Why my parenting decisions are not a commentary on yours (and why you shouldn’t worry about what other people think).

I judge other parents. You judge other parents. Whether we are parents ourselves or not, we all judge other parents. Why? Because we all do things differently, and we all think we are right.

You may say, “Well I don’t judge other parents! Judging people is wrong!” To which I say, “yeah, right.”

Let me give you a few common examples:

  • You’re walking through a parking lot and see a toddler asleep in his car seat on a sunny day. There is no one in the car or anywhere nearby.
  • You see a man smoking a cigarette while holding his baby.
  • You see a two-year-old sitting alone on top of the highest tower on the playground when there’s no way she could have gotten up there on her own, and there is no way she could get down. There is no adult watching her.

These three examples are pretty clear-cut bad moves because they endanger the children. I have personally seen all of these things, and I’m sure you’ve all seen at least one of them. You’re telling me you have no judgmental thoughts about the parents in these situations?

Let’s try some different examples:

  • You see a mother at a restaurant giving her baby a bottle of formula.
  • You see a mother at a restaurant breastfeeding her baby.
  • A mother in your playgroup tells you she and her husband let their baby Cry it Out (CIO).
  • A mother in your playgroup tells you she and her husband always hold and soothe their baby when he cries and never leave him alone to cry.
  • A friend tells you he and his wife cosleep and bedshare with their baby.
  • A friend tells you he and his wife have a separate nursery where their baby sleeps alone.

How do you react to these examples? My guess is that (at least if you are a parent and have faced these decisions yourself) you react more positively to one side and more negatively to the opposite. Sure, it is possible to be neutral on these subjects, but most of us aren’t. These situations aren’t as clear-cut right or wrong for most people (although modern science makes it pretty clear that breastfeeding is better for babies and mothers, and that CIO is detrimental to babies’ attachment and cognitive development. See, there I go, judging!).

So what am I getting at? We all judge parenting similar to our own to be more favorable than parenting that is different. Why do we do this? I posit that we, as humans, judge the parenting of others as an evolutionary response to feel more secure in our own decisions. “They let their kids eat McDonalds?! They must not care about their health at all!” “She let her 10-year-old watch a PG-13 movie?! What, does she want to corrupt her little head?” “They didn’t circumcise their son?! Don’t they want him to feel normal when he gets older? They obviously don’t care about his social life.” Thinking other people are bad parents tends to make us feel better about ourselves, or at least more secure in our decisions, and I think that’s okay to an extent.

But guess what. Thinking someone else is a worse parent than you does not, in fact, make you a better parent, and vice versa. If it makes you feel better about yourself to know that there are parents out there who are just totally screwing things up, then go right ahead. But don’t let your parenting decisions be decided by how others will respond to them.

If we decide how to parent based on the opinions of others, we fall into a dangerous trap. We will be inconsistent, unsure, constantly second-guessing, looking around for reactions, and, most importantly, doing a major disservice to our children. The only people you have to be held accountable to are your children, your partner, and yourself. Instead of spending time and energy worrying about what other people think of your decisions, focus on researching and thinking through those decisions, and follow your own instincts.

At the same time, stop worrying so much about the decisions of other parents. These two challenges go together. And yes, they are challenges. The less time you spend concerning yourself with the parenting choices of others, the less time you’ll spend worrying about what other parents think of yours. Realize that the way other parents do things is not a commentary on your own choices. If your best friend formula feeds while you breastfeed, it is not because she thinks she’s smarter than you or a better parent than you.

As you’ll learn more and more if you follow this blog, I’m a pretty “natural,” semi-crunchy, neuro-development focused parent, and I’m lucky enough to have a partner who supports this. Our son was born at home with a midwife and is uncircumcised and unvaccinated. We bedshare, we don’t CIO, we cloth diaper (although we are using Seventh Generation disposables for the time being because he isn’t fitting in any of his cloth diapers), I baby wear, and I exclusively breastfeed. I don’t own a pump, and this has never been an issue because I have absolutely no intention of leaving my baby for many, many months to come. And you know what? I drink beer. Yep, I breastfeed and I drink a delicious craft beer many evenings. You know why we do all of these things? Because we’ve done our research. We don’t take any parenting decision lightly, and we (as most parents) want to make sure we do what is best for our son.

Our decisions are not a commentary on how anyone else chooses to parent. I do not breastfeed to tell formula-feeding mothers that they are doing something wrong. I breastfeed because it is what is best for me and for my baby. Period. And I realize that others don’t make their choices to comment on mine. I also realize that what may seem like a choice is, in many cases, not actually a choice at all. For example, many mothers would love to breastfeed but, for whatever reason, are unable to.

I honestly don’t care what other people think of my parenting choices. This may sound harsh, but I don’t mean it to. What I mean is that I arrived at my decisions after having a lot of information. Both my major and minor in college were focused on child psychology and development. I love science. I love research. I am always searching for information and new research, even on things we think we already know. Because knowledge changes. Knowledge grows. And this is also crucial — parenting choices made years ago really have nothing to do with parenting choices made today because we know so much more now, and information is so much more widely available.

So, while I believe we will all inevitably judge other parents, we shouldn’t let our judgments or the judgments of others affect our own parenting decisions. And at the same time, we should realize that other people’s parenting decisions have absolutely nothing to do with us.

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