The shame you feel from parenting critics and how to respond.
Being a parent is hard fucking work. I know what you are thinking, “DUH!” right? Of course, you know it is, but it isn’t a truth everyone can own and say out loud.
Spoiler alert: People make mistakes! It is a part of human nature, everyone does it whether you admit to it or not, and yes parents do too! We make mistakes, and then we learn from them. There is no "instruction manual" we learn through trial and error.
Admitting to imperfection, and being courageous enough to say “Hey, I’ve never been a parent before and I’m learning my lessons, at my own pace...” is just that, fucking courageous. It takes courage to learn through trial and error, to be open-minded to new ideas, to be vulnerable and explore parenting to find what works best for you and your family. It's not always going to be what everyone else does, and that’s okay.
But there’s one thing I know for sure about being a parent and making a mistake, you will have critics, and they are fucking everywhere. Waiting, watching...... You will be- if not already, criticized no matter what it is you are trying to accomplish.
It’s just the way it is.
If you are in the middle of washing dishes and cleaning the counter they will tell you how messy your living room floor is. If you are a single working parent, you don’t work hard enough, and if you’ve left an abusive relationship, you didn’t try hard enough.
If your children are having behaviour issues and you reached out for help, “you should be ashamed of yourself because it’s your life choices that have got you here.”
The critics will always be there to remind you that you can never do a good enough job. The judgement, the nagging, close-minded, opinionated shitty comments about the choices you made have one underlying common connection, and that’s shaming!
Shame is that nasty little troll that says: “I’m not good enough.” “I know you don’t think you look good enough, thin enough.” “I know what happened to you growing up.” “I know you’re getting divorced.” “You never finished that diploma.” Shame is that.
I don’t think the world understands that parents are not perfect. Because of their guilt, and mostly because of THEIR shame. We are judged, criticized, blamed, by others, by social media, our parents, strangers, our favourite T.V shows and then 99% of the time, we shame ourselves!! right? Are those incessant shaming, disapproving voices usually your own? They can create such an incredible amount of shame in you, that you will assume that others are judging you as critically as you judge yourself. Instead of feeling guilty, owing it as a lesson and moving on... Critics want you to feel shame.
Shame is different than guilt. Shame is a focus on self - guilt is a focus on behaviour.
Shame is: “I am a shitty parent.” Guilt is: “I did something shitty.”
Guilt: ”I’m sorry, I made a parenting mistake.” Shame: “I’m sorry, I am a terrible parent.”
There is a huge difference between shame and guilt, but here is what you need to know.
Dr Brené Brown, a social work researcher, who has been researching shame for over a decade, has discovered that both man and women feel the same shame. Shame is the same feeling for both, but it’s organized by gender.
For women, shame is “do it all.” “Do it perfect.” “Do it with a smile on your face, and never let them see you make a mistake.”Shame for women its this gigantic ball of fucked up yarn of conflicting, competing, unattainable, expectations of who we are supposed to be.
For men, it is different. Shame is only: "Do not be perceived as weak."Men walk a tightrope where any sign of weakness triggers shame, and so they're afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak.”
AND THAT is the most dangerous myth, that "vulnerable means weakness."
Vulnerability is not weakness.
Vulnerability is an emotional risk, uncertainty, it’s the courage to show up and be seen. Dr. Brené Brown describes vulnerability: “Vulnerability is the exact measure of someone’s courage.” Being a parent requires you to be vulnerable. You need to be authentic, and vulnerable to connect with your children.
Dr. Brené Brown talks about “leaning into the discomfort” in her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. She also talks about “connection” is the reason *we’re all here. “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued- when they can give and receive without judgement." Shame is the manifestation of disconnection. Underlying this is “excruciating vulnerability.” To truly connect we need to be vulnerable.
Dr. Brown’s mission to “control and predict” as a researcher, led her to the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability.
Letting go of the need to control and predict your child and building emotional intimacy, is the hallmark of a strong relationship. You get there by being vulnerable, and you can’t get there without it.
So, this brings us to the questions: WHY do others dismiss, deceive and reject us, when we speak our truth? Why do some people judge us, criticize us, when we are honest, when we are being vulnerable?
"One of the reasons we judge each other so harshly in this world of parenting is because we perceive anyone else who's doing anything differently than what we're doing as criticizing our choices." – Dr. Brene Brown
Others may criticize, judge and shame you or your parenting choices, because of the false sense of security they get, which gives them a false sense of self – otherwise known as their ego. Everyone has an ego.
Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher, and the most popular spiritual author talks about ego. “Ego is just your identification of your mental state. Our minds have been conditioned in certain ways, (through development, environment, culture, our upbringing.. media, pop culture). When you identify with that mindset, THAT is your ego. Because who “YOU” are, is consciousness.”
Consciousness, or “mindfulness”: is the fact of being awake and processing information as if it was for the first time, with openness and without judgement, without shame, without comparison or preconceived ideas/ opinions. Consciousness is just the state of being awake, purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily don’t bother about.
Exercise: Sit still, and close your eyes. Notice how you are breathing. Without trying to breathe differently or “properly” just feel your breath come in and out. In through the nose, out through the nose..(if that is how you naturally breathe. (Go ahead.. try it! I’ll wait.)
Once you found your breath, ask yourself these questions and just notice what thoughts come up.
What are you doing right now?
What does it smell like?
What do you feel?
How does your body feel?
Do you notice any tension?
What do you hear?
Just being present right here in your life right now, is consciousness. As if you are an alien and this is your first day in your body, and in this world, discovering things for the first time.
What does Ego have to do with being a critic?
Because ego is a division that happens when people are so identified with their own mindset (opinions, viewpoints, perspectives, judgements), they are deriving a sense of self, sense of who they are from certain pre-conceived thoughts in the mind (I am a conservative/liberal, I am pro-choice, I am a co-sleeper, I am a crunchy mom).
Every time someone criticizes you, “they are so right!” The ego LOVES nothing more than to be right. The more “right” they are and the more often they are right, the bigger the ego is. Of course, they don’t know this, this is an unconscious habit, But you do see it, and you realize that it’s not them, it's their ego. It’s your mother or father, or online bully’s ego, which is their false sense of self.
You will only strengthen their ego by opposing them. So what are you supposed to do when you are judged, given unwanted criticism? You have two choices:
To REACT or to RESPOND
Reacting sometimes is the natural flight or fright response to a stressful situation, reacting wouldn’t be of any benefit to you but rather their ego. Reacting to critics usually means reacting to how they criticized you, fighting anger with anger, insult, and shame with sadness or upset.
Reacting is a natural process that happens to your body when you face a stressful event.
(See Figure 10 Below, to see how our bodies react to stress.)
Responding is something that came come naturally, with practice.
Learning to Respond Rather Than React:
Difficult things are part of life. It is how we handle them that determine the extent to which they rule our lives. We can learn to relate more lightly to them. By becoming more aware of the thoughts, feelings and body sensations evoked by events, we can free ourselves from habitual, automatic, ways of reacting and, instead, mindfully respond in more skilful ways.
In general, we react to experience in one of three ways: (Think shame)
- with indifference – switching out of the present moment and going off somewhere else in our minds.
- with wanting – wishing we were having experiences that we are not having right now, or trying to hold on to experiences that we are having right now.
- with aversion – wanting to get rid of experiences that we are having right now, or trying to avoid experiences that may be coming along that we do not want.
Each of these ways of reacting can cause problems, particularly the tendency to react to unpleasant feelings of aversion. The main issue is to become more aware of our experience so that we can respond mindfully rather than react automatically. Noticing unpleasant feelings, or a sense of tightening or ‘holding’ in the body, provides an opportunity to begin to respond rather than react.
You still can be the same person, you can still have the same opinions, same values, (your ego, yes, it can be a good thing!) BUT the key is, you don’t have to prove yourself to be right.
Oprah on one of her “SuperSoul” conversations with Eckhart Tolle, she describes responding to someone’s egoistic criticism with “I can listen to your side of it, hear your side of it and maybe even see some right in it, even though I may disagree. I can observe my ego, my mental state. I am separate from my thoughts, I am consciousness.” Eckhart Tolle responds to Oprah with, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.”
How do you respond? To Internet trolls, to self-shame and shame from others?
Here is an amazing quote from Theodore Roosevelt. Some call it, “The Man in the Arena speech.”
In Dr. Brené Brown’s speech “Why Your Critics Aren't The Ones Who Count,” she says:
“If you show up and are seen if you go into the arena, if you create, if you want to be courageous, you will get your ass kicked —if you go into the arena - is that you WILL get your ass kicked. BUT if you aren't in the arena ALSO getting your ass kicked - I am not interested in your feedback - period.
If you have constructive criticism you want to give me, I want it.
But if you’re in the cheap seats, not putting yourself on the line, and just talking about how I can do it better, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Wooha! That is a pretty life-changing quote.
To apply this to parenting, if your critics are NOT in your situation, if they are not living with you 24/7, know how you feel, what you’ve been through.. If they don’t support you, support your family, if they are not someone WORTHY of hearing your story, or sharing your shame and being vulnerable with- then you do not need to listen to their criticism.
If they didn’t wake up late for work, late for school.. If they don’t have an autistic child, three under the age of two or they are not a single parent and work two jobs like you.. Then you do not need their feedback on how you could keep your house cleaner.
If they have been there and know what it’s like to have an empty fridge, to be a new parent and want to know more about circumcision, to have miscarried a child and know that greif is not the same for everyone. If they too have been terrified of being a new parent for the second time, if they have supportive advice on what helped them and what definitely did not.. Then THAT’S being vulnerable, and that’s exactly the kind of feedback and support and connection you want.
Be vulnerable and as Brene Brown would say, “Dare Greatly.” (Her TedTalk on “Daring Greatly.”)
How do you respond to a stressful situation? Click here!