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Judging a mama by her kid’s behavior

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Stop it.  Just stop it. 

I was hanging out with some toddlers yesterday in a nursery and one kid was simply a terror from the time he arrived.  He was picking on a few kids, crying, refusing to listen to dear Mrs. Charlotte–the nursery leader.  Mrs. Charlotte is the gentlest soul on the planet, by the way.  She finally asked me to call his mom.  I did.  She came.  He went.  Later he came back and apologized to Mrs. Charlotte and the other children. 

Now.  It never occurred to me to judge the mama for her kid’s behavior.  I can think of a million reasons which have nothing to do with how he is parented to explain why he was behaving that way.  The number one reason:  he was THREE. 

Did you know that a child’s critical faculty is not fully developed until age 6 or 7?  The critical faculty is the part of the conscious brain which judges, analyzes, and evaluates what people say.  In many ways, this helps us understand a child’s behavior.  They are not fully socialized yet.  Every outing or interaction is practice for them.  And in a very important way, this underdeveloped critical faculty emphasizes how words we  say TO children may be absorbed by them.  They do not have the ability to filter messages yet.  Every word they hear is internalized.  A label or a hateful word plants deeply.

Kids are different.  Or haven’t you noticed?  Some are mellow, some shy.  Some like to please.  Some are spirited.  Talkative.  Energetic.  Some have special needs, sensory issues.  Some react behaviorally to certain foods.  Some are loud.  Some have no fear.  Some are slow-to-warm-up.  Some are skeptical.  Grumpy.  Easy-going.  Extroverted. 

Parents are different.  Some are routine-oriented.  Some are strict.  Some are scattered.  Messy.  Neat.  Some yell.  Some hit.  Some use timers and charts.  Some love to cuddle.  Play.  Talk.  Some worry about what people think.  Some read parenting books.  Some do what their parents did.  Some get embarrassed by their kids.  Some helicopter.  Some free-range. 

ALL of us worry about whether we’re doing it *right.*

When someone judges our parenting, it hits that core fear–are we doing it right?  I apparently make an easy target.  I’m pretty open about my struggles with the girls and I also talk/blog about my choice to use gentle discipline.  It is gloriously easy for another mama to dismiss gentle discipline by pointing out certain behaviors in my girls.  Please.  Smarter people than me choose gentle discipline.  They even write books.  If you have a problem, take it up with the experts.   

Let me make it clear, then. 

Obedience is not my primary goal in discipline.  Obedience is wonderful.  I want my kids to obey.  But that is not the FIRST thing I’m working on.  I don’t want to merely correct a behavior.  I want to disciple my children in such a way that they CHOOSE the right behavior to begin with.  Discipling takes time.  It works slowly.  Its primary tool is relationship. 

Jesus was perfect.  And yet his disciples were denying him and betraying him and cutting off ears after several years of close relationship.  Probably not the behavior he was looking for. 

I am not perfect.  My children tantrum and whine.  They get bossy and impolite.  They have many behaviors I’m not looking for.  But I don’t want quick fixes.  I don’t want them to do things “because I said so.”  I don’t want pushovers who will become pressured teens and railroaded adults.  I want strong, emotionally healthy children.  And if that means, they sometimes want to know the reason I say “no” and everything is up for debate–so be it.  I can live with that.      

So gossipy concerned mom at the playgroup:  if it appears my children are unruly, if it appears I’m not time-outting/spanking/fill-in-the-blanking to your satisfaction, please understand that I am working on the behavior.  In ways you don’t witness.  I’ve learned that with my kids, discipline works best when they are calm.  Not when they are in the middle of a tantrum and not when they are angry.  Besides, they are my children…not yours.

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating.  Parenting is hard.  It doesn’t matter how you discipline.  It is hard.  I’m doing my best and doing what feels right for my family.  I know you’re doing the same.  Because we all love our kids and want them to become healthy adults. 

Let’s please play nice and give each other grace.

24 responses »

  1. I love this BLOG!!! It is so nice to hear others using different methods of “discipline”. We have gone through the same thing with others judging how we discipline Preston in a loving and gentile manner! It is just nice to hear the support of other parents who have the same views. Thank you for writing this blog 🙂

  2. What a beautifully written piece! You are a fantastic mother. I love the way you are teaching Norah and Cedar! And in the end they will be strong young women, just like their mom! Love you!!

  3. On the same topic is “praising” mamas for their kids’ nice behavior. I used to want to tell all moms who have those “easy-going, ‘yes ma’am'” kids that they were doing such a good job. Now I tell almost every mom I know that they’re doing a good job, because regardless of how they discipline or how their kids behave, they’re trying, and we (should) look for little moments of wonderful, hopeful and pure goodness in every child.

  4. Here, Here!! I know my MIL talks trash about us not spanking our kids. And I do get a little self indulgent in wondering why then it isn’t working for her because her granddaughter (that lives with her) gets spanked and definitely is not more “behaved” than our girls.

  5. Well said Julie!

  6. One of your best posts ever. What you say about Jesus–you are so right and that comparison never would’ve occurred to me.

  7. I’d like to clone you and put you in grocery stores everywhere 😉

  8. After two very rough playdates with my spirited 4 yr old and leaving one in tears and ashamed- THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!

  9. My first thought about this playdate mom as I read this was “boy…this person has to much time on their hands to be fussin over someone else’s business.” If she read your blog, please come to my farm cuz’ there is a ton of stuff to be done around here 😉 Secondly…the last time I checked we are all a work in progress; kids learn from the time they rise until they fall in their beds at night. What are they learning …. it is important to people please? hmmm.. it’s important to make mommy look good by behaving a certain way? hmmm..I think not .. the bar is raised and has been – we need to model our ways to our Lord & Savior … grace is wonderful 🙂 I know you certainly want no praise for your parenting or you would not be so humble announcing your failures and your desire to be a good mama for your children…BUT for all it’s worth…you are doing a great job sweetie…eyes to the sky not toward the hearts of men…you crazy librarian wanna be!

  10. I am reminded of Norah’s storybook, The Book of Mean People…
    “Big people are little when they are mean. But little people are not big when they are mean….frowning people scare me when they smile.”

    Hell hath no fury like a mother’s parenting style scorned.

    I love you.

    Mean people (person)…shame.

    Scott(father of these awesome children…husband of a gifted & patient [& incredibly hot] wife).

  11. You are so wise. I wish I’d had more of your perspective when my older 2 were littler, been more grace-based and less perfect-behavior-oriented. My oldest is 10 and I am just now seeing through a different lens. I recently read Loving Your Kids on Purpose and while I don’t agree with everything, it was really helpful in reorienting my approach to discipline.

    Mostly, I just love that you have the courage and freedom to be who you are as a parent…it makes me want to be braver. : )

  12. Thank you for this post. It applies to so much more than “discipline,” too. I’ve been dealing with extended family who are convinced that I’m messing up my 8-month-old daughter for life by failing to teach her independence. Not two months ago, she was suddenly yanked away from her father, her familiar surroundings, and her routine, and these people lambaste me for allowing her to sleep in the bed with me, for not leaving her with people unless she’s comfortable with them, and for going to her when she cries for me no matter who’s holding her at the time. “spoiled,” “the baby isn’t the one with the problem; Mama’s the one who can’t let go,” “she’ll only cry for a little while and then she’ll get over it.” I hear these things constantly. They don’t change my behavior with my daughter, but it sure is nice to read something supportive!

  13. I loved spending a spirited day with your family recently, warts and all. I’m sure you noticed some of mine, too. Twenty years from now, you will be grateful for the emphasis on character instead of obedience. Your children will spend less time in therapy, too.

  14. Grace. Julie, you are a beautiful and gifted mama. Thanks for this.

  15. Precious Julie,
    Motherhood is the hardest job required on earth. There is no orientation or on-the-job training. We wade ourselves through, praying as we go, with love as our primary focus.
    Every Mom questions herself…in almost every decision.
    I know your heart. I know you. You have nothing to be concerned about with my granddaughters.
    I could not be prouder of how you and Scott have agreed on discipline, guidance and general parenting!
    You have my total support!

    Mean Person, Hell hath no fury like a grandmother hearing that her daughter’s parenting style is being scorned by calling out her children. I would recommend that you look inward and decide what purpose is being sought by such talk.

    Mom [to this amazingly-talented, wise-beyond-her-years young lady & grandmother to her daughters who make me smile!]

  16. Pingback: Great Stuff I Read for Week of March 13 « A Little Bit of All of It

  17. I enjoyed this post. There is nothing worse than feeling judged yourself so why is it okay to judge others? I think if all the world thought like you did about judging other parents the world would be a much nicer place.

  18. you are doing something important… in your gentle discipline and as a champion for children, mothers. i look up to you, mama.

  19. THanks for this post. Reminded me what I do and why I do it.

  20. You go girl! I totally dig this! The most important thing is not what others think. You are doing the right thing mama!

  21. I can relate to this post both as one who has felt judged and has judged, and I know this is old news now (ha! if only), but lately I’m convicted by how important it is to refuse to be the recipient of gossip. It can start out so innocently under the sincere wish to be a good, empathetic listener. And when the conversation is over, there’s a feeling akin to emotional indigestion.
    When I was a teenager I remember trying to pass on some information that was just pure junk and a good, Christian friend of mine said, “Stop! I don’t want to hear anymore!” I want to strive to adopt that posture: a simple “Why don’t you discuss that with x?” or a dismissive, “I’m sure she’s doing the best she can” and move on. Thanks for bringing this to light Julie. 🙂

  22. Pingback: Mama

  23. Found a law review article that made me think of this post. Have you seen it? Bottom line: support rather than judgment, from shopping malls and playgrounds to casework and family court. Interesting point: apply Pro-Choice ideals across the board. Now then, I may not agree with the author on every belief she espouses, but the idea of tolerance and generosity in society is valuable. It’s hard to be on the receiving end of judgment.

    Click to access Gottlieb_After_First_EIC_Edit%20%28May%2026%29.pdf

  24. Pingback: Judging Parents « the rest of the story…

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