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Facts, Compassion and Judgment in Parenting

Judgment and ParentingNobody likes to be judged.  All over the blogosphere moms are saying, “Don’t judge me!”  We don’t want to be judged for breastfeeding or bottle feeding, for cloth diapering or using disposables.  We don’t want to be judged for homeschooling, sending our kids to public school or being radical unschoolers.  We don’t want to be judged for staying home or going back to work.  Nobody likes to be judged.

However, everybody has opinions.  We use those opinions to make choices about our own parenting, in combination with our own specific situation, morals and values.  We also make choices about how to parent based on scientific research.  If research shows a particular parenting choice, such as breastfeeding, has proven benefits to women, babies and families, talking about those benefits becomes more than just opinion.  Enough scientific research shifts opinion into the realm of fact.  Then we can say, “Breastfeeding is the best choice for the health of babies and mothers,” and it’s no longer simply an opinion, it’s a fact.

Stating Facts Does Not Mean Passing Judgment

Things get tricky when people feel like they’re being judged when others point out facts.  It’s a fact that eating more fresh fruits and vegetables helps prevent cancer.  So do I feel judged when I see someone discussing this if the only things I’ve fed myself and my children that day are bagels, milk, noodles and store bought pasta sauce with high fructose corn syrup in it?  I might feel like I haven’t made the best nutritional choices that day, but I do know and accept that I should really be eating more fresh foods.  Somebody saying, “fresh fruits and veggies help prevent cancer!” is not saying, ” you’re a bad mom for making yourself and your kids subsist on simple carbohydrates and processed sugars!”  There is a difference between stating a fact or having an opinion and judging a person.

We can know exactly what the right thing to do is and still choose not to do it.  Everyone makes unhealthy choices at some point or another.  This doesn’t mean that we need to pretend that the right choice isn’t the right choice in order to avoid making people feel like they are being judged.  Let’s focus on the facts, and make it as easy as possible for people to make the best, healthiest choices.  We need to make it easier for people to learn how to cook healthy, whole foods.  We need to support women who are breastfeeding.  Supporting these things is not passing judgment on everyone who chooses something else, it is simply supporting the evidence.

Let’s all Have a Little More Compassion

Choosing do to the right thing is difficult enough when it is obvious what the right thing to do actually is.  It is much, much harder when there are conflicting views and not much real evidence (or conflicting evidence) either way.  Sleep trainers claim that babies must learn to fall asleep by themselves from 4-6 months of age in order to get enough sleep for healthy development.  Attachment parenting experts claim that leaving babies to cry by themselves damages their developing brains.  As Zoe Williams points out, the consequences are dire indeed: your baby’s brain will be harmed!  Forever!  Brain damage and developmental delays are certainly scary spectres.  It’s no wonder that when we do finally decide what the right decision is for us it’s so easy to fall into judging others who don’t choose the same thing.  We think to ourselves, “They’re harming their baby! Don’t they know about the brain damage?!”

What we really need is more research to show what the real effects of each choice are, and more compassion for each other.  We can be compassionate to each other without disregarding the evidence about what the healthiest choices are.  Equally important, we need to be compassionate towards ourselves and our own choices as parents.  Sometimes good people make less than good decisions.  Nobody is perfect.  We are all doing the best we can, and when we are able to do things better, we will.

Image credit: Marcelo Gerpe, stock.xchng

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