When Your Parents Criticize Your Parenting

How many parents and grandparents are critical of their adult children’s/grandchildren’s parenting?

And how pressured do those parents feel to give in when they may not want to?

Diane Wagenhals
Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

Today, parenting is much more needs-based. It involves holding infants as much as they want to be held.

It also includes deciding not to slap or hit kids and to move away from punishment as a parenting practice. Instead, we promote healthy and effective disciplining techniques.

Today, all these topics might be cause for critique by prior generations.

Consider that parents and grandparents can take, as a personal affront, the decisions their adult children/grandchildren make that are different from the parenting decisions they made, especially those parenting practices that have been in the family for many generations.

Example: “I raised you that way and you turned out okay. Are you saying that the ways that we parented you weren’t right?”

It can be uncomfortable or even intimidating when your parents or grandparents disapprove of your parenting decisions.

You don’t want to seem critical of them nor do you want to have to justify your decisions. You also don’t want to cave in to advice you disagree with. However, you can feel very pulled to obey because, after all, you learned you are supposed to be respectful of parents and grandparents!

So, what can parents do in response to comments that are openly or implicitly critical about their parenting?

I have three suggestions that can take some of the sting out of conversations centered around parents or grandparents being critical.

First, it is important to acknowledge to your parents and grandparents that they did the best they could and you appreciate both their intentions and their efforts. We all know how challenging it is to parent, and your parents and grandparents must have been as overwhelmed and confused at times as you often are. A point of agreement is that everyone did their best then and are doing their best now to be good parents.

Second, what you now have that they didn’t have is all the neuroscience around brain growth and development that calls for changes in many of the parenting practices of past generations.

(In fact, if you Google “Neuroscience and parenting” you get a whopping 761,000 responses!)

In the excellent 2012 book, Brain-Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of Caregiving for Healthy Attachment by Hughes and Baylin, the authors share what good parenting is from a brain-based perspective. Two aspects of this good parenting that are based on neuroscience are:

  • Being sensitive and emotionally responsive to children’s needs for attention
  • Comforting children effectively and consistently when they are stressed out (what clinicians refer to as co-regulation of affect).

Think about how this information flies in the face of old parenting advice to “Let babies cry it out,” and “You are spoiling your child if you pick him up when he’s upset.”

How about the suggestion to slap babies and toddlers’ hands when they touch forbidden objects?

Before the science of attachment, parents were unaware that such behavior can jeopardize relational integrity between parent and child.

Sure, children are probably not deeply wounded or devastated by an occasional hand-slapping, but neuroscience shows in those moments when a parent hits a child, that child is confused because the very people they turn to for love and support are the ones inflicting pain on them when they are doing their job – exploring the world.

If hitting is done on a regular basis as a form of limit setting, it can jeopardize some of the trust between parent and child.

Last, you can share with your parents and/or grandparents that the world today is so much more stressful than it was back when they were raising children.

Most parents and grandparents were not as exposed to the pressure children are under to achieve at school, to succeed in sports or other extracurricular activites and generally, with all the demands to succeed and perform that seem to be in every child’s life.

Your parents or grandparents can align with you in appreciating that anything they can do to help reduce children’s stress is going to be beneficial.

You can share your parenting that focuses on gentle, responsive nurturing is a key antidote to a world of stress. You can concede that today’s new ways of parenting are in response to these new needs of children in a stress-filled world.

Using any of these suggestions…

…can empower you as a parent to be both respectful and firm about your parenting decisions when your own parents or grandparents raise an eyebrow, frown and look disappointed in you or make negative comments.

These suggestions can make it easier for parents and grandparents to swallow the fact that the times have changed, the information is much more scientific than theoretical, and if they had known then what you know now, they might have parented differently too.

This is not in any way and attempt to make your parents or grandparents feel guilty. That is why it is important to emphasize how much you appreciate that they did the very best they could at the time.

Hopefully, using one or more of these suggestions helps to reduce some of your stress!

Invitation for Reflection

  1. If your parents or grandparents have seemed critical of your parenting, what are some of the things they said to you? What are some of the ways they have communicated criticism through body language? How has that make you feel?
  2. How do you think they might respond to one or more of the suggestions in this blog?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute, Lakeside

Image source: Comstock, http://www.comstock.com/00004147-2.jpg