Momsplainers: How to Cope With Catty, Judgmental Moms

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Parenting isn’t a competitive sport. But if you have kids, you’ve probably had run-ins with some who think it is. Anne Gilbert, M.D., a psychiatrist with Indiana University Health, explains why some people feel the need to critique your parenting and how you can (politely) give them the brush-off.]

Parenting isn’t a competitive sport. But if you have kids, you’ve probably had run-ins with other parents who seem to think it is. They’re the other moms on the playground, in PTA meetings, or even in your own family who have an opinion on every aspect of childrearing, and they never hesitate to tell you what they think you’re doing wrong and why their choices are better.

What is it about having children that makes some moms believe they hold all the secrets to raising a perfect kid?

The reality is that while these know-it-all parents may appear self-assured this kind of behavior is all based on insecurity, explains Dr. Gilbert. It’s an insecurity many parents feel as they try to navigate the complicated world of caring for their kids, where there’s often no one right way to do things.

“Studies show that the more choices you have, the less happy you are with the choice you make,” Dr. Gilbert explains. “Parents are bombarded with so much information about how to raise children that it can make them feel very insecure if they aren’t doing everything they read or hear about.” Since mothers still typically do more hands-on parenting and do more reading on the subject, they may be more vulnerable to the insecurity that drives a know-it-all attitude, she adds.

How you should handle a know-it-all’s unwanted advice and criticism depends largely on how close you are to the person who’s giving it. “If it’s a stranger or an acquaintance, you can say something vague in response to their advice, like ‘That’s interesting,’ or ‘Oh, really?’ and change the subject,” Dr. Gilbert says.

Though it’s hard not to feel defensive and a little angry when you’re being critiqued, you’re better off staying in neutral—especially since getting upset will have little impact on the critic anyway. “Anger is an emotion that damages the person experiencing it, not the person it’s directed at,” Dr. Gilbert says.

If you’re dealing with a close friend or relative who makes the occasional comment on your parenting, Dr. Gilbert recommends politely defending yourself by saying you’re following the advice of your child’s pediatrician or the behavioral expert at school.

However, if the criticism is constant, a sit-down conversation may be in order. “Since the comments are rooted in insecurity, compliment the person first,” Dr. Gilbert says (“You’ve done a wonderful job raising Jack” will do.) Then, explain that while you’ll take their advice under consideration, you’re going in a different direction with your child.

 “Not every parenting style works equally well with all kids, so you can tell the person that while their style is great for their child’s disposition, your child doesn’t respond as well to it,” Dr. Gilbert says.

-- By Jessica Brown

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