A parent who keeps finding fault is using this as a defence mechanism. Such behaviour helps him or her feel better regarding insecurities about his or her parenting style, explains Mimi L Syjuco, a counsellor with Gentle Mind Counselling and Psychotherapy.
She notes, “People subconsciously project unappealing or unwanted feelings and emotions onto someone else, rather than admit to and work on them. These projections are often packaged as nasty criticism.”
Recalls Su Mei, a project manager who has a 4-year-old daughter, Serena, “One of Serena’s classmates at preschool is very active, so he ends up disrupting the class quite often. In a parents’ WhatsApp chat room, a mother shared how she felt this boy would affect her son’s the mean-spiritedness of her words.”
What a judgmental parent wants is to be perceived as a responsible parent. Skye Tan, a family life specialist at Focus on the Family, points out that when a child misbehaves, people assume it’s because of poor parenting ability.
For instance, if a mother sees another child playing in a puddle, she might quickly show disapproval of that child’s parents because she thinks this is not how her own child would behave. This is because society usually looks more favourably on kids who are neat and tidy.
Our fast-paced and efficiency-driven society has also made us quick to judge and less mindful of other’s feelings.
Quoting the late American president Theodore Roosevelt, Syjuco says, “Comparison is the thief of joy. The highly curated portrayals of others’ lives on social media may cause parents to assess and judge their own spouses, children, family lives, and ultimately themselves, as sadly ‘lacking’. They can become more anxious about making their family conform to what they think is more ‘right’.”
For example, does reading a post about the neighbour’s son getting into university trigger feelings of dissatisfaction? How often have you hit “Like” on influencer-mothers’ images of cute kids, cool husband, and a beautiful home, then gripe silently about your difficult brood and undone chores?
It can also take a toll on your relationships with others and with the family. For one, the child of overly critical parents is likely to grow up judgmental.
So, it’s crucial to model for your child how words can affect others’ feelings. Own up to your judgmental remarks and use the opportunity to engage him or her in an honest conversation about how to reflect on, recover from and repair such behaviour.
Syjuco suggests, “Try saying something like ‘You know what? What I said just now was not very nice at all and I don’t feel good about it. Do you have any ideas about how to have said it more kindly instead?’”
Tan points out that parents are their children’s first role model in terms of attitude and behaviour. “As a child learns to become less forgiving and more impatient, he might end up treating his parents in the same way, and believe it’s okay for him to judge everyone.”
Tell yourself that it is okay to not be perfect ― the kinder you are to yourself, the gentler you can be to others.
4 tips for parents who want to be less judgmental
Nobody wants to be around people who make him or her feel like he or she can’t do anything right. Syjuco offers tips, so that you can learn to be more encouraging towards others.
#1 Check yourself
Listen to what you are saying and examine where these judgements come from. Are you replaying criticism you’ve heard and passing it off as “well-intentioned feedback” to that young mother struggling in the supermarket queue? Or are you communicating negatively because of your fears and anxieties?
#2 Be kind to yourself
Research by Dr Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas in the US, and who wrote Self-Compassion, states that self-compassion can boost our mental well-being and resilience. Tell yourself that it is okay to not be perfect ― the kinder you are to yourself, the gentler you can be to others.
#3 Challenge yourself to use new ways to convey encouragement
Don’t use critical remarks turn your words into a weapon ― use what you say to help build confidence in a fellow mum.
#4 Focus on the positive
Train your brain to become more resilient by noticing the good. When you see a post-baby picture of your ex-colleague on Instagram pushing her newborn in a $1,000-stroller, refrain from saying, for instance, “What a materialistic show-off!”. Say something like, “What a cute baby!” instead!
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