Even before the pandemic, 90% of American moms and 85% of dads felt judged (New York Times). Is this true of just American parents? I don’t think so because we talk with parents all over the world. I taught a parenting class in the Philippines and one of the most common questions was what to do when your child has a meltdown in public.
But now with the pandemic, I am finding that I am even more worried than normal about the judgment of others. And, maybe ironically, I’m also more judgemental of myself than normal. This leads me to be curious about…
Why am I afraid of being judged?
Why am I judging myself so harshly?
What can we do differently, as a culture, to judge parents less?
We are more stressed
I believe that one of the reasons parents are feeling judged right now is we have more stress than normal right now. There is an incredible amount of uncertainty for everyone. Maybe we don’t have the collective bandwidth to extend grace to others around us when we feel unsafe. Maybe we want other community members to treat the situation with the same degree of rigidness. It’s harder to be compassionate when we’re in survival mode, trying to get through another day of working-at-home, or helping our kids with their distance learning.
We feel alone
A second factor causing more judgment is that we are isolated from others. Even though I regularly work from a home office, I’m missing out on so many social interactions and opportunities for micro-connections that it’s starting to take a toll. And you are probably feeling the same thing too! I feel alone in my struggles. One thing that helps is if I can talk to someone, feel understood, and maybe hear that they are struggling too. But those phone calls and socially distanced walks with mommy friends are not happening very often these days!
We compare ourselves to others online
A third thing causing more judgment is social media. In normal times, I avoid social media, because I compare myself and I feel “not good enough”. I can only imagine what I would find on Instagram or Facebook right now. Alongside scary news articles and posts about the virus, I can imagine “seeing” what other people are doing with their families. I would start shaming myself for not doing enough crafting, cooking, and schooling with my kids, for not keeping my house clean, for having too many weeds in the garden, and for being I’m too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything beyond watching a movie with my kids.
We are worried about being judged
With the high stress, social isolation, and exhaustion, I’m also quite worried that people are going to judge my parenting. I’ve had more than one conversation with a neighbor that my kids and I are not socially distanced enough from our friends when we are outside.
I’ve got teens. During regular times, I struggle to get them to wear bike helmets and now I’m pushing them to wear masks too! Parents of younger kids don’t have it easy either. In the New York Times, Jesse Gross writes, “I can barely get my 3-year-old to wear pants in public. She hides under a couch every time I try to get a mask on her.”
And frankly, after everything that my kids–and yours–have given up, I feel bad asking them to do more. Don’t misunderstand me here. I am in agreement with the stay-at-home orders. We wear our masks a lot, even the teens. We take our social responsibility seriously. In our family, we have had many conversations about the importance of doing our part, even when there is a social and emotional cost.
And we have a generation of kids and teens who are going on 2-months of loss…
Teens and kids have given up a lot
Teens and kids have lost hugs from their friends, playdates, sleepovers, playgrounds, movie theatres, shopping malls, being on sports teams, competing and spectating, Spring Break trips, school dances and prom, graduation ceremonies, concert-going, performing in theatre, plays, recitals, and band. They have given up birthday parties, college tours, road trips, and international travel. They’ve given up dating, snuggling, flirting, and kissing. They’ve given up internships, jobs, scholarships, and volunteering. They have given up months of their education, and probably summer camp and summer travel too.
In many cases, these are experiences and even rites-of-passage that they will never get back. There is no substitute for an all-night grad party, senior prom, a bar mitzvah, quinceanera, or a 4th-grade father-daughter dance. There are some things that can’t be made up, that will just not ever happen again.
In millions of small acts of generosity, kids and teens have given up these things willingly, graciously, and heroically–in most cases not for themselves–but for others. I for one, have been floored by the cooperation, acceptance, and acts of kindness that I see from the children and teens in our community.
Sometimes I break the rules
And lastly, I’m concerned that people will judge my parenting because occasionally I’ve thoughtfully and consciously allowed my kids to break “the rules”.
One time, I let my daughter and her friend hug each other on our front porch. Her friend just finished up a stay at an inpatient facility where, because of COVID, she could not have any visitors, not even her own family… for 6-weeks.
One of our daughters left the house a couple of times in the middle of the night so she could help get her friend out of a physically abusive relationship.
I’ve allowed 3 teen girls to hang out in the backyard and eat take-out pizza together under a tree. I don’t even care if they were too close together because one of those girls had lost her dad to cancer the night before.
And I have more examples of times that consciously allowed my kids to “break the rules”.
How to judge less and love more
So this leads me to the third question…
What can we do differently, as a culture, to judge parents less?
There are at least 2 things we can do to judge less and love more.
Extend grace to ourselves
Let’s set the bar a little lower for ourselves. For me, this means I might serve waffles for dinner. Let the toilet be unscrubbed. I will forgive myself for abandoning a half dozen COVID home improvement projects, like refinishing the deck.
Parenting under normal circumstances is hard enough; parenting in a pandemic is maxing out a lot of us. Let’s be gentle with ourselves.
And if I notice myself wanting to engage in unkind self-talk I’m going to ask myself, “What unmet need do I have right now that is causing me to judge myself?”
Extend grace to others
I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes I’m tempted to judge. But I don’t truly know someone else’s story. No matter what your life situation is right now, we’re all going through a lot. We can extend friendliness to people we see. We can smile and say hello to folks on the sidewalk, even if that smile is hidden by our mask.
And if I notice myself wanting to judge someone in-person or online I’m going to ask myself, “What unmet need do I have right now that is causing me to judge others?”
And now I’d love to hear from you. What are you letting go of for yourself? Are you letting go of some sheltering-in-place goals? What judgments about yourself are releasing?
Share in the comments below. I read and respond to each of them!