As I said in the comments in my last post, sometimes I write a post because I have thoughts swirling around in my head and I need to reconcile them. I have always found that writing is a very effective way of allowing me to express what I am thinking. In addition, blogging has the added benefit of feedback in the form of comments, that I often find make me think and therefore help me to reconcile my swirling thoughts better.
My last post was just such a post. You see, I have been struggling with the issue of judgment on this blog. I started writing this blog because I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts and opinions. And in doing so, I recognized that I was sharing those thoughts and opinions with the ‘public’ and that public would not always agree with me. But as I read more and more parenting blogs, I find that there are many of them that have made me feel very judged. And so, I have written a number of posts about how we need to be more supportive and less judgmental. However, the problem is that this has boxed me into a corner where I feel like I can’t say what I think, lest I be deemed to be judging someone else. So, you see, I feel like I need to reconcile and explore this topic of judgment once more.
Here are my thoughts, and I am hoping that you can help me evaluate them and come to some conclusion on this topic. Preferably one that allows me to find a way to be honest in expressing my thoughts on this blog without it being a place where someone else may feel ‘judged.’ (Is that possible?) I guess what I am trying to determine is where is the line between opinion and judgment? (Or are opinion and judgment inseparable. If so, is there a way to express opinions that doesn’t feel so judgmental to others?)
Is the line between thinking and expressing (whether speaking or writing)? Is the only way to not be judgmental to simply keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself? Or, should we attempt to not have any judgmental thoughts at all?
Is it between making a generalized statement rather then quantified statements? Like saying “I think early bedtimes are better” versus “I think little kids/babies should go to bed before 8pm”? You know, making sure your statement is open to interpretation.
Is it between making universal claims rather then general preferences. For example, saying “Every child should be in bed before 8pm no matter what” versus “Generally I think early bedtimes are better.”
Is it important to always provide a loop-hole or other built in exception? Is this enough/sufficient to show that you recognize that your opinion is not ‘best’ in all circumstances? You know, like the fine print. (Sometimes when I write posts I think they end up too long for just this reason- I am trying to address every angle.)
Is it the way you say it? They always say in relationships that you should try and use “I” statements rather then “you” statements. So, for example, is it better if I say “I believe little kids/babies should go to bed early” versus “Those of you who put your kids to bed late are doing something wrong”? (Just so you know, I don’t think anyone putting their kids to bed late is ‘wrong’, I just think there a good number of kids out there that would benefit from an earlier bedtime.)
Is the specific problem that I didn’t just express my opinion that early bedtimes are my preference, but that I said outright that I was being judgmental about it? If I had just written that when I see little kids out late that I think that maybe they should be in bed… maybe it would have been taken a different way. Admittedly I said I was being judgmental, so why did it bother me that someone said I was being judgmental? (Actually, I think I was more bothered because of the link that was made between being judgmental and presuming to know what is best for every child and every family. A presumption I don’t think I made.)
Is it whether or not you attach a result/consequence to the choice? Can the line be drawn at those who say (or think?) “CIO is not the best method of getting your baby to sleep” versus “CIO will cause irreversible damage that will have a long term negative impact on your baby.” To me, that one is totally bunk. But what if there are truly consequences? There is a lot of ‘bad’ science out there when it comes to parenting, but there is also some good science that suggests that certain parenting choices do come with consequences. And when you don’t really know which is the good science and which is the bad science, how do you know when to make a claim about said science to support your position?
Is it whether you passively state something or if you provide unsolicited advice? Like the difference between saying something under your breath, versus stopping someone in the aisles of the supermarket.
And what if you advocate for something? There are a lot of breastfeeding advocates who are very passionate about encouraging people to breastfeed and strongly feel it is the best option. I don’t feel judged by these people, so long as they don’t start making claims that ‘everyone’ can be successful at breastfeeding no matter what, or that those who formula feed are lazy, neglectful or harming their children.
Is it how you respond to those who disagree? If you recognize the value in what they are saying, even if it doesn’t change your mind, does that make the expressing of your opinion acceptable? If you are respectful and accept that they disagree and they may have very good reasons for making a different choice.
I am still letting this one swirl around in my head. I am willing to admit both that I can be judgmental at times and that I dislike when others are judgmental. Furthermore, I am uncomfortable with the fact that I can be judgmental at times. I am willing to admit there are times that I am wrong. But I also think that how judgment/opinion is expressed makes a difference to whether or not one is being judgmental or not.
And, I really think there is nothing wrong with expressing ones opinions. Furthermore, I think there is great value in debate, disagreement and discussion. I believe there is nothing wrong with believing and arguing that any number of parenting choices are preferable to others, so long as you are open to others ideas and thoughts.
But I also have to recognize that when you express yourself people don’t always take it the way you intended. Try as you might to not put anyone out, just about anything you say is bound to touch a nerve with someone, someone who’s feelings are totally valid. But should that change what you say? Or should it just change how you say it? When you read something which disagrees with something about how you parent, what makes you feel judged and what doesn’t? Thoughts?
Conclusion AKA Part 2:
(Note, this section was added about a day after the first section was published, after some of the comments were written and after I had time to think about it.)
While I am still contemplating what I think and what everyone has said (great comments by the way- thank you), I think I am ready to conclude this post. I really really don’t want to write yet another entire post on the question of judgment in parenting, so I am going to edit this post by adding a conclusion. (Albeit a very long conclusion.)
I am starting to believe that judgment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all do it, we all have done it. I am not sure it is really possible nor desirable to completely stop ourselves. It is certainly possible that there are people out there that are not judgmental, but I suspect they are few and far between. But for the most part, I think judgement is part of human experience. And as such, we all feel judged sometimes- this is unavoidable part of life.
So, here is what I am going to try and work on: First, I am going to try to be less judgmental of people who are judgmental. Maybe that was the lesson I needed to learn from all of this. Because, in reality, I am not a no-judge saint. (I wrote the original post out of a need to admit that.) Nor should I be. If I have an opinion about the ‘best’ way to parent, I am by definition judging that other ways are not ‘best’. And sometimes I want to talk about those things that I think are ‘best’.
However, I do think there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. The line between judging and expressing that you think a particular choice is best and being judgmental, in that your opinion is expressed in such a way which has a high probability of making someone else feel like crap or is not supportive of others and the challenges they face. At the same time, I need to except that even if I think my opinion is being expressed in a way which is not judgmental, I need to be willing to accept the criticism that someone may still feel judged by it.
So before I criticize someone for being judgmental or whether I allow myself to express my opinion judging choices others make, I will consider a number of things:
1) Compassion. Is the judger being compassionate to the challenges of others situations? Are they talking from a standpoint of superiority or a standpoint of empathy?
2) Motivation. What is the motive behind the judgment? It is trying to be helpful or supportive in giving someone a new way of doing things? Is it a rant to blow off steam? Is it because one feels judged and is trying to feel better about themselves by judging someone else? Is it a need to be right? Is there an agenda? Is the judger trying to advocate for/against something they believe is important?
3) Importance. How important to me is this issue? If I am going to say something, I should be passionate about it, or what is the point? If someone else is going to say something and I am going to get upset about it, it should be something that I think is worth defending. Judgment and responding to judgment both illicit reactions in others- it is worth making someone else feel crappy over?
4) Presumption. Is the judger presuming that their opinion is without fail the only option that is reasonable? Or are they taking a stand, but leaving room for the possibility that some in some circumstances an other option would be better?
5) Evidence. How is the opinion being backed up? Is there clear and reasonable evidence being presented that show the opinion to be ‘best’? Not that I think one has to do an enormous amount of research in order to state their opinion on a personal blog. But I also think a lot of the problem I have with some claims is that they are either based on no evidence whatsoever or the evidence they use is faulty and allowing them to make exaggerated claims (like harm or abuse claims related to formula or CIO).
6) Individualized/Personalized or Generalized. What I mean is I think there is a difference between a) seeing an individual and making a judgment about their choice, without knowing their story b) seeing a choice made by many people and not agreeing with that choice, while still accepting that choice as a valid option, albeit not a preferable one in your opinion (I think this is where I made the biggest error in my judgyMcJudgerson post…. while I understood in my head that I really didn’t judge individuals I see with their kids out late, by referring being judgmental when I saw individuals making a certain choice I was being judgmental of individuals and not the choice. )
Did I err on at least one of these counts in my post “My Judgmental Little Secret”? Yes. Do I still think it is preferable in most cases for kids to go to bed early? Yes. So I think there are exceptions to this? Yes. Was the way I expressed this opinion not the best? Yes. Will I be more careful in the future? Yes. Will I continue to state my opinion? Yes. Will I try to be less bothered if someone calls me on it? Yes.