at least I didn’t come last). Whenever we are pointing the finger outwards, it tends to be because we are trying to avoid looking inwards! By making it clear there is someone else (a “weaker prey” perhaps) to focus on, we can remain “safe”.
Why do we tend to judge parents?
One area in which we might feel challenged in may be our parenting skills, and if we have struggled, someone doing something differently can feel like a criticism – an exposure of our failings…why didn’t I think of doing that!? It becomes all too easy to, rather than to show acceptance of difference or even learn from that other person, try to negate that of the other – it is the act of “normative idealisation” – what I do is normal, what you do is odd (it makes our own ego feel better); or to return to my first point of looking outwards - we might alternatively just be picking on others to avoid thinking about our own problems – and something which makes them “different” is an easy target…and sometimes it means by bringing someone down (rather than working to raise ourselves up), we feel better about ourselves – and don’t need to admit we need to do something about our own insecurities.
Instead what you COULD do is write up a list of the people you feel judgmental of, BUT each time you see them, look at the accomplishments that make you feel insecure*
*Note it is important to know the difference between their behaviour eg. nastiness making you feel insecure, or accomplishments.
Write down the things that you observe as making them so accomplished and either:
1. Try to practice those behaviours and see which ones work for you
2. ASK them how they developed those traits…often when we approach someone with love and curiosity (rather than dismissal or disdain) they actually want to help us (and if they don’t, then maybe you didn’t want to be so like them after all!)
And of course children who may not yet be familiar with negotiation, and may well be dealing with a number of overwhelming emotions may offer something which can result in a parent judging themselves - blame. It can help to remember that blame could simply be one way that child expresses disappointment, and perhaps, if possible it may be that you can discuss why they feel as they do and what things you, as a team can do about that. Rosalind Wiseman suggests using the SEAL technique to negotiate with a child - and teaching them to use it as well:
S - Stop - take a step back from the emotion of the situation
E - Explain - why you feel as you do and why what happened did - and even what you would have preferred to happen
A - Affirm/Acknowledge - validate the right to feel those emotions, and also acknowledge how all the parties involved may be feeling. What role can you play in making the situation better?
L - Lock in/Out - this can be decided after the first 3 steps, and that is - how do you want the relationship or situation to progress - if it's "locking in" - then you need to find a way to resolve it; "Locking out" can allow you to find a way to move on without it and without regret or holding a grudge.
What can I do to stop feeling guilty/judged about my parenting?
1. Ask yourself
Are your children happy? Are your children healthy? If the answer is yes – then always remind yourself, you are raising your children for you as your family team – not the other mums! If your children have voiced that they are missing out, then perhaps negotiate with them what they would like to do, and what they could give up to do it if relevant – but the aim is doing the best for your family unit not anyone else’s! Competition is one of those wellness bandits that speaks to our insecurities, but other people’s behaviour is a reflection of them, not you and you do NOT need to respond.
2. Then you may wish to explore WHY, and WHAT IN PARTICULAR you are afraid of other people thinking or saying, and take action to avoid that.
As a personal example, my dog has gone blind, and I really resent dog walkers who, if they saw her just sitting sniffing the air would presume – and say “Oh she just doesn’t want to go anywhere” or if I was carrying her because she felt lost “That’s not walking the dog is it?”…so I bought her a scarf which says BLIND DOG in big letters – and now people converse with me about her condition rather than “accuse”. I am not saying we NEED to wear our personal circumstances on our sleeve, but I am saying people, whether they are trying to be funny, or want to have a conversation may well be very clumsy. It isn’t always personal, there ARE things we may be able to do to ease what WE don’t like, and unfortunately some people are unable to keep things on the more un-intrusive level eg: Good morning, how are you doing today?
3. Avoiding the person who makes you anxious is not the best option because that may be cutting yourself off from avenues of enjoyment.
Instead consider “owning” the very thing that you are anxious about. Part of self-compassion is acceptance of who we are. It doesn’t matter if you want to change it, it doesn’t matter if you are actually quite proud of something that perhaps other people may judge or perceive negatively – you are you. HOWEVER, when I speak about “owning” it, it is not about doing so in a defensive way (because that is simply like fighting fire with fire), but just getting on with it - a sort of "I know this bothers me, but I'm doing the best I can in the situation" to at least remove beating yourself up from the situation!
4. Ask yourself is this about my beliefs on what I “should” or “shouldn’t” do?
We often feel fear of judgment because of a tendency to live our life according to a series of “shoulds” – although if you ask anyone, they are likely not to be able to tell you where their “rules” came from. Who said that “women should be caring and nurturing?”; who said that “men shouldn’t cry?” Who said that we should/shouldn’t be a certain weight/size/shape etc. …but nonetheless, it is often easier to simply conform…and there results an unconscious lesson – shout long enough and loud enough and people may do it to shut you up.
A lot of our beliefs are imposed unconsciously through the stories we watch in the media, in our culture, in our families and in our overall experience, and sometimes, especially when we have so much going on we don’t have time to stop and think – we don’t always appreciate that some of our beliefs about what we “should/shouldn’t” do, are not necessarily healthy. So I return to the very first point – if your children are happy and healthy, can you ask yourself “How would I feel if I DIDN’T have that thought (ie about the other person judging me)”, and then behave accordingly?
What if the person giving the most grief/judgement is someone I can’t avoid (e.g. own parents and inlaws)? OR even your child themselves!
This brings me back to asking yourself – who are you bringing up your family for.
· If the person enforcing their opinions on you is doing more than just talk, it is more complicated because you might have to explain why you are choosing to do things a certain way, and as much as you appreciate their help, and their experience, this is what you (and your partner) have decided to do. If it is the mother in-law, it can help to have your partner also reiterate your team partnership.
· You MAY need to state a consequence (also one negotiated with your partner if applicable), for example, “If you continue to give X cakes after school, I cannot allow them to come around here without me anymore.” and be willing to follow through. With this you might be able to open a negotiation and ask “So, how can we resolve this?”
· Another tip may be to ask that person “Why do you continue to do X when I have asked you not to?” – often, rather than accusing someone, making them think about their actions can be a great way to open a dialogue and deepen understanding of each other…and then it is often easier to collaborate.
· What can also work is explaining to the other person how their actions make you feel, again asking, “why you do continue to do x?”
A lot of this is about taking a relationship beyond the overt and superficial displays of behaviour which may lead to misunderstandings, which are then built upon. By taking the time to talk and gain a better appreciation of each other, you do not have to agree, but it becomes more of a learning experience to disagree rather than a conflict. But, it is very important to make sure such conversations occur at a time when you are all calm so that they don’t feel like an ambush!
Also, with children, it may be important to remember that they have not necessarily got the skills to manage their emotions well, and this can be part of the conversation - I know this is upsetting, so why don't we... (eg. take a break and think about ways to solve it; or take a walk and think about something different; or write down how you feel - you don't need to show me).
Further it is also important to recognise that sometimes there will be NO negotiation possible, but you might not want to be so extreme that you lost contact altogether. Here you might need to be clear about:
- What YOU want out of the situation
- What you are willing to accept
- Maintain that structure and use “deflection” tactics such as “Thank you for that information.” (…and not continue the conversation, nor take on the unsolicited advice). THEN make sure you find some time for yourself and/or with people you really feel great with in order to re-energise and help bring you back to feeling your best!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt
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