‘Mum judgement’ is a thing. An unhelpful, distressing thing. Everyone has an opinion on how others parent and some don’t hold back.
‘She shouldn’t let her kids get so dirty’
‘She yelled at her kid and he cried. She is so cruel.’
‘Maybe if she wasn’t at work all the time her kid would be better behaved.’
It’s the dirty look a stranger gives you in a café. The side eye your mum friends give each other when they think you’re not looking. Or a family member’s thoughtless comment at a party.
We’re at our worst online. Abandoning manners we thrust forward our opinion, unsolicited and uncensored, oblivious to the mother on the receiving end, her heart sinking as she reads thoughtless words.
Why do we judge?
We make judgements at every moment of every day. We take in the available information, filter it through our experience and draw conclusions. It’s how we know the baby’s nappy needs changing and the dog made that mess in the lounge room.
Being judgmental is something quite different. When we’re judgmental we’re critical in an unhelpful way. Sometimes of others, but often of ourselves.
“I am probably too critical of others and I know I’m even harder on myself”
The human brain is wired for survival and quickly responds if we perceive a threat, either physical or social. The older man glaring at the toddler with the iPhone worries that society is going to rack and ruin. The mother who made the snide comment at the school gate is secretly anxious about her own parenting skills. The judgmental response is an attempt to feel less threatened by the actions of others.
“I think I judge others as a way to feel better about myself”
Social comparison also drives judgement. In an effort to determine our worth we base our self-evaluation on how we stack up against others. It’s not always nice but it’s normal human behaviour. Most of us have the social skills and self-control to keep our comparisons in check but occasionally we slip, some more seriously than others.
Judgement and unhappiness
Judgement is sometimes an indication of how others view the world. Their negativity is not the result of your actions but a reflection of their own suffering. Studies have shown a correlation between a consistently negative attitude towards others and poor mental health.
When judgement isn’t judgement
‘I tend to feel judged when I’m already feeling guilty or inadequate’
Some judgmental behaviour is open. It’s the woman shouting at you to keep your children under control in the supermarket (true story), or the myriad of hurtful comments made on the internet. Other judgement is subtler. So subtle it may not be there at all.
That survival mechanism that alerts us to threat can get a little trigger happy. If you’re already uncomfortable about your child’s screen time or diet or behaviour, you may be primed to see every glance as a dirty look and interpret every comment as criticism. As soon as your brain gets wind of it, it goes into overdrive, analysing and ruminating. You make your own judgement about the judgement – ‘He thinks I’m a terrible parent,’ ‘She’s judging me for buying my kid a doughnut.’
There’s no evidence but we fill in the gaps based on how we’re feeling about ourselves. We invent a back story, imbue it with emotion, dwell on it and convince ourselves of how true and real it is. The end result? We feel awful. Psychologists call this ‘mind reading.’ It’s common and causes us unnecessary distress.
Five points to consider when you’re feeling judged
- You decide how to feel. You cannot control another person’s behaviour but you can control how you feel about it. If you’re on the receiving end of overt criticism you’ll undoubtedly be taken aback, maybe shocked and distressed. It does not have to reduce you to a puddle of anxiety though. Ask yourself – Is this criticism real? Is it valid? Am I going to let myself get upset by this? Or should I get all ‘Taylor’ and shake it off? You decide.
- Are you judging yourself? Has a comment hit a sensitive spot? Does it hurt because it’s reinforcing a negative message you already hear from yourself? As parents we set ourselves high standards and when we can’t meet those standards (and realistically, we can’t always meet them) we feel terrible about ourselves. Try exercising self-compassion. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. No-one is perfect. Recognise that everyone experiences similar struggles, and be kind to yourself. Self-compassion allows you to move on from a difficult moment and into a more positive, productive state of mind.
- Don’t go looking for it. If you are upset by online comments, stop reading. If you feel judged by people in your life, avoid them when you can. With brains wired to look for negativity we sometimes need to set firm boundaries in order to keep positivity in our lives. If you still struggle with others’ judgemental attitudes, remember to own your parenting decisions. Self-belief is your armour. Rather than get caught up in what was said by whom, take a step back and remind yourself that someone else’s opinion, decisions and actions are not a reflection of your own.
- Be the change you want to see in the world. Step up for your kids and show them that although others may not be kind and accepting, you will not be sucked into their vortex of negativity. You will be kind and accepting of others and their differences. Parent with a non-judgemental attitude, of yourself and others, and your kids will learn to do the same.
- Is it something more? Sometimes worries about feeling judged cannot be dismissed easily. Social anxiety – the persistent fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people – can lead to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. If you’re tried but failed to deal with feeling judged or those feelings are keeping you from the life that you want to lead, seek the help of your doctor or a psychologist. Sometimes we cannot do it all alone.