How to Deal When Your Family Makes You Feel Judged

how to deal when you feel judged as a working motherThere was a recent NYT article that reported that most mothers feel judged — and that their own families are their toughest critics. We’ve talked about mommy guilt before, but not about this, so let’s discuss: Do YOU feel judged by your family members for your parenting decisions (such as discipline, sleep, and diet) or lifestyle decisions (such as “choosing” to work outside the home)? Who is more likely to criticize you: your parents or your partner? What are your best tips for how to deal when you feel judged as a working mother or in general?

Here’s a couple of quotes from that NYT article:

From the co-director of the poll:

“What stood out was the perception among so many more mothers that criticism is coming from folks within their own family,” she said. “It was almost equal parts their spouse or partner, their own parents, and their in-laws. The stereotype would be the in-law would lead the parade on that, but it didn’t turn out that way.”

A developmental pediatrician reported that:

“[She was] not at all surprised by the topics around which mothers in the poll reported criticism. They are the same topics she hears about in the office, she said: ‘It’s discipline, sleep and diet, that’s always it.'”

Fascinating stuff. Let’s hear from you guys… Did this article resonate with you? How do you handle criticism and judgy comments coming from within your own family? How do YOU deal when you feel judged as a working mother or in general? 

Stock photo via Stencil.feeling judged as a working mom - photo of wine being poured

Further Reading:

What are the best tips for how to deal when you feel judged as a working mother? A new study says MOST moms feel criticized, most often by their family.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Except for naming my kiddo, my mom has been surprisingly good. I’m not sure if she’s mellowed with age, or the very far distance I put between us after high school helped, but I’m sort of shocked that I DON’T feel criticized by her. She’s been remarkably supportive.

    We’ll see how it goes when kiddo gets to elementary school….

  2. PregLawyer says:

    I feel a lot of pressure from my parents to spend money in ways that I can’t really afford. They made more money than me and my husband, and as a result I went to expensive private school from preschool all the way to high school. They also belonged to a prestigious social club in my city. They think I should give my own kids the same education and experiences, and question me when I explain that we can’t really afford that. Their solution is to “help us” pay for it, but with significant strings attached.

    It’s been really hard, and I honestly have no idea how to navigate it. It drives my husband insane, and I’m worried that we’re going to end up spending way more than we’re comfortable with trying to keep up with the Joneses — the Joneses being my own parents. Ugh.

    • 2KidsInBrooklyn says:

      +1 PregLawyer. We are in the same boat. My husband and I both have government jobs we really love, (that pay just fine btw) and my parents are always hinting we should go work somewhere else to make more money so that we can “worry less.” As they did not stress about worklife balance and always hired tons of household help, they don’t understand why dinner most nights with the family is a priority for us, they think we are underachieving professionals who place too much value on time with our kids. My dad is always suggesting I hire a nanny to put my kids to bed so I can go out more often, but I don’t want that. I had a great childhood in many ways and do not judge their parenting and life choices- they needed their work-all-the-time jobs to be happy. They just aren’t my choices. And I hate feeling because we don’t make the kind of money they did we are somehow suffering, when in fact we are doing well financially by most measures and are pretty happy.

  3. Anon in NYC says:

    No, I generally don’t feel judged by my parents or inlaws, or my spouse. But we try to be pretty open about what we’re doing and why. I have occasionally had comments from more distant family members about it being a “shame” that I “had” to return to work, but those are few and far between and I don’t see those people often so I don’t care.

    I think my MIL judged her other son and daughter in law for various things (for example: they were very inflexible with their kids sleep schedule and wouldn’t try to have the kids nap at my inlaws house for family parties, etc.). But, really, I think my BIL and SIL brought it on themselves in some ways because they didn’t explain that their kids were a nightmare without a proper nap and couldn’t fall asleep in a new place. Maybe they don’t have to explain those things, but their refusal to explain basic stuff like that led to a lot of family tension (plus they had the first grandchild on that side so there were already heightened emotions).

    • I might be your SIL. We had the first grandchild on all sides, and we got judged for being “inflexible” on things like enforcing naps at home and not letting them take our 9 month old infant to a Disney on Ice show… without us! (He was still b*feeding at the time.) In hindsight, yes we probably should have explained the basics of care, but we were so tired and so frustrated and felt so unsupported that we just couldn’t manage to get up the strength.

      For the second kid (the second grandchild on all sides) we were a little more flexible – she was a more flexible baby – but the script had already been written about what kind of parents we were. So we also were less accommodating; if they didn’t want to work around the nap schedule, too bad for them.

      Now we’re in the discipline stage of toddler/ elementary and our siblings are finally having kids. Now we’re getting judged on discipline methods, but we have the pleasure of watching them do the same things they judged us for years ago. Luckily we’re the rested ones at this point, so we can laugh and go on with our lives. But those first 4ish years really soured the family relationships for us.

      • anne-on says:

        +1. First grandchild on my side, and youngest grandchild on the other side, so things had definitely changed in the years since (and grandparents tended to forget when things happened in terms of milestones, and developmentally appropriate behavior). Things are better now, but those first 3-4 years REALLY hurt relationships on both sides of the family.

      • PregLawyer says:

        Yes to all of this. First grandkid on both sides and we get so many digs for being “rigid” about nap schedule, food choices, time spent with grandparents (they would have my kid all the time if they could, leaving me with nothing), trips, etc. I can’t wait for the other siblings to have kids. Please please please.

        • Anonymous says:

          +1

          We had the first grandchild on both sides. Brutal. Jealous that my sister and DH’s brother benefited now that grandparents are up to date on modern parenting (yes baby has to go in a car seat, yes I’m going to keep nursing). We’re both the oldest so we broke them in as parents and then we had to break them in as grandparents too? No fair!

          • Oh the car seat drama! One set of grandparents just cannot believe a 6 year old MUST be in a car seat still. They want to take the kid on all sorts of adventures, but balk at the idea of spending $100 on a 5 point harness (he’s a small kid). We had the actual cliche conversation where they said “in my day, you kids were never in car seats past age 1 and you turned out fine!” and my DH had to say “you know that is called survivor bias, right? of course the people still alive are the ones who didn’t die.”

      • +1. First grandkid on both sides, and I feel this comment so hard.

    • Ha, I think my in-laws judged us on inflexibility with naps. Then Kiddo had sleep problems for a while and turned into an absolute terror–tantrums, lack of impulse control, no emotional regulation, massive separation anxiety, anti-social, overstimulated, etc. My in-laws put us in touch with a family friend who is a child sleep specialist (bless that woman) and a child psychologist, plus they came over one night with take-out and let us talk through everything. Getting Kiddo to sleep has resolved a lot of the behavioral and social issues, and we haven’t heard a peep or seen an eye-roll about our specialist-recommended nap and sleep schedules or techniques.

  4. Anon for this says:

    Oh yes. So very, very judged.

    My husband has a career that involves extended global travel- he’s gone for months at a time. The thing is, he loves his job deeply. We have discussed him leaving this job and he has made it very clear that he thinks he would be miserable in another job. Counterpoint is: he is well compensated and gets 6 months of vacation a year.

    I enjoy many, many aspects of my job. It is a field I feel passionately about, I am decently compensated, and I enjoy the challenging nature of it. Downside is that it really does own my life, which I don’t love.

    I am judged for working outside the home. I am judged for ‘valuing money more than my child’ because both my spouse and I work. I am judged because it is assumed I judge others for their choices (honestly- good for you, not for me is more my style). I am judged because people somehow think I haven’t told my husband I want him to switch jobs (I have) or judged because I ‘knew what I was signing up for’ when I married him.

    Today is a hard day and I’m feeling all of the bad everythings today. I am even feeling guilty for succeeding at my job. It’s a hard day.

    • Oh I hate the “knew what you were signing up for” comment. No, no you did not. Nearly every person who has a kid says something like “I had no idea.” Every parent tells every non-parent “Just wait until you have kids.” While you may know you (or your spouse) has a demanding job, you have no idea what it will be like to manage that job with a child in the mix, and you can’t even guess until you have the kid. It’s such a ridiculous way to avoid having to come up with a solution, or to minimize the problem. At this point, I just cheerily reply “No I most definitely did not!” and let it go.

    • anne-on says:

      So, YES. And I should probably not share all the MANY MANY ways my inlaws and parents said and did horribly hurtful stupid things that very nearly caused us to cut ties for periods on both sides.
      On a more positive note – THANK YOU to this community for giving working moms (and in many cases, first generation working moms with no role-models or sign posts) a safe place to socialize (virtually) ask questions without getting attacked, and share advice. I only wish there were more places like this.

      • Same here. This place has been a lifeline for me.

        • ifiknew says:

          I could not agree more about how grateful I am for Cmoms as a first generation working mom. Both sets of parents live in town and both mom and MIL have never worked / are watching our baby, which I am grateful for. They are very supportive and there has been little tension so far, but it will likely get harder as baby gets more verbal.

          I already know one sticking point will be that my in-laws expect to have baby overnight some weekends. Both of us work busy jobs, so weekends are family time. I’m not looking to drop baby off for a day, maybe that will change, but I cannot imagine being apart from my baby on the weekend after working all week :/

  5. LadyKay13 says:

    I feel most judged by my siblings and coworkers. My siblings are 8 and 10 years older than myself and because of that, I will ALWAYS be the baby. I joke that when I’m 80 and in a retirement home my sister will still call me her baby sister. So they feel that they are able to comment on every bit of my parenting choices but I don’t have a voice at the “parent table”. My co-workers, I find, tend to be more harsh about how my husband is the primary caregiver (he works overnights while I work days) and how I’m “emasculating him” by being the breadwinner or asking if I’m ever going to stop breastfeeding. For the most part I’m able to just let it roll off of me but ever so often I have to vent to my mother or a mom friend. At the end of it all when I look at my happy, healthy, well adjusted toddler I know it doesn’t matter.

  6. I have a lot of teachers in my family/friends circle, and good lord yes, they judge. Even if it’s not aimed at me, just the way they talk about parents is frankly kind of stunning and discouraging. My youngest sister is a first-grade teacher and constantly shares things on Facebook with headlines like, “Your Kid is a Brat, and It’s All Your Fault.” That’s a real headline, from Scary Mommy. She is currently pregnant with her first and I am really hoping motherhood mellows her out and helps her realize that blaming the parents for every shortcoming is not particularly fair nor helpful.

    • Anonymous says:

      Haha yes I think its funny when people who care for children on a daily basis (teachers, pediatricians) don’t have children themselves and have very.strong.opinions. Our child-lesspediatrician was trying to tell me how I can make all this delicious homemade baby food. With two working parents and no family nearby? No thanks. I can do the whole baby-led weaning thing but there’s no way I’m spending 2 hours a weekend prepping babyfood purees from scratch to send to daycare.

      • Exactly. I mean, yes, I know what the idea situation is for most scenarios, but I’m living real life with a real kid. I beat myself up enough for not being a perfect mom; I really don’t need it from my family members!

        • ifiknew says:

          It’s so so so hard for me to not call out childless people who are critical of parenting philosophies. It is so beyond hard and kids have their own personalities, despite how many books you read / know the kind of parent you’ll be etc. etc.

          • YES. I have one child who makes me look like a really good parent, and another who is extremely energetic and strong-willed. The things that are “supposed” to work to correct kids’ behavior are often a big fat failure with that personality type. He is a born boundary-pusher and has been since infancy. Trust me, it has taken SO MUCH energy and creativity to teach and parent him. (He’s also fun, smart, and may move mountains one day if we harness all that energy/stubbornness in a positive way!) My strong-willed kid makes me a better parent, but the learning curve is steep. We’ve had a lot of failures along the way. Our son has been judged, we’ve been judged, and I haven’t felt very supported along the way.

            Meanwhile, my second child is just more … typical. I wouldn’t say she’s easygoing, but she’s much easier to teach. We could pick any parenting approach, and it would probably work for her. That’s so not the case for my oldest. Funny how that works.

          • Wonderbread says:

            I think it’s ok to just call them out, if you have the energy/desire to engage with them in that way. As a previously childless pediatrician and aunt to many who is now a mom to one (and how my tune has changed. . .) I think that many people are legitimately clueless. I also think that if clueless people feel comfortable enough to comment on a topic, they are opening themselves up for a response. I am always a big fan of respectful dialogue when it is not a burden on the person who is in the ‘educator’ role. I also think that a short/less dialogue-y call out has its place and can have an impact, even if it is uncomfortable for the person being called out in the moment – and is appropriate if somebody says something that makes YOU feel judged or criticized. There is no reason that you should have to feel that way without voicing the way it has made you feel.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t go to a male gynecologist. I won’t go to a childfree pediatrician. Sorry, but if you do not have kids you just don’t get it. My current ped is the mom of a male only child – just like me – and she has given me so much good advice and context that goes way beyond just what is necessary to care for my son’s health. I would strongly encourage anyone who is going to a clueless childfree service provider to switch. No offense to them but I can’t see how you can understand parenting and how hard it is if you are not yourself a parent.

  7. avocado says:

    We lucked out with our parents. Our kid is the first grandchild on my side, but my mother is the world’s most laid-back and appropriate parent of adult children and has never said or done anything that was not 100% supportive of us and our choices, whether or not she agrees. My husband’s blended family includes a total of 8 kids with a huge range of parenting styles and more grandkids than I can count, so by the time our kid came along his folks had no inclination to criticize us, at least to our faces. They are not terribly interested in keeping up with the latest safety rules, but are good about following the rules when we lay them out.

    My sister, on the other hand, makes tons of negative comments about our parenting choices, but it comes from a place of rivalry, envy, and defensiveness about her own choices. So I just don’t bother to talk to her much.

    • I find that viewing criticism from a place of defensiveness really helps. Most of us want to feel validated in our own choices and when people make different choices it can be threatening so it’s natural to be critical as a way of being defensive. I try to keep that in mind when I hear comments from people about how they couldn’t imagine going to work when their kids were really little or bringing a baby on the subway or whatever.

  8. Sorry if this is slightly off-topic… I don’t feel too much judgment about my parenting (at least the big stuff), but I feel like my son is judged and compared all the time. My son and his cousin were born 6 weeks apart, and they’re the first grandchildren. The two kids are very different, but my in-laws, especially MIL, constantly compares the two kids, with my son always be inferior, behind, or less gifted. (I’m not alone in this perception–my parents and the other siblings have commented on it too, and she did/does this with her own children, so it’s not new.) I think my son is starting to shut down around my in-laws, and the more he shuts down with them, the more they perceive him to be “behind” his cousin.

    • That’s really terrible. I’m sorry. Maybe your husband can talk to your MIL. Or maybe you can, if you have the right relationship. I would just say something like, “I am sure you don’t intend it but we feel like son may find that you favor his cousin” or whatever is appropriate. Give very specific examples. Maybe it will fall on deaf ears, but maybe not and she’ll be better. Mr. AIMS’s grandma was a bit like this in a somewhat different context (she always treated his cousin differently because of his weight and treated him differently when they were together) and it really was hard on both boys when they were together and in some ways ruined their relationship to each other. At least if you say something, you know you tried.

      • Wonderbread says:

        Agree – it may not get the outcome you want, but it sounds like this is not a problem that your in-laws are going to identify and fix on their own. It is already impacting your son. There is not a path forward here that doesn’t involve a potential impact on you and your son’s relationship with the in-laws. If you say nothing, your son continues to shut down around them and ultimately avoids spending time with them (at which point, all signs point towards them then harping on how little time he spends with them). If you say something, they may be offended or non-responsive. However, if you say something there is at least a chance that they will recognize the problem and make steps to fix it.

        I am really sorry that you are going through this. These family dynamics are so sticky, and obviously it would be fine for you to say nothing and let the chips fall where they may. However, I am with AIMS – at least if you say something you know that you’ve made the effort for your son. After that, it is on them whether or not they respond to your concerns.

  9. Anon Just in Case says:

    This is so interesting. I almost never feel judged by my family. My husband’s mom has super critical parents, so she strives to be the exact opposite. My husband’s dad is sometimes hard on him, but LOVES me. My parents disagree with some of our choices but are still very supportive and don’t make judgmental comments as a whole. (Religion is the only thing my parents get judgy on, but that would be the case even if we didn’t have kids.) My SIL is the only one who has ever been critical of our parenting…and she’s about to be an ex-SIL so I guess that takes care of that? I’m super sorry that so many of you have to deal with this from your families. Boo.

  10. Mrs. Jones says:

    No one judges me as much as I judge myself as a parent. So I guess that’s good and bad.

  11. I think I’ve been really lucky to be surrounded by people from such different extremes that it doesn’t allow me to feel judged too much or too often because they all sort of cancel each other out. Starting with maternity leave where some people gave me a hard time for taking 4 months (‘that long?!’) and others couldn’t believe I would go back to work so soon. Or nursing (“she’s almost a year, you’re still pumping!?” vs. other friends who nursed for the first 2 years b/c “breast is best” even if your kid eats branzino for dinner).

    That said, I’m not immune to guilt and hormones and I can see how it’s harder to deal with when this stuff comes from those closer to you. My mom is pretty great about not doing it, so I guess I’ve also been lucky in that respect. I think it probably helps that at the moment I feel pretty good about the choices we’re making so I don’t really register when people seem judgmental about things like why we are choosing to raise kids in NYC vs. a suburb, etc. I’m sure that as kids get older all of that will get much harder because there will be that much more room for disagreement.

  12. CPA Lady says:

    Maybe I just have super lax family and mom friends (or I’m super oblivious?), but I’ve not felt a lot of judgement from anyone about anything. I was even loudly and proudly supported my friends, family, and coworkers when it came to “controversial” (haha) decisions like using formula by choice.

    My SAHM mom raised us telling us that the most important job a woman could have is to be a SAHM (gigantic eye roll). My sister did that. And I was absolutely not doing that and expected a sh*t storm of criticism. My mom has been surprisingly respectful and supportive though, maybe because I’ve never questioned myself or felt guilty about continuing to work. She saw how hard I have worked to get to where I am right now, and is understanding that I don’t want to stop now. I think she also thought that daycare was like a cold war orphanage, but after all the good things I’ve said, I think she’s even warmed up to that a bit. My in laws had four kids and were super poor so not working was not even remotely an option for my MIL. She is nothing but supportive and wonderful.

  13. Yes, I often felt judged, mostly by my mother. She didn’t work when my siblings and I were young, and I think much of her criticism (which was always covert, always couched in “jokes”) stemmed from a lack of understanding of how difficult that balance can be. She also did not breastfeed me or my siblings. On top of it all, my daughter is “spirited” and was pretty clingy and high needs as an infant. She would not sleep unless she could be next to me, nursing on and off all night. We tried just about anything, but we could not leave her to cry. I can still hear my mom’s unending refrain: “Just let her fuss for a few minutes; she needs to learn how to go to sleep on her own.” Except she’d never calm down – she would only ramp up until it took longer to get her back down to sleep than it would have if I quickly nursed and let her fall asleep beside me.

    My parents were visiting when my daughter was about 4 months old and I was newly back at work, just trying to do my best. She had been saying wack shit all that weekend (some weird remark about me not letting my baby do anything on her own… um, yeah, she’s 4 MONTHS OLD). The last straw was when she started folding some laundry which had been sitting for a while and was very creased. She quipped, “Jeez, could you have let this sit any longer?” That was it. I didn’t yell, but in an assertive voice said, “Mom, I know you mean that as a joke but it is not funny to me. I leave my baby every morning, leave her all day and pump 3x a day in my office, come home, nurse her, and deal with her waking up every 2 hours at night. I am exhausted all the time and we are just trying to survive this time. So a basket of laundry is at the very bottom of my list.” She immediately apologized, and later that night when she left, I was nursing my daughter in my bedroom in the dark. She came in and apologized. She said she was being thoughtless, and that she didn’t know how I was doing any of it. She sort of backed off talking about the sleep thing, but continued to have an opinion about when I needed to wean, etc. But I do feel like she tried to do so in a less judgmental tone and I do appreciate that.

    Bottom line, you have to stand up for yourself. You don’t need to do it in an argumentative way, but you do need to stand your ground and trust yourself that you know what’s best for your situation. My 2.5 year old is weaned, potty training well, and sleeping better too. All babies are different and I wasn’t going to force her to do anything before she was ready. Turns out I was right to do so. Hang in there, everyone!

    • Wonderbread says:

      I really like this comment.

      Even people who have been parents rapidly forget the dark days of early infancy, and that allowing critical comments (even jokes or ‘little’ things) to roll off your back becomes impossible in the haze of sleep deprivation, hormones, and readjusting to life/career/etc. It is a time that new parents should receive exceptional gentleness and understanding – instead, they are often met with a wave of opinions, suggestions, comments, and criticisms that they are less equipped then usual to handle.

      If you can, standing up for yourself with simple ‘I’ and ‘me’ statements is the way to go. ‘Laundry is not a priority for me right now’, ‘I think it is important to spend time bonding with my infant rather than mopping the floors’, ‘that is not what works best for me and my family’. If you can’t, to be real, bursting in to tears in response to a criticism will also work and was the approach I took several times – it gets the point across.

  14. Ugh yes. So much from my own mother!
    “You’re not going to be able to keep that (nursing/pumping) up when you go back to work.”
    “Can’t you just work part time and go without certain things?”
    When the baby starts to fuss – “She’s fine, don’t pick her up”
    First grandchild on all sides, siblings probably not in a place for kids for 2+ years…..

  15. Tech Mom says:

    My spouse is super supportive- he knows that I’m the breadwinner and we’d be up the creek otherwise. My parents are very supportive, except my dad is clueless. It’s my in-laws that I feel the most judgement.

    Nothing I do is right (shocker). Their disapproval of me working oozes out of their pores. God forbid I leave my son with someone else to be raised. God forbid that I travel in my job and that I make good money (which pays for their son’s life and stability). They have no respect for my job, or the fact that I’ve worked my ass off to get to the point I’m at, and that it isn’t a walk in the park.

    Example: MIL comes over for rare visit. Fawns all over my husband about how tired he must be (he’s a teacher who is able to do most of his lesson planning at school and works a 50 hour week at most) and he must be so tired. And blah blah blah. Meanwhile I just clocked a 80 hour week while taking care of a sick kid, and a business trip and yet all I got was a passive agreessive comment about daycare with the implication that I should be at home.

  16. Tech Mom says:

    My spouse is super supportive- he knows that I’m the breadwinner and we’d be up the creek otherwise. My parents are very supportive, except my dad is clueless. It’s my in-laws that I feel the most judgement.

    Nothing I do is right (shocker). Their disapproval of me working oozes out of their pores. God forbid I leave my son with someone else to be raised. God forbid that I travel in my job and that I make good money (which pays for their son’s life and stability). They have no respect for my job, or the fact that I’ve worked my ass off to get to the point I’m at, and that it isn’t a walk in the park.

    Example: MIL comes over for rare visit. Fawns all over my husband about how tired he must be (he’s a teacher who is able to do most of his lesson planning at school and works a 50 hour week at most) and he must be so tired. And blah blah blah. Meanwhile I just clocked a 80 hour week while taking care of a sick kid, and a business trip and yet all I got was a passive agreessive comment about daycare with the implication that I should be at home.

    And don’t get me started on how we parent. My son has major medical issues and we have very strict rules we need to adhere to to keep him healthy and they can’t understand or follow it because it’s not how they raised their kids. Needless to say, they have limited time with us and exposure to our son based on their behavior.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m a fourth-generation working mother (boardinghouse owner, restaurant and bar owner, executive secretary, teacher) and I am grateful for it every day, because rather than judging me, my mom offers nothing but 100% empathy and coping strategies. She constantly tells me not to be so hard on myself and to make sure I’m not taking on too much, I’m getting enough rest, etc. I think having supportive working-mom friends (real friends, not competitive frenemies) helps too.

  18. I have three kids and graduated law school recently. Am now working in a niche field I love. My parents are not judgmental in any way. My mom still works so she gets it. My MIL just doesn’t like me, so whatever. Ha.

    It’s my friends (who are SAHMs), though, that have been judgmental and it has honestly caught me completely off guard. I mostly didn’t work during law school (did an internship and fellowship), and they were great and supportive throughout. Even sometimes surprising us by dropping off dinner while I was studying for exams. But since I’ve taken the bar, it’s like I no longer exist. Texts don’t get returned, calls go unanswered, and I’ve definitely had a few comments about me choosing to work and needing to be at home. It’s been so disheartening, and not to overstate it, but fairly devastating. I just did not expect this at all.

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