Doing it wrong: The way to set another parent straight, if you must

Parents can be judgy as hell, and we should all strive not to be That Judgy Parent…but what about when it’s something serious? Hayley DeRoche has devised a template for that very scenario!

A friend from Canada once told me about her experience coming to America. She confessed that she didn’t believe the American moms when we said we feared having Child Protective Services (CPS) called on us for mundane things by people who think of themselves as parenting vigilantes. But once she visited the US, she realized the struggle is real.

“I found that NYC was SO VERBALLY JUDGY. Like, telling me my baby was too cold (as she was sweating in six layers) or physically adjusting her blankets. That was baffling to this Canadian, who is used to–AT MOST–little old ladies talking about socks during the summer.” says my aforementioned friend, who just got back from New York. “I did actually find that people were occasionally really helpful when we were juggling a stroller and suitcases on stairs. On the whole, Canada is much more reserved with…everything.”

Yep. People will judge you to your face in America! And they sure as heck will adjust your kid’s blankets without asking. Boo, vigilantes! But let’s take some deep calming breaths and go back to that whole adjusting-a-kid’s-blankets consternation. That’s easier to tackle. And we are tired.

So what do you do when you see blankets not quite to your liking? “Leave them be,” is the correct answer, unless the kid is blue or being very clearly smothered. But what about when someone posts a picture to Instagram and their child’s car seat buckle is clearly not buckled correctly? You might feel stricken with indecision. Do you say something and turn into That Judgy Parent or do you say nothing and be a guilty party if something happens (something like a fatal accident)? You know the old saying that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all–but when it really matters, how do you react?

I’m going to tell you a secret that probably isn’t a secret. You can say something and be nice, but it requires some finesse, empathy, and tact. Carseats are surprisingly hard to get right–if they were easy, I doubt so many places (including Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services) would provide safety checks and tutorials and installation. Out of all the parent friends I have, I can’t count how many have mentioned that they struggled with feeling confident about getting it right, or were horrified when they realized they’d been doing it wrong. Sometimes the only way you’re going to find out you’re doing something wrong though is to have someone–gulp–tell you.

But how do exactly do you do the telling?

I have come up with a template for difficult conversations. To be clear, I don’t go around looking for people’s mistakes. Lest I sound like an annoying know-it-all, I had someone point out something to me this way, and I found it to be a really helpful and non-stressful way to receive information, particularly when I was feeling vulnerable. I call it the CPS system, because I’ve got jokes.

First, here’s what my CPS system stands for:

  • Condemning is bad
  • Privately correct–do not under any circumstance post this as a photo comment for the love of all things holy
  • Show solidarity–you have struggled with things too, whether it’s this hard thing or another, and it’s good to remind yourself and your friend of your own imperfect-ness

2. Here’s the template for you to use:

  • Beginning: Example of a time this same thing you’re about to tell them about also happened to you, or a similar time if that doesn’t apply.
  • Middle: The information they need. Example: A link to The Car Seat Lady that a friend linked to you, and you’re paying forward by sharing with them, too.
  • End: Reiterate that you’ve struggled, yourself. Solidarity.

— ∮∮∮ —

It is imperfect. It is difficult. The personal message might still hurt to receive. Any sort of message, however loving, can feel like a dagger to the heart when it comes to parenting choices and methods. Everyone around us is screaming at us about all the ways we’re Doing It Wrong, so to also have a friend correct us is painful. It can strike fear, in part because American society at large is so keen to jump on parents–especially mothers–about anything they could be doing “wrong,” because won’t someone think of the children?! Forget baseball, condemning moms is basically our national pastime.

We live in a culture of fear, a society that waggles its fingers at parents who so much as glance at a phone while at the playground. Don’t even think about letting your kids walk home from that playground, you monster. Or maybe it’s something as mundane as a diaper preference that can’t hold a candle to your superior diapering choices. These are things about which I would suggest you hold your tongue / fingers on the keyboard.

But sometimes there’s something that you know is truly dangerous, and then you’ve gotta muster your empathy and maybe admit to a time you did something incorrectly too, grab their shoes, put them on your feet, and say something. Kindly, privately1, and without condemnation or a hint that they might be a Bad Parent–because it’s probably going to feel like that from their point of view. If you can’t hold your tongue because you worry about true harm being done, blunt your knife as best you can. But if you want to speak up because whatever they’re doing is not your style–that’s different.

Don’t forget that this person you’re about to critique is, above all, your friend.

  1. I can’t stress this part enough. There is no reason at all to have this conversation in front of other eyes and ears. 
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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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