How to handle parenting criticism

We live in a world where a whole lot of our lives are up for discussion. Young parents post pictures of their babies moments after they enter the world. Influencers build brands by having cute kids. We’re sharing more, and in return, friends, family, and internet trolls, are sharing their thoughts with us.

Parenting criticism is hard to take. Most parents are just doing the best they can with what they have. We all dream that we’ll raise healthy and happy human beings who will feel empowered to pursue their dreams and make the world a better place. It’s hard to hear that you might not be doing that perfectly. Sometimes, it’s hard in a helpful way. Other times, it’s better just to let the opinions of others remain just that. The trick is knowing what’s worth taking on.

Imagine you’ve posted a picture where you thought your child looked like a fun loving little guy playing at the park. Auntie Debbie disagrees. She lets you know via direct message that your son looks like he’s about to slip off the swing. She’s included a link to some research about children who fall off swings, as well as a smiley emoji to try and soften the blow she’s just delivered to your inbox. It stings, and you’re confused as to why Auntie Debbie is taking an interest all of a sudden. Did you really put your child in an unsafe position? Did you scare him?

So, how do we wade through parenting criticism and take on only what we need?

Don’t take it all on board

Auntie Debbie has seen you three times in the last seven years. She’s skipped Christmas on several occasions and hasn’t actually met your son. Auntie Debbie’s criticism should be shelved because she has no real insight into your day-to-day life with your little one.

We’ve got to be ready to take some criticism, but the first step in figuring out whether or not the criticism is valid is checking your source. People who deeply care about us and engage with relationship with us in our everyday lives are the ones we should be listening to. When our close friends and family challenge the way we’re doing things, they’re usually doing it out of a place of deep care and love. That kind of challenge is worth sitting with.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself about the people who are criticising your parenting –

  • Does this person have the full picture of how I parent?
  • Do I trust this person to be challenging me out of a place of care?
  • Will this person have this conversation with me in a constructive way?
  • Does this person tend to encourage me or discourage me?

The importance of taking criticism well

Kids pick up on more than just our mannerisms. They watch us for cues almost constantly, and that’s why it’s important to respond to criticism in a healthy way. Once we’ve worked our way through whether the criticism is valid, or whether it’s not, we’re presented with an opportunity to show our kids how to grow.

When there is truth to the criticism, what do we do? Well first, it’s important to be gracious in the way that we accept we aren’t perfect. By accepting that we aren’t perfect, we’re showing our kids it’s ok not to be too. It’s deeply important for our kids to know that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved and accepted in relationships with others. It’s also important for them to know that criticism doesn’t change their worth, and responding to criticism securely will show them that.

Here are a few questions you could ask yourself as you process your parenting criticism –

  • What parts of this criticism are really valuable? What parts should I leave behind?
  • How can I respond to this criticism with humility?
  • If I need to change some of my parenting behaviour, how can I communicate this with my kids in a way that is healthy?

Coming to terms with our imperfections can be really tricky. But becoming a better parent, and an all round better person, makes that tricky process worthwhile.