I’ll confess: I can be very sensitive to criticism or feedback about my parenting. I wish I didn’t react this way, but I do. Even though I’m fortunate to not get criticized on a regular basis, when it comes up it’s amazing how I can get hurt and angry, letting the feedback bother me for quite a while. In my world the criticisms have come from being overly permissive or inconsistent with my discipline, having kids who are being sassy (a result of my discipline), being overly worried about my children’s health, development and eating habits, or not attending to their health and development enough. So the critiques vary depending on the situation and the person who decides to make a comment. I’m sure there are many times that I’ve let comments become a bigger deal than they needed to be, and I know there are other times that I’ve reacted maturely to the feedback and not let it get to me. Still, I know I have work to do in this area.
Over the years I’ve tried to understand why negative feedback about parenting is so tough to hear, as well as how I might be able to manage it so my mental health isn’t affected when I hear it. I’ve talked with fellow moms and their wisdom has shown me that I’m not alone.
Here are some things I’ve learned that have helped me understand my reactions and how to better handle them:
- Everyone has someone in their lives who is very important to them, and whose criticism can be difficult to hear. I’ve talked with moms who seem to handle feedback from family members with amazing grace, but note that a comment from their partner can really set them off. Conclusion: we are all human and hearing negative feedback from someone we love and respect is difficult.
- It makes sense that criticism about parenting is especially hard to hear. For most of us, raising healthy and happy children and having a strong family is one of our primary goals. Also, we are usually trying the best we can at a task (parenting) that is not at all well-defined and for which we are not trained. So criticism about the most important and difficult thing we will do with our lives will definitely affect us.
- If the criticism is outlandish and completely inaccurate, it’s easier to dismiss. Nonetheless, it’s still really annoying and can make you feel indignant. Nothing brings out anger like the hurt of feeling unjustly criticized.
- Criticism often comes in crisis moments, moments when everyone is tired, or moments when everyone is tired of having spent a lot of time together. Maybe your child has just had four meltdowns in one day or hasn’t been able to keep it together for an important family event, or maybe you have been talking about an issue regarding your child and people are simply tired of hearing about it. When people are stressed they want to fix things or blame something for the stress, so they may be more apt to point to someone’s parenting as a reason (and solution) for making the situation better.
- Sometimes there is a grain of truth (or a lot of truth) to the criticism or feedback. This is important to think through, and see if there is something you can learn from or work on. It takes courage to do this.
- How criticism is delivered is highly related to how the receiver hears it. Sometimes we need to tell the people we love how we can best hear their feedback, or at least model it (e.g. maintaining a calm voice and not allowing the discussion to escalate). That being said, sometimes people deliver feedback in a very productive way and we still have a hard time hearing it. Again, this is important to think through.
- Most of us go through our days without any explicit affirmation that we are doing a good job at parenting. There is no paycheck, no annual review, and no universal guidelines. Wouldn’t it be amazing if people gave out the compliments about our parenting as much as the criticism. Perhaps it’s unrealistic, but sometimes my friends and I would just like to hear “You are doing such a great job at being a mother.”
- Some people are more sensitive than others, and that’s okay. For those of us, we might have to work a little harder on making sure that feedback or criticism doesn’t throw us into a tailspin, affect our mental health, or jeopardize relationships that we want to maintain. For me, this means first taking a breath and trying not to be reactive. Depending on the situation I may use humor to deflect, and other times I may have to talk with the person seriously about how their comments are affecting me. Most of the time, I have to try to get grounded in the reality that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, there might be ways I could improve on my parenting, criticism doesn’t mean I’m failing as a parent, and it’s okay to be frustrated when life is so stressful and then you get negative feedback. That’s a lot of thoughts to manage at one time, but I’ve found that they can all co-exist.
Lisa Edwards is a mum to two young daughters, as well as a psychologist, researcher and professor at Marquette University in Wisconsin, US, where she teaches and conducts research about positive psychology, perinatal mental health, and multicultural issues in counseling. She also provides counseling to pregnant and postpartum mums, and volunteers on the Spanish Warmline for Postpartum Support International. Her website Hopeful Mama is a fantastic, supportive resource for parents so please hop over and take a look. You can also follow Lisa on her Twitter and Facebook pages.