Mamarama: Facing Parental Judgment

“You’re having a HOME birth?? Isn’t that kind of irresponsible?” says one pregnant woman to another. Then, on the next yoga mat you overhear, “Wait, you’re giving birth in a HOSPITAL? Don’t you know that nearly all hospital births lead to cesarean sections??”

Stop the presses; both women are wrong. But that’s not the point of this blog. What the dialogue above illustrates is something more insidious and universal than misstating facts: I call it Parental Judgment and it begins from the moment you announce the plus sign on the pregnancy stick.

Let’s review some of the banter we’ve all heard before:

“Did you see she’s still drinking five cups of coffee a day?”

“Ohmigod, she SMOKED all through her baby shower!”

“She hasn’t done a SINGLE prenatal yoga class!”

“She’s having a HYPNO-birth in a bathtub!”

“I heard that she’s scheduling a C-section so her husband’s vacation time lines up with the birth.”

“She eats sushi.”

While pregnant you are suddenly inundated with everyone else’s stories and advice. And this is often confusing and frustrating. “OK, I’m glad to hear that you don’t believe in acupuncture but it’s actually working for my nausea.” “Yes, I know you didn’t breastfeed your children and they’re perfectly fine, but I PLAN to do this and I think it’s important.”

We get judgment from friends and relatives and then quite often from other parents. After all the disapproval over how you’re going about your pregnancy subsides, look forward to years of scrutiny about everything else you’re doing. More importantly, recognize that YOU TOO, will be just as critical.

Here’s a true story for you: A new dad went on vacation with his best friend, plus their wives and babies who were born just a few weeks apart. It seemed like an ideal plan — they both could accommodate the needs of their young children and still have a good time. What this dad didn’t expect was that the other couple did things entirely differently than they did. One slept with the baby in the bed and nursed on demand. The other gave bottles and put the baby in her own crib.

It seemed that the one couple was gearing their entire vacation around their baby, while the other couple felt more like the baby should fit into their lives. At one point there was a blowout when the nursing mom yelled at the other dad because he said it was ridiculous not to enjoy a beer on her vacation insisting that beer was “good for breast milk.”

The issue is not about who is right or wrong; it’s more about the judgment that comes with an undercurrent of insecurity. A key concept to be aware of as you grow into your roles as parents is that “parenting” is one big learning curve. From the moment you discover your pregnancy you are filled with questions and forced to make decisions. Every part of new parenthood is rife with choices and ramifications plus a healthy dose of competition. This is why people will go out and buy an overpriced stroller or a state-of the-art crib that simulates a car driving at 55 mph. We’re just learning HOW to be parents and the choices we make say a great deal about who we are and our expectations for our children. It takes time and practice to become confident in our roles.

For every choice we make there is another set of parents doing it completely differently. Although we believe our way is the correct way, let’s face it — alternatives sometimes raise doubts or cause us to feel enraged with the need to validate our own decisions.

It’s helpful to remember that this is all a normal part of being a parent. In fact, I dare say it’s healthy to challenge alternatives to our own style or philosophy. My suggestion, though, is to do your judging in the privacy of your own home, with your partner, after you’ve put your baby to bed the way you’ve chosen to do so. You can laugh all you want at your sister-in-law who is doing baby sign-language — but realize she’s equally dismayed that you chose a preschool 3 years in advance.

Remember there is no correct way to parent your children; they will thrive on love and nurturing. Keep in mind that we’re all finding our way in this realm every single day. The good news is that as your kids grow up this judgment you feel toward and from other parents eventually fades into the background.

Please feel free to share your opinion on this topic in the comments below.

Jayne Freeman

is the host of the long-time public access show Mamarama as seen locally on Comcast Cable (channel 51) and on YouTube. In addition to her parenting program she is a certified childbirth educator and regularly writes about the parental experience.