How to Deal With Parenting Bullies Who Are ‘Just Trying to Help’

Why does everyone have to be so judgmental?

Shannon Hicks March 22, 2016
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I went to high school just like the rest of you, but I swear there’s no peer pressure like mom peer pressure. To be perfectly honest, it sneaked up on me. I didn’t have nine months of a growing belly that strangers considered to be public property. I never debated about breast or bottle feeding, vaccines or no vaccines. I just walked into life one day as a plain old single girl and woke up the next day mom to a preschooler. At least that’s how it looked to everyone who didn’t know my backstory.

And the noise was deafening. Everyone had their opinions about everything related to parenting and they were all yelling that their way was the best way—the only way even. In retrospect, I think this is because we all know how important parenting is and we are all terrified that we will mess it up. So we pick our sides and cling to our way with all of our might. Because we’re scared.

Add to this the reality that foster and adoptive parents are likely parenting children who experienced some level of trauma. Trauma changes brain chemistry. Parenting techniques that work with other children simply don’t work with many children who experienced early trauma. This makes the peer pressure sound that much louder. Especially when it is coming from curious strangers, casual acquaintances, or faceless folks on the internet. And most especially if it comes when you are trying to help a dysregulated child calm themselves down and save face in public.

Here’s my strategy for dealing with the unwanted advice from folks who claim that they are “just trying to help:”

Ignore, educate, or connect.

If the comments come from a stranger, most often, I just ignore them. A smile and nod go a long way, and everyone leaves feeling okay. Not every fight is worth the energy it takes. And, truthfully, I don’t think it’s my job to educate every curious stranger about foster care, adoption, or trauma-informed caregiving. It’s my job to do what is best for my kids and my family. Whether that looks “effective” to everyone in public is not that big of a deal.

If the comments come from an acquaintance, I usually slip into educator mode. I give a brief explanation of why I am making the parenting choice that I am and send them in the direction of more helpful information if they are interested. (Empowered to Connect is a great place to start.)

If the comments come from someone that I consider a friend, someone who has taken the time to get to know me and my kids, this is when I have to take a step back. There may need to be some educating, but my main goal when this happens is to affirm the friend’s role in my family’s life and to let them know that I hear and value their opinion. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will take their advice, but it does mean that I will take it into consideration, and that I will choose to value the relationship over that particular issue.

If the comments come from a faceless “expert” on the internet, I’ve found it particularly helpful to employ the “ignore and connect” strategy. No one ever wins internet arguments. Ignore the comments, do what’s best for your family, and connect with some real-life people who will love you and support your decisions. I know this is easier said than done, but it is possible. For real.

Foster and adoptive families, what do you think? How do you deal with judgmental comments about how you choose to parent your kids?

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Shannon Hicks

Shannon is mom to two amazing kids who joined her family through foster care adoption. She is passionate about advocating for children through her writing and her job as a kindergarten teacher. You can read more from her at Adoption, Grace and Life.


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