When my parenting was criticized

Jul 4, 2008 at 9:04 a.m. ET

I try not to criticize others' parenting in general. I think it's bad karma, really. Every person's experience and situation is different, and I can't know what has come before if I happen to overhear a parenting conversation. Parenting is hard enough without some know-it-all butting in.

Irritated Mother
Last week, someone I know criticized my parenting. It's someone I know well - a younger member of my extended family - and he is not a parent himself. It happened after my husband and I had a talk with Alfs about general expectations for the summer. I was stunned, and a bit stung.

Even though, given the circumstance, I could have, reasonably and completely, dismissed the comments completely, I didn't. Instead, I took the opportunity to reexamine some (but not all) of my parenting. Dismissing would have been so much easier.

There were two specific critical points that this person made: 1) That I hold my kids to a high standard and 2) they are going to hate me.

Too-high expectations?

This was the part of the criticism that, I think, has some validity. It's true that I hold my kids to a high standard in terms of common courtesy and general behavior. I don't think this is a bad thing, necessarily. But the question really is whether the standard is too high. That I am not sure about.

I try to consider each of my kids' relative developmental age and place when it comes to behavioral expectations. With Sunshine, we're working on general "no-whining" and "be kind" issues. With Woody, we often have to address his temper. With Alfs, it's pre-adolescent sullenness and snapping. Treating each other like we want to be treated is a big theme in this house, and I go back to it often when we are dealing with these issues.

As far as other standards, around the house, we all have jobs to do to help keep the household running smoothly. I would never expect Sunshine to be able to water the window boxes and hanging baskets, but she can still help clean up her toys and help feed the animals. The boys sort socks together from the laundry. If that's holding too high a standard, I can live with it.

In terms of other things, I mostly ask that the kids give their best effort.

SO yes, the criticism is correct. I do hold my kids to a high standard, but I don't think it's a bad thing. I think I'd rather expect that my kids CAN do and act in a certain way than expect too little of them. I try to do this on balance for each kid. In fact, when we are talking with each of the kids about behavioral issues, I usually tell them, "I don't ask of you what you are not capable of doing. You can do this!" The criticism is agood reminder to remember keep the standard on balance.

Will they hate me?

This is the part of the criticism that stung a little more, but probably is a little less valid. Will the kids hate me? For bits and pieces of time, probably. I remember being angry and feeling like I hated my parents at various stages of my childhood. But I also loved them at the same time.

It's hard to think about and acknowledge as a parent. As much as I love tham and work so hard to parent them well, they won't agree with all my parenting decisions and may, in fact, hate me for a time. I think this is something that most kids go through in their struggles towards adulthood and adolescence. But hopefully on the other side, and on balance, the kids will understand why I parented the way I did and we'll come back to the core: that we love each other.

So this criticism is correct, yes, but a bit misguided. Parenting is not all roses and rainbows. The goal should not be that my kids always like me and I only parent in a way that they agree with, but that we are helping them grow and learn to make the best decisions while loving them unconditionally. I have to accept that there will be some of that anger along the way.

The imperfect parent

The criticism of my parenting was hard to hear, true or not. I am not a perfect parent. I've made my share of mistakes over the years! If only these kids had come with a personalized instruction book, I sometimes joke.

It was good, however, for me to step back and think about a few things. There are bits and pieces I may want to change. But for the most part, I'm okay with the general direction things are taking. I'll continue to make mistakes, but hopefully I'll continue to adjust as my kids need it. Just as I expect them to do their best and treat others as they want to be treated, I do my best and I try to treat them as I want to be treated: with a whole lot of respect and love.

And my criticizer? I talked with him, too. I think we're okay. And in spite of his criticisms of me, I love him unconditionally, and I told him so. I think it was a shock for him to hear that. His opinion of my parenting may have changed already.

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