Judging the Judging: A Motherload of Self-Righteous Parenting

Through my friend and fellow blogger Kristin’s website What She Said, I recently discovered a wonderful blog called Things I Can’t Say.  Things I Can’t Say author Shell, writes honest, accessible, and witty posts about motherhood and other topics but I really love her Pour Your Heart Out Wednesdays, where she invites fellow bloggers to share their inner struggles with courage and the conviction of cold hard print.  It is liberating, and in that vein, I share my most recent struggles with judging others and being judged.


Self-righteousness is probably one of my more challenging faults.  I quickly assess and analyze a person or situation and while many times I can reserve judgment, when I do pound the gavel, it is with some force and conviction.  Having a background in Psychology probably contributes to this tendency, as I seek to explain and understand an individual’s current predicament or behavior through theoretical constructs.   While I also balance my self-righteousness with empathy and compassion, sometimes, I give in to my baser, nastier self, because it just feels so darn good to think I am better than…

I find this particular failing especially challenging when it comes to women judging women.  There seems to be something inherent in the female-female relationship that provokes women to categorize and fault-find.  Perhaps it is an evolutionary instinct where we want to be the dominant female in order to protect and preserve our bloodlines.  Whatever it is, the effects can be wicked.

Mothers seem particularly susceptible to being both target and judge regarding parenting abilities and philosophies. I’ve been giving this topic a great deal of thought lately, especially, as a young mother who has been both the victim and perpetrator of these psychic attacks.  On the receiving end of a judgment attack, I have felt undermined, angry, hurt, and misunderstood.  When I put myself in the position of judging another mother, my initial feelings range from glee to smug self-satisfaction, until they give way to self doubt sprinkled with flecks of guilt.  Sometimes even gratitude and thankfulness for my own strengths or successes are thin veneers for saying “I’m so glad I do it my way.”  If I’m being honest with myself, which I attempt to be, I know that my rejection of another’s parenting style is often laden with this underlying theme, “They are mothering in a way which I have rejected because I find it inferior, distasteful, or just plain wrong.”  If I have rejected a parenting philosophy or practice because it does not fit for me or my daughter, I can sustain a gracious live and let live sort of feeling.  But if I have a serious issue with the practice or even with the person, I can sit so high on my parenting pedestal that even a completely constructed Tower of Babel couldn’t possibly reach me.

While most of this judging is an internal process, I can’t help wondering the divisive effect it has both in the immediate interpersonal relationship and in a larger societal context.  Even when words aren’t spoken, tone, body language and facial expressions give away more than we intend.  Judgment masquerading as advice giving can reveal our secret self righteousness.  We have all felt the discomfort of trying to determine whether a person is being friendly and helpful or insidiously and passive aggressively critical.  And having been on both sides of this experience creates doubt where perhaps there should be trust in the intentions of others.  Doubt leads to caution and to subtle fractures in a relationship that could otherwise be nurtured.  Overt statements of judgment can at least be discussed and defended; you at least allow the other person a chance to explain their perspective or practice.  But for sensitive souls, these overt judgments can be cruel and excessively stress-filled.  Trust can be damaged, and moms seeking support through the challenges of parenthood can clam up for fear of appearing weak or inadequate.  For a group already confronting the possibility of post-partum emotional issues, emotional isolation can have devastating consequences.

I’ve danced around this issue with some young mothers, and delved into discussions with those I’m closest.  From the beginning of pregnancy, mothers are bombarded with advice about everything from diet and exercise, to emotional preparation for parenthood, to nursing v. bottle feeding, to co-sleeping v. sleeptraining, to discipline.  Pretty much every mother I know has some story about an obnoxious advice-giver who left a bad taste.  In the more complicated cases, family or friends can be so domineering or opinionated, that the young mother can come to doubt her own decision-making or competence.  It is not enough that parents in the information age have to sort through the blast of often conflicting parenting theories on child care, but then they have to belabor the point with everyone from a stranger at the grocery store to work colleagues and even family.  It can leave one feeling inadequate, confused, and flailing or failing.

This is what we do to each other when we judge.  But where do you draw the line at judging?  I have watched parents abusively yell, hit, or yank at their kids in the grocery store or mall parking lot and I certainly had an opinion about those situations.  I have heard parents, in this day and age, still advocating for spanking as a disciplinary measure.  I have perceived parents to make choices that selfishly support their best interests rather than the interests of their child.  And then there are the floods of medical and psychological experts ready and waiting with studies and statistics to help you provide proof for your perspective, leverage for your leanings.  Is it really possible to be judgment free?  Especially for moms who care not only about the children of our wombs or our homes, but the children in our communities?

Perhaps I’ll never eradicate my judging tendencies.  What I can strive to do is this:  I can question my motives for judging and whenever possible, give the other parent the benefit of the doubt.  After all, we only see snapshots of other parent’s lives and every child has different needs.  I know I have a protective mother hen instinct that wants to envelop every child with motherly love, but even when my own children are grown, I’ll never be sure that I’ve done completely right by them.  I certainly do not have the right to interfere with another mother, even silently, when the stakes are relatively low.  We all muddle through, some of us really try to do our best, and perhaps all us gals could use a little trust and support rather than self-righteous, pride serving sanctimony.  After all, I’m doing battle with myself one day at a time, and that front requires all the energy I can spare.

17 responses to “Judging the Judging: A Motherload of Self-Righteous Parenting

  • Shell Things

    Such honesty in this post. The truth is that we all judge about something. Some of us vocalize it and some of us keep it to ourselves, but we all have something where we have that gut reaction of judging(this is my PYHO for next week). It’s what we decide to do with those feelings that counts, I think.

    • pmlevitt

      Thanks for providing this wonderful forum for our inner struggles! Yeah, we do have that gut reaction; I’m eager to read your post. I try to keep my mouth shut nearly all of the time, but then, I do criticize others in private with those closest to me. So I am trying, as are most self-aware folks, I think! I just love your blog and look forward to reading more!

  • Kristin @ What She Said

    I hope our conversation the other day about sleep training didn’t precipitate this post…

    I make a conscious effort not to judge others’ parenting styles and/or abilities because I know I wouldn’t want mine judged. Parenting is not an exact science; it’s a learning process based on multiple factors, not the least of which is your child’s personality. What you *think* you knew, or *thought* you’d do before you had kids doesn’t always come to pass. Everyone is different, and I try to remember that when observing how others parent.

    That said, I know exactly what you mean about finding yourself high on a pedestal sometimes. we’re all human, it’s gonna happen. The key is to talk yourself down.

    • pmlevitt

      No. You asked if I wanted to hear, and I said yes. So with the giving of permission, I consented to hear what you had to say! Most people don’t even ask, and I’m open to hearing other thoughts. It’s ok to discuss differences amongst friends. There has to be a certain agreement though that both value each other as parents. I disagree vocally with many of my friends, but we have a mutual understanding based on experience and trust in each other to know we aren’t being judgy. It is a fine line, for sure, and examining our motivations is pretty important, I think, at least for myself. I totally agree about what you thought you’d do before you had kids; there are conversations I recall pre-parenting that I really regret, because I had no idea what it is like to make decisions about your own child. As we talked about the other day, sometimes we end up doing what is right for our kids, even when we never thought a particular style would be an option!

  • Laura Truesdell

    Pam, I was a bit surprised by this post because I have never associated the word “self-righteous” with you. I think you are a very self-aware, thoughtful, modest person who routinely hesitates to judge others in a negative way or to jump to conclusions. Your entry today is a reflection of your depth and your commitment to self-improvement. But that’s just my humble opinion! 🙂 Laura (in NC)

    • pmlevitt

      My dear friend, thank you for thinking the best of me! I do try, but I have my low points, as everyone does. I’m lucky to have a friend who believes in me! You are right that I am committed to self-improvement, even when it feels relentless!

  • Megan

    A timely post for me. I have often been a “judger” in some aspects of parenting, particularly breastfeeding. Having had 2 easy breastfeeding experiences, and now 2 challenging breastfeeding experiences, I have been humbled, which is probably something my ego needed.
    And as I have learned, so much of parenting is responding to your individual child’s needs, not one set of rules. Clearly there are basics for me that apply to all my children – no spanking/corporal punishment, for one, and a general theme that has run through parenting all my children (attachment parenting) but it hasn’t been the same for each child, because they’ve each needed different things.

    • pmlevitt

      Each of us has our core issues that we find really important with our kids. For me, it is discipline and AP. But I know other, really good moms, who balance things a bit differently. And only this week, I have had two horrible days where I felt like every disciplinary tool I possessed was being tested. I am sure to discover more should we have additional kiddos! I have also been frequently humbled as a judger as I hear another side to a story or as I experience a new stage of motherhood. Thanks for your honest admissions! I think we all judge, and being honest about it is the thing that keeps us all trusting each other as friends and mothers even when we make different choices. It’s all about keeping that respect and trust going even when our parenting styles are different.

  • Juliana

    Personally I’ve found that the longer I’ve been a Mother and the more children I have, the less judgmental I am. I think I was the most judgmental before I had kids (have you heard of the book, “I was the Best Mother before I had kids” or something like that?) After I had A I was just learning about all the different parenting styles/theories. I found the one that felt best to me (AP) and I became very self-righteous about those that did not follow AP. Four years and almost two more kids later, I’m even less judgmental. Even though my basic core beliefs are AP (especially for young babies), I do a lot of things now that don’t follow AP. I fall and fail and flail a lot more because I have more kids and duties to juggle. And, you know what? I forgive myself more for those failings because I know now how hard it is and I know I’m doing my best and that overall, I think I do pretty well. I definitely do have my moments when I see what another Mom is doing and get up on my high-horse, but with more experience under my belt now I know that I have been that mother having the awful day with her kids too. I know other people have looked down on me in a moment of weakness and struggle with my kids. I know they’ve misjudged too because they didn’t have all the facts and sometimes things seem different than they really are. Because I’ve been on the other side, I think I give a lot more compassion to Moms struggling with their kids than I ever have before. The longer I do this, the more I realize I don’t know. And the more I realize that some things that work for one kid, won’t work at all for your next kid and you will be starting from scratch.

  • Juliana

    If you would have walked past me at the Mall yesterday at exactly the wrong moment, you would have seen C running away from A and I at an outdoor mall, five feet from the parking lot. You would have seen me yelling at C to come back to us because as pregnant as I am and with another child and several packages and diaper bag, I couldn’t run after her. Then when she still didn’t come back, you would have seen me put down all my stuff on the sidewalk and count to five threatening a spanking. When my child smiled coyly at my threat, you would have seen me leave all my belongings and my older child on the sidewalk and run 8 months prego and red in the face towards my child, grab her, slap her thigh and carry her football-style back to my van where I strapped her in kicking and screaming. You would have continued to hear screaming coming from my van while I first buckled in my older child and then, exhausted, waddled the 20 feet back to the sidewalk for all of my belongings that were left on the sidewalk. Then you would have seen me pull away, windows down, with my kid still screaming bloody murder from the back. I *know* that I would have judged me before I had kids, and probably after I had Annalise too. These days when I see a Mom in a similar predicament, I give her a look of compassion and maybe even a wink.

    • pmlevitt

      I have had my mommy moments too. Ones that I would have been certain to receive a judging look, had they happened in public. I can understand your predicament in this situation, as I think most parents would. I have also buckled a screaming, writhing kid into a car, with a less than pleasant demeanor. I have sat on the grocery store floor restraining a screaming child, and I have carried one through a parking lot. I know you, and I know you to be a thoughtful parent. While we may differ on the spanking issue, I know that you are a good parent who puts massive amounts of time and energy and thoughfulness into her mothering. It sounds like my admissions of times when I have been judgmental in stores etc. may have struck a nerve. Believe me, there is a difference in being concerned about your child’s safety and being pregnant and impaired from chasing her, and being generally nasty and angry and abusive towards your child, which is the situation I witnessed in Walmart. But, who knows, maybe there was more to that situation. This is what I am referring to, though. For every judgment you make, there are situations and people and contexts in which you either find yourself or someone you know whom you respect as a parent who has brought that judgment into question. It is all a learning experience, right? Thanks for sharing and being honest!

  • Juliana

    You didn’t offend me, just wanted to give an example of what you’re talking about and how it could be perceived differently than what it is. There are plenty of times where the judgment is warranted because a lot of people are not very nice to their kids. But, sometimes, it is just a bad day, and that’s why it’s important to keep ourselves in check, which was the whole point of your post! 🙂

    • pmlevitt

      I’m glad! I would hate to judge one of my best friends in my post on judging! I think your example perfectly illustrates the point! Thanks again for sharing so honestly.

  • Indu

    Wow you write so eloquently! 
    Sometimes we judge, sometimes we compare. While its true judging others needs to be in check, I believe we moms do it sometimes only because it validates our supposedly superior parenting style. I don’t really look down upon a mom who needs to play and replay episodes of Dora so her kid can finish a meal, but I do feel like I scored in that department, chose a better parenting technique than she did. If judging others sometimes makes us feel better about ourselves, affirms our parenting choices, would it still be bad? Those of us conscientious parents who strive to inculcate high values and virtues in our children probably feel the need to be disassociated from parents that don’t rank so high on our scale. So we judge. 

    • pmlevitt

      Thanks, Indu! I agree that sometimes a comparison is innocent, just an assessment of difference. It is when we assign a value to the comparison to make ourselves feel superior that it gets dangerous. I think we can feel pride in our parenting achievements without necessarily belittling another in our minds. It is a fine, fine line to walk, and we can all use an ego-boost or confidence from time to time. We just have to watch who we take down in the process.

  • adriennesfts

    This is an honest look. Great post! It’s the second post I’ve read tonight that makes me take a look in the mirror on the whole judging thing. I need to work on it. I’m not even one to come off as judgmental, but I’m relaizing I am guilty of this more than I realize.

  • pmlevitt

    It is an ongoing challenge for me; thanks for reading and your honest sharing!

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