STOP the Mom Bullying!

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Breastfeeding or using formula. Working versus staying at home. The best bedtime for toddlers. Whether to let babies cry it out. Or co-sleep. To give time-outs or not. Spanking — yes or no?

Let’s face it — raising kids involves making countless decisions that can shape you as a parent. Your internal GPS — intuition — can guide you, of course. So can insight from friends, your spouse, your extended family and fellow moms and dads online. But with so much advice swirling around, parenting can sometimes feel like a Disco ball. Are you doing the right thing? It depends on whom you ask. And thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, there are plenty of harsh critics lurking out there, waiting to let you know whether you’re on track — or not. Oh, the scrutiny!

“Surveys show that 95 percent of moms feel judged by just about everything these days, from working or not working and their choice of infant feeding, to their discipline approaches and the sleep methods they use with their kids,” says Michelle Borba, Ed.D., a parenting expert and author of 22 books, including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions (Jossey-Bass; 2009). Unsolicited feedback or even just dirty looks from other moms in the grocery store can make parenting even more stressful. Borba even goes so far as to call it a form of bullying, which can undermine your parenting assurance and feed into the problem. “When you have less confidence in yourself, you’re more likely to be judgmental of other moms,” Borba says.

You might even change your parenting style. According to Borba, one out of three moms makes a different parenting choice because she feels criticized by another mom. A better idea? Remember that there’s no cookie cutter approach to parenting. What works for one child won’t necessarily work for another, even within the same family. To boost your confidence and empower yourself as a parent while you’re figuring out how to tailor your approach, stand up for yourself. Here’s how to handle criticism from know-it-all friends, relatives, coworkers and cyber parents.

Practice Assertiveness
When somebody criticizes you (as in, “I can’t believe you’re still breastfeeding,”) stay cool and calm. “Bullies love responses,” Borba says. Resist the urge to insult them with a cutting comeback. Instead, take a deep breath and respond with a simple line, such as “I hear you,” or “Thank you. I know what works best for my child,” in a firm, strong voice. “Practice your response ahead of time so you can deliver it in the heat of the moment,” Borba says. Use firm body language, too. “Look at the color of the talker’s eyes.” These assertiveness techniques can also come in handy on the playground, so teach them to your kids, too.

MomBully2Seek Support
As a mom, you need layers of support, including an inner circle of other moms you who make you feel valued. “Find truly supportive friends — moms you can confide in who you know won’t take what you tell them any further,” says Sue Hubbard, M.D., a Dallas pediatrician and host of the The Kid’s Doctor. It may take some play date experimenting to find your inner circle. The pay-off? “Moms who receive support are confident, happier and more fulfilled,” Hubbard says. Your inner circle can change over time as you and your kids change. But there’s no better relationship than with other trusted moms in the trenches.

That said, the mommysphere on the Internet shouldn’t be your inner circle. Not all discussions need to involve everyone. “There are many decisions you can make on your own or with that inner group of friends,” says Hubbard. If you decide to share something online, however, whether it be a tweet, text, Facebook or blog post, use the front door rule: “If you don’t want to put it on the front door for your own mother to see, don’t push send,” says Hubbard.

Trust Your “Momtuition”
Sometimes, you just know you’re right about a parenting decision, such as deciding not to send your child to summer camp. In those stances, go with it. “Don’t second-guess yourself or go online to get others’ opinions,” Hubbard says. Similarly, if you have a tough parenting decision to make, such as whether to put your child on ADHD medication, get an expert’s advice. Seek out the counsel of your pediatrician.

Don’t Bully
As a mom yourself, it’s impossible not to question other moms’ parenting tactics. Still, resist the urge to inflict your opinion. Instead, stop, think and consider the potential big picture. Recently, for example, Danielle Smith, founder of extraordinarymommy.com, was on an airplane. A woman with a preschool-age boy sat in the row behind her. “The child, who was sitting above the wing, kept telling his mom he couldn’t see. When the mom said, ‘Will you just shut up! Everyone is looking at you,’ I started to judge her,” Smith says. “Then I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute. You have no idea what her day has been like. You don’t know if her child has pushed every single button. You’ve told your children to shut up before.’” Instead of turning around and saying something not so nice, Smith stayed facing forward, which is what seemed to be the most helpful thing to do at the moment since the mom was concerned about attracting attention. Hubbard agrees with Smith’s “stop and think” approach. When you feel the urge to judge others, “Ask yourself, ‘I wonder what happened in that mom’s life to make her feel or act that way?’” Hubbard says. If you decide to intervene, share your ideas in a positive manner, such as “Would you like to switch seats so your son can see out the window?”

Consider Criticism Just Information
Likewise, if you feel judged, consider the judger’s perspective. U.S. Olympic gold medalist Keri Walsh Jennings was walking through the infant formula section at Target recently with her third child, 1-month-old daughter, Scout, when she got the stink eye from another mom. “I took a deep breath and said to myself, ‘She has no idea I’m a low-producing woman; that my kids starve when I only feed them breast milk because my milk is too low in fat.’ So I gave the lady a smile and grabbed two boxes of formula,” Walsh Jennings says. “Knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing empowers me.” Walsh Jennings also thinks critics serve a purpose. “They make you think, ‘You’re right. I could adjust this,’ or ‘You know what? I’m kicking butt and I’m not changing a thing.’”

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