How judging other parents makes us feel bad about ourselves

I consider my first few years of motherhood — particularly my (failed) attempt to be the crunchiest of crunchy mothers after the birth of my second son — the most judgmental years of my life.

They were also, as it happens, my unhappiest and most insecure years as a mom.

So, which caused which?

I always used to assume that my judge-y nature at that time stemmed from my insecurity as a mom: I wasn’t confident about what I was doing, I tried to elevate all my other choices by slamming those who chose differently.

But lately, I’ve been realizing that it went in the other direction, too: the more I judged, the more I felt judged, and the worse I felt as a mom, causing a vicious cycle of judgey-ness that only came to a halt when my life drastically changed.

Earlier this week I wrote about my commitment to walk away from mindlessly reading “hater blogs” and other forms of entertainment that only exist to pick other people apart.

Yes, one big reason is because I think using another person’s downfall and trouble as entertainment is unkind, but another reason is because judging other people – and reading other peoples’ judgments of them — makes me feel bad about myself.

Here’s a made-up example, using the hater-blog scenario: Say I read a post that criticized a mother for dressing her kids in purple too much. It was easy to think, “Ha! They’re so right! Who would ever dress their kids in purple?”

But thirty seconds later I’d be reading a comment saying, “Yeah, and she’s always putting them in blue plaid, too!”

Now I’d feel uncomfortable, experiencing an instant knee-jerk inner dialogue that went something like this: “But my kids wear lots of blue plaid. What’s wrong with blue plaid? Should I leave a comment in support of blue plaid? Wait! Are other parents judging me for wearing blue plaid, too? What about green plaid? Or blue polka-dots? Am I wrong? Is blue plaid really abusive? Are my kids going to be scarred for life with all this blue plaid?”

Of course it’s ridiculous and illogical to second-guess your decisions based on an offhand comment or the opinion of a nasty, irrational critic. But that’s the thing about feeling judged: it’s not always logical, but it always feels bad.

It goes like this: the more you take part in judging, the more you see the world as a place where your actions, your ideas, your very deeply held beliefs, are likely to be judged.

Also, the more you judge, the more you are likely to hang around with excessively judge-y people, and guess what? They’re probably gonna judge you, too.

Or maybe they’ll make a rude comment about somebody else that hits a little too close to home for your comfort. You’ll feel defensive, and tempted to deflect that feeling with more judgement. And…well, it just keeps going. (Remember that vicious cycle I mentioned above?)

I know that some judgement is a normal part of being human. (Yes, I judge child abusers and dog molesters, too.) But it’s one thing to occasionally find yourself repulsed, shocked or disappointed by somebody’s behavior…and another thing to actively surround yourself in a culture of judgey-ness. (You can also hold strong opinions about issues without necessarily judging people.)

If you’re a parent who’s caught up in the vicious cycle of judging others, hoping it’ll make you feel a little better about yourself, believe me…I get it. But I’m here to tell you that you’re hurting yourself most of all.

When I say I don’t like to judge other moms, it’s partly for them. But just as much, it’s for me. I’m a much more confident mother when I don’t rely on a negative picture of other people’s choices to make mine seem better. I’m happier in general when I stay away from people who make judging a hobby.

No matter how confident you are in your own choices, it’s only normal for being around critics to start getting to you.

And no matter how sure you are that you’d never do X, Y, or Z, life has a funny way of making people eat their words.

And the judgey-est words always taste the worst going down.

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