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Holiday Happiness for Moms, Part 2: Dealing with Critics

by Meagan Francis on December 28, 2009

Christmas Day may be behind us, but for many of us today kicks off week 2 of holiday celebrations. That means that many of you are gearing up to spend a lot of time with family–close and extended–and friends, old, new and in-between, in the next few days.

And for some of us, that means a whole ‘nother kind of holiday stress: the kind you experience when you wonder if your parenting is being judged.

Whether it’s your great-aunt’s raised eyebrows when your kids go feral after hitting the candy dish, or your father-in-law freaking out because you breastfeed the baby in the family room, nearly every family gathering leads to at least one occasion where you feel like you might be getting the Glare of Judgment, even if it is sometimes just your perception. (After all, your uncle Bob might just seem to be staring intently at your kid because he’s hit the eggnog too hard and is trying not to throw up, not because he finds your kid ill-behaved and you negligent).

When you get in a group of people who don’t see you and your kids day in and day out, it’s easy to feel like your parenting skills–and authority–aren’t respected. Maybe your kids weren’t “grateful enough” for your father-in-law’s liking when they opened a gift. Or maybe they’ll be so enthusiastic they’ll let out a squeal that sets off your cousin’s dog a-yipping. Maybe your relatives will criticize your lack of a routine, or your decision to loosen your usual standards and let the kid have a sip of soda. Maybe they’ll think you’re too rigid because you insist the kids make their usual bedtime of 8 PM even in the midst of a celebration. Or maybe they’ll just oh-so-helpfully–but annoyingly–try to “help” by inserting themselves in every parenting situation. Maybe they don’t say a word, but give each other those Looks that mean they disapprove…of something, if only you could tell what.

What’s a mom to do? I asked my Twitter friends for their best advice for dealing with judgment, criticism, and general busy-body-ness during the holidays. Here are some of my favorite responses:

KrisBordessa

“I try to use a pat phrase: “Oh, that’s interesting” or “What an interesting thing to say” when people offer unwanted advice.”

KateHan

“Breathe and pretend they’re not there, unless there’s something menial I can ask them to do to shift the focus.”

AngEngland

“I appreciate that you have a strong opinion but this is our family decision.” Lather, rinse, repeat. Never engage.

martijen

“Stay cool. Keep retorts light. When able, ask yourself if criticism has any merit. Sometimes there’s a kernel of truth.”

claritychaos

“I find redirection to another task works wonders. Like you really need their valuable skills put to work w/other kid or task.”

As you can see, these wise moms know that when it comes to dodging the barbs of OPP (Other People’s opinions about your Parenting) there are a few rules you’d be wise to live by:

1) Assume positive intent. Your mother-in-law isn’t slipping your child candy to make you mad (probably). Your cousin doesn’t have kids, so how could he possibly know that tantrums are normal, even in unspoiled non-brats? Sometimes you’ll just be fooling yourself if you go into each scenario assuming the other person only has the best possible intentions, but if it means you manage to keep your cool–and your relationships intact–who cares? If they don’t approve of you, your kids, or the way you parent your kids, that’s their problem. It only becomes yours if you let it.

2) Be honest with yourself. Like martijen said, sometimes there is a kernel of truth to criticism. Sure, it’s nobody’s business if you decide to ignore your child’s tantrum rather than putting him in a time-out, but it might be nice to at least move him to another room so his screams don’t drown out the Bing Crosby record your grandma’s enjoying. On the other hand, a gathering including children is always going to be prone to loud noises, frantic activity and the kicking of little feet, and anyone who has a problem with that needs a reality check. As long as you’re trying to accommodate others while meeting your kids’ needs,  you’re doing the best you can.

3) Disengage and Distract. If things get heated and you find yourself sucked into an argument, you can always back out and try some evasive action: “You know, we’ve decided to do things this way, and it’s the right decision for us–I’d rather not talk about it anymore. Anyone want a piece of pie?” Somebody is going to want pie, so you’re pretty much guaranteed an “out”.

4) Save the “Big Discussions” for later. A family gathering is not the time to try to lay down ground rules with meddling parents or have a big ugly air-clearing exercise with the in-laws. Save it for after everyone’s gone home and you’ve had a chance to really think over what you’d want to have happen differently next year. After all, some of the issues that come with having small children will come to a natural end, and others might not seem like such a big deal after you’ve had a chance to calm down. Conflicts and disagreements over parenting issues with extended family and in-laws are pretty much unavoidable,  but you have to decide which hills are worth dying on, and which issues you can let go–or just wait out until they’re no longer an issue at all (infant sleeping, diapering, and/or feeding issues have a funny way of becoming non-issues as soon as the baby’s turned into a toddler).

In the meanwhile, just come up with an exit strategy in case you feel your face getting hot and an angry retort forming on your tongue. Hint: An emergency diaper change makes a great excuse and can buy you a good fifteen or twenty minutes alone in a back bedroom.

What are your strategies for dealing with critics, busybodies, and “helpful” advice from family?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber December 28, 2009 at 1:33 pm

This isn’t so much a strategy, per se, but it’s worked for me. I have found that as I gain more experience, and I have more than one child, I get far less criticism. Once you have at least one kid who is engaging and outgoing and functional, you seem to get a certain amount of parenting credibility. People are less apt to question something that seems to have worked at least once.

Well, that and I just sort of ignore the looks. I prefer just not to go there.

Reply

Elizabeth (@claritychaos) December 28, 2009 at 9:08 pm

This type of post is a huge service (or a heads up) for new parents. Even as a mom of three, I find it a good reminder. I especially like @martijen’s suggestion to look for the kernel of truth. But all that being said, I have to say I’m grateful that one particular holiday gathering is done. And instead of having a big ‘air clearing event’ we did bite our tongues and decide to use the experience as a lesson when we consider our plans for next year. Yowsa. If blogs weren’t out here on the internet, I would have some stories to share.

Anyway, great post. I really do think it is a helpful reminder. Consider running it pre-holidays next year, too.

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Jen December 29, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Excellent post. I really love these manage-the-holidays ones! Great work, and please keep it coming. (-:

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Rachel December 30, 2009 at 2:54 am

I picked this one up from my MIL’s MIL. She always used to fall silent whenever she disagreed with what was being said. It sent a much more powerful message than responding verbally. I don’t always remember to use this strategy but when I do it seems to help everybody by diffusing the situation rather than pouring fuel on the fire.

Thanks for the post, Meagan – a timely reminder.

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Laurie Puhn December 31, 2009 at 11:39 am

Great ideas, one additional tip: Expect to be asked rude, intrusive questions by family members. PLEASE talk to your spouse in ADVANCE of certain off-limit topics like a health problem, fertility decisions, child discipline issues, job uncertainty, etc. Prepare a pat answer such as, “That’s interesting, I’ll think about it…” This way when Aunt Tilda reminds you that you that your 5 year old could use a baby sister, you have a prepared answer so neither you or your spouse get stuck sharing private information.

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Laurie Puhn December 31, 2009 at 11:43 am

Hi Meagan,
Wrong website above. My mistake. My blog is at http://www.expectingwords.com
Can you please make the change for me?
Thanks!

Reply

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