What is it about parenting that makes us so judgemental? I hate the judgement that we parent’s suffer, I have years of professional experience in being non-judgemental, and I genuinely believe that there isn’t one ‘right’ way to parent and yet…if I am honest, I must confess that I am tempted to judge other parents all the time. ‘Oh,’ I whisper to myself self-righteously, ‘I would never do that…’ Then I cringe in disgust at my own stupidity. Just where does that hateful, self-serving little voice come from? Just what is under all of that judgement? What, exactly, is at stake? Parenting is scary. It can be terrifying, in fact. In becoming a parent, we find that we’ve made ourselves vulnerable, vulnerable to being hurt dreadfully, vulnerable to experiencing true horrors. We could:
- Be forced to watch our children suffer
- Discover that we have failed to prepare our children for the world
- Experience a yawning distance between ourselves and our children
- Find that our children have done things we consider abhorrent
- Live to see our children die
With such nightmares haunting us we turn to talismans to protect us, to reassure us that none of these terrors could ever be in our future. And one of those talismans is the just world delusion – the belief that the world is fundamentally just, that good things will happen to good parents and bad things happen to bad parents. With the just world delusion, we can convince ourselves that as long as we are good enough and do all the ‘right’ things then our children will be safe. But the just world delusion has a dark side. To keep believing that we’ve found safety from our nightmares, we need to judge and blame other parents. Any parents who have come to experience one of our nightmares must, somehow, be culpable. We cling to our ideas of ‘right’ parenting with superstitious fervour; after all, these are the precious talismans that guarantee our family’s safety. If we look under our judgement we find fear, and the terrifying reality that we are trying to protect ourselves from is this: any and all of those nightmares could happen no matter what we do. From this vulnerable, scary space we can realise something else: the same thing is true for every other parent on the planet. We share the same nightmares. And so, instead of covering our fear with judgement, we can use our fear to find compassion. It becomes possible to respond to other parents, who do things we personally would not do, with genuine respect, non-judgement, and kindness.
Apply it to your life: Do you notice a judgemental inner voice sometimes, too? Can you notice the fear beneath the temptation to judge other parents, and within that, can you find compassion?
References: Lerner, M.J. & Miller, D.T. (1978). Just world research and the attribution process: Looking back and ahead. Psychological Bulletin. 85 (5), 1030-1051.