Silence Is Golden: How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment
Parenting can bring out the most interesting advice and remarks from people whom we may not even know—and, of course, from those close to us as well. Sometimes we don’t want this advice. Sometimes we resist it with every fiber of our being. There are many reasons for this, some of which we will explore. I would also like to offer some alternatives to reacting strongly in such situations, and instead suggest responding respectfully.
Consider these steps now, so you can apply them in moments when you receive unwanted parenting advice.
The first step in learning how to respond respectfully is to listen. Yes, really. When we most want to shut down and run away, if we allow ourselves to listen with our whole bodies and not interrupt, we may be able to feel the essence of the message—even if it initially seems hidden beneath layers of judgment. This may take practice, because in order to hear what another person is saying, we have to become comfortable with acknowledging our own feelings.
Inside of most advice, and even criticism, is caring. People have their own opinions and experiences with children and they want to share what they think is valuable. Sometimes we may not agree, and yet we can still connect with the concern at the base of the message. If you’re wondering why, keep reading. The second step is in noticing our own judgment. We can judge ourselves super harshly, until we learn how to do otherwise. When you hear what another is saying about your parenting or your children, does it feed into your own self-judgment, or do you automatically sling judgment back onto the person you feel it is coming from? While you are listening to what the person is saying, pay attention to any feelings of judgment. We judge from our perspectives, which are developed throughout our lifetime, and if we’re aware of those perspectives, we can soften them a bit and connect more deeply with ourselves and others. This does not mean we must follow the advice, or internalize any criticism we do not agree with. We’re still talking about a very internal process here.
The third step is allowing ourselves to feel the root of our reactions. The main thing that stops us from responding respectfully to unwanted parenting advice and judgment is a sense of violation. We can feel hurt, judged, like we’re being told we’re wrong, or that what is suggested simply harms children. These feelings may have complete validity. We can benefit from honoring them on the inside through breathing intently into our bodies, noticing our breath, acknowledging any emotional sensations, and inquiring into what we are really feeling. Am I feeling attacked? Do I feel this person has no right to offer me parenting advice? Do I think what is offered is abuse or maltreatment of children? Do I feel superior in my knowledge or experience? Notice the thoughts and related feelings. Don’t judge, just notice.
The fourth step involves examining your parenting values. After doing the above three steps for a while, make a list of your parenting values. What is really important to you and what do you want to model in your relationships with others? Is it important to you that you model respect or advocacy? Can you combine the two? Is it important that you model sticking up for yourself, or to kindly thank someone for what they offer while knowing you won’t use a bit of it? Can you combine the two? Is it important that you offer alternatives to parentbashing, or is it important that you join the crowd? Can you choose a mutually respectful option for you, your family, and the world? Make a pact with yourself to explore options of respectfully communicating with those by whom you feel judged if that is important to you.
The fifth step embraces appreciation. In the last few years I have found that the simple practice of appreciating whatever comes my way to be profoundly healing. By allowing judgment from others to clue me in to my own self-judgment or tendency to judge others, I can change the way I look at life and other people. In appreciating even the unwanted advice, I can clarify the way I want to parent, and put it into action. I get to examine and choose whether each seemingly unwanted piece of information fits me, and if it doesn’t, what I can do about it. Am I going to become an activist? Am I going to educate others? Am I going to practice so intently that I walk my talk and it speaks for itself? Appreciating even the tough stuff can help us to make decisions about what we want, what we choose, and how to apply it deeply to our lives.
The sixth step offers a response. Once the internal work is established, we can reply if we feel that is appropriate. There are several ways to respond respectfully.
One way is to remember the Golden Rule: Treat others as we want to be treated. A simple “thank you” can suffice and it’s not necessarily directed at the information, but the caring at its base.
Silence is also golden at times. You can say a lot by not saying anything, especially when we’re working our inner process and not throwing back judgmental daggers. We can even smile as we consider what is being said and how we will respond.
Asking questions can help us understand, as well as open the door to being understood. Sometimes a person will offer what we feel is criticism when they did not mean it that way at all. Sometimes it is meant that way in anger, but once explored we find out the person felt hurt by something we said, or something unrelated. Some questions to open the conversation include “Can you tell me more about that?” or “I appreciate you sharing that with me. What brings you to feel that way?” or “I would like to understand. It sounds like you mean _____. Is that correct?”
When Unwanted Advice Comes Your Way...
Notice your own judgment.
Allow yourself to feel the root of your reactions.
Examine your parenting values.
Offer a response.
Continue your own inner work.
Another possibility is to educate. If we are offered information that feels way off and we are familiar with alternatives that work, we can share. Instead of getting into a debate, we can ask if the person is open to information and share from our personal experience: “You know, I’ve tried that and what I’ve found works for us is…” or “That’s interesting, we do this and it works really well right now,” or “I haven’t tried that, I’ll consider it along the way.” Considering an approach doesn’t mean we must try it; we can certainly choose not to try something that doesn’t work for us.
The seventh step is to continue the inner work. As we become more comfortable parenting in line with our own values, judgment rolls off of our backs like water on a duck. It just doesn’t stick. The key to becoming comfortable is doing the work to parent with integrity. From what I gather, that’s a lifelong process.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #45.
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