By Ylonda Gault Caviness
You bet you are. And don't let anyone tell you different. Here's how to deflect anyone who tries to steal your mommy mojo.
When we first caught each other's gaze, the older woman gave me a tender, knowing smile. I guess I was awash in that bleary-eyed, new-mother glow. Or maybe it was my unhurried, aimless push of the stroller that signaled I was new at this mom thing. How kind of her to offer a reassuring gesture, I thought. The gentle lady came closer, peeking into the carriage. Suddenly, all sweetness faded. She glared at me and scolded: "No hat? That baby is going to catch her death of cold!"
I was mortified. In my heart, I know I shouldn't have let it bother me. But in my head, dueling emotional responses ranged from defiance — Who does that crotchety bat think she is? — to defeat — Maybe I'm not old enough, wise enough, or good enough to mother my child the right way.
By now, with three kids in tow, I've weathered just about every meddlesome opinion, disapproving eye, and outright countermand you can imagine from what I call the Parenting Peanut Gallery: the folks in your life who sit on the sidelines and heckle you with child-rearing judgments — or, even worse, flout your mom rules and policies behind your back — with no regard for your feelings or authority.
While these digs don't leave visible scarring, they can undercut your natural mothering instincts and leave you plain old fighting mad. "There is no shortage of people ready to pick apart your parenting skills," says Michele Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know. "It can be hurtful, but when you let them shake your confidence in who you are as a mom, that's when the real damage is done."
The secret to being a great mother is believing in yourself. And one of the best ways to do that is to silence that Parenting Peanut Gallery, once and for all. Here's how:
Stand up for yourself.
Address criticism as soon as it happens, so you don't hold in your anger and let it fester. "We women spend a lot of time questioning whether something should or shouldn't make us angry instead of confronting our true feelings," says Borba. "Don't be rude, but let a criticizer know they've crossed a line."
It took many hits for me to finally figure out that in order to feel confident about my parenting, I had to put busybodies in their place. With my firstborn, I often let an off-the-cuff remark from an uppity mom on the playground go seemingly unnoticed, so as not to make a scene. But afterward, I'd be burning up inside. Nowadays, I don't let people get away with offering up annoying advice, and I've managed to come up with some pretty witty retorts. Recently, a nanny at the playground said to me rather haughtily, "Hot sauce will get your son to stop sucking his fingers." I forced a smile and answered: "Thanks. He's not yet 2, but if he's still sucking them at 22, I'll take you up on that."
Not so quick with a comeback? Bria Simpson, author of The Balanced Mom: Raising Your Kids Without Losing Yourself, suggests using this easy script: "I know you have different ideas about parenting. I respect yours and I need you to respect mine."
Use ammo from the experts.
Your instincts are your best handbook to mothering. But it doesn't hurt to arm yourself with informed guidance. Read a book or two — but not 20. Consult your pediatrician. Talk to friends whose parenting styles you admire. "Mix and match to arrive at your own style," says Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., founder of newsforparents.org. "When you find out what works for you, you won't be so vulnerable to the push and pull of outsiders."
And when you really want to get the quibblers off your back, never underestimate the power of these three words: "My pediatrician says...." With that preface you get instant cred, even if you say that your baby is allergic to mauve. Seriously.
Get your guy on your side.
Most nights, around 8 p.m., you'll find me issuing orders like a traffic cop: "Put your homework in your backpacks. Take a shower. Brush your teeth." Some nights everything clicks, and by 8:30 everyone is ready to go night-night. But other nights, my husband derails my system by offering horseback rides, telling jokes, or regaling the kids with stories about his childhood. Sometimes I find this kind of sweet. But most of the time, it just eats me up.
"Spousal sabotage is a big complaint from moms — who often play 'bad cop' by default when dads just want to have fun," says Simpson. Avoid chastising your partner in front of the kids in the heat of the moment. "That kind of squabbling undermines both parents' authority and teaches kids to play you against each other," she explains. Instead, pull your guy aside and quietly explain that his actions undercut your efforts. Then suggest alternatives to his rowdy behavior, such as reading a book with the children or participating in what you're doing so he's not sabotaging you. Later, follow up with him — make sure you're still on the same page about house rules and remind him how crucial it is that you maintain a united parenting front.
Meanwhile, it's also critical to remain somewhat flexible — especially when your kids are at a friend's or relative's house. "When you model flexibility, children learn positive lessons about problem-solving," says Elizabeth Berger, M.D., a child psychiatrist and the author of Raising Kids with Character. Gina Williams, 41, a mom in Glenn Dale, MD, is adamantly against TV and video games, and so far her strident house rule has held up. But when her two sons — Zion, 6, and Dylan, 2 — visit Grandma, they're treated to a screen-time bonanza: television, video, handheld games, you name it. Instead of fighting with her mother, however, Gina softened up her rule. "I focus on the things I can control in my own house," she says. "I just say, 'What happens at Grandma's stays at Grandma's.'"
Ditch the people who bring you down.
Feeling a certain amount of self-doubt about our mothering is normal, says Borba. But when your friends actually add to your parenting insecurity, it might be time to find a new mommy group. For Patty Kamson, 44, a nearly 20-year friendship had to end because her pal kept criticizing her parenting skills. "She thought I was soft on my kids and had no qualms voicing her opinion," says Patty, who lives in Los Angeles. While the criticisms never led Patty to change her mothering style, there were times when "I wondered, What if she's right?" she says. But when Patty's daughter had a meltdown during a get-together, her now former friend "began to lay into me about how my kids and I need to toughen up," she says. So Patty cut her loose. "Riding you about how you mother? Nothing cuts deeper than that," she explains. "I feel better about my parenting — and myself — without that toxic relationship."
Stay true to you.
All mommy, all the time isn't good for your kids, and it isn't good for you either. To keep your own inner voice from being drowned out by the cacophony from underminers, you have to stay connected to the woman you were before you became a mom. Taking just 15 minutes a day for yourself for some quiet reflection will help you hone and trust your instincts. "You're much less affected by what others say if you trust your own gut," says Simpson. And while you'll never be totally free of folks who carp about your parenting choices, the only critic who really matters is the one you tuck in at night.
Originally published on November 18, 2008
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