Portrait of a mother on a bench holding a baby with many hands pointing at her in judgement. She is rolling her eyes.

The Good, the Bad, and the Judgy: How to Handle Criticism of Your Parenting Like a Pro

Are you tired of feeling like you're parenting in a world of judgment? Have you ever found yourself defending your positive parenting choices to skeptical family members or critical peers?

Positive, respectful parenting is a fairly new approach. Your parenting choices might be totally different from people in your immediate family or your neighborhood. And when you're among the first to break away from generational patterns of parenting characterized by rewards, punishment, and authoritarianism, dealing with criticism can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

Use the following tips to navigate other people's opinions like a pro. 

Coping When Someone Criticizes Your Parenting

At some point, if you haven't already, you'll likely face situations when other parents judge your parenting or a family member criticizes the way you do things with your kids. In this interview, I talk with Amanda Morgan, author of Parenting with Positive Guidance, about handling criticism and finding support for your parenting choices.

I asked Amanda: What can parents do when they are criticized for choosing a positive guidance parenting style? How can parents gain confidence in their parenting style?

How to Respond When Someone Criticizes Your Parenting

Handling criticism is often the hardest part of parenting in general. No matter what you're doing, there's someone to tell you — directly or indirectly — that you're doing it all wrong.

If we're looking for everyone else to affirm our parenting style, it will never come. Disagreement and criticism abound, largely because there are a million “right ways” to do it. There are certain principles of parenting that are consistent and true, but their application will look different with different parents and different children.

Two Ways to Handle Critiques

How you respond to parenting critiques will be different depending on who's giving them. It's one thing if it's a stranger on the internet; it's another if you're facing a situation like ‘my boyfriend disagrees with my parenting.' When someone you care about confronts you directly or gives unsolicited advice, you have two choices you can:

  • Make a brush-off type comment that essentially shows you heard the person commenting, but the topic isn't one you want to discuss with them. So, something like, “Thanks, I'll keep that in mind,” or “That's one way of doing it. We're trying a different approach.” Or simply a give smile. (Though that “hold your tongue and smother them with honey approach” may be the hardest of all.)
  • Actually, engage and talk with that person about your perspective. This doesn't mean you're trying to change their opinions. That would likely be a losing battle. Approach it with the intention of simply explaining the concepts you're using in parenting.

Things to Remember When Dealing With Criticism

  • Avoid a full debate and use simple phrases like, “I'm really trying to emphasize his own problem-solving skills rather than simply telling him what to do,” or “I believe it's more important for my child to learn from choices and consequences than it is for me to control his every move.” “We choose to teach through means other than physical punishment,” or “The APA statement shows spanking is a tool with diminishing returns.”
  • If they want to know more, and you feel you can have a respectful discussion, go for it. If you can tell that emotions are too high for either one of you, wait for a better time to talk or simply say, “I appreciate your concern for my child. I'm parenting in the way that I truly feel is best for our family. Please respect my choice. We may simply have to agree to disagree on some of the details.”
  • In any parenting discussion, it is so important to monitor your tone and try to be sure that you aren't turning the tables, passing judgment on a parenting style that is different from yours.

What if My Husband Criticizes My Parenting All the Time?

It's challenging but totally possible to improve communication and co-parent successfully even when you and your partner at first seem completely at odds. Disagreements and assumptions we didn't even know we had often come to light once we're parenting together with someone. We really love Dayna Abraham's “Calm the Chaos” framework to navigate these challenges. Her 4-step “You-CUE Plan” gives a roadmap for improving communication and successful co-parenting. In brief, the steps are:

  • You: Avoid taking your partner's behavior personally. Try to understand their perspective and acknowledge that differences in problem-solving approaches exist.
  • Connect: Find ways to connect beyond parenting responsibilities. Finding small gestures like holding hands or listing things you like about one another can help you both shift focus to the positive aspects of one another.
  • Understand: Get clear on your and your partner's goals, backgrounds, and beliefs. Ask questions and share about upbringing, fears, and triggers. Try to listen without judgment to understand where each of you is coming from.
  • Empower: To move forward as a team, especially during tough times, empower each other to take breaks and approach conflicts with self-leadership.

Remember, it's okay to disagree. However, if your spouse or partner isn't on board with your more collaborative, positive parenting style, it's worth exploring how you can communicate constructively about it. It's not easy, but if you're both willing to grow, it's possible. The growth that comes about for both of you will benefit both your child and your relationship.

You both have a voice in this. Unity doesn't mean you need to take identical paths; it's about knowing your destination and respecting each other's voices. 

Build Your Parenting Community

Support goes a long way in parenting. Without a network of like-minded parents who understand your positive parenting approach, it's too easy to question yourself over and over. And because we're each so emotionally involved, outside perspective is valuable when it's hard to see some experiences past our own filters.

  • Your first and best partner in parenting is your spouse or co-parent. Someone who has a vested interest in your child. When you have a unified front, you not only handle the job of parenting with consistency, but you can help each other through your weak spots and tag-team when you've maxed out your patience. This doesn't mean you have to be identical. It can actually be valuable for kids to see that people do things differently as long as you both come from a place of mutual respect for your kids and each other.
  • If you're single parenting, be intentional about connecting with a friend who shares your values for respectful parenting. Or you could consider meeting regularly with a parent coach or counselor who specializes in family relationships.
  • Friends and family can also be good sounding boards. It's important, however, to recognize that each child is unique, as are the dynamics of your relationship with them. It can be very useful to hear what worked for someone else, but be sure to recognize the different factors in play and adapt or even disregard their advice if necessary to meet the needs of your child.

There are plenty of experts out there, but no one knows your child as you do. You are the expert on that topic. The best way to build your parenting confidence is to look at your own child and follow your own “gut.” Educate yourself, of course, but feel how the information resonates and watch how your child reacts to its implementation. 

Confidence in your parenting will come in time – from you, your parenting partnership, and your relationship with your child.

Alissa Zorn

Author: Alissa Zorn

Title: Trauma-Informed Coach

Expertise: childhood emotional neglect, perfectionism, parenting, journaling, comics, doodling, coaching