Whole Parenting Family

Parenting Styles Vary. Get Over It.

little cowboy

I wrote on making judgments without being judgmental a few weeks back {Judgers Judge} and the topic has come up again in my life: how do I deal with friends and family whose parenting styles are different than my own? The bottom line is for me has become: unless it’s a moral issue, parenting styles vary. Get over it. Thus the questions become, what’s a moral issue in parenting and what’s not? When is the variance great enough such that it’s hard for me to view their choices charitably? And what’s the difference between admittedly poor parenting and someone just doing the best they can with what they have?

1) Moral issues.

If another parent is allowing or pushing inappropriate sexual activities, yeah, we’re probably not going to be friends. If another parent doesn’t believe in filtering violence in the media/games, yeah, we’re probably not going to have playdates. If another parent is modeling dangerous or harmful behavior, no brainer. These issues can be sticky at times because where you draw the line for what’s age appropriate for your child might not be where someone else does. Having a 2.5 year old who’s home with me all day means I don’t encounter many of these kinds of issues. His is a pretty closed universe, especially with no TV and very limited screen time in general.

2) Most differences aren’t worth getting all worked up about.

Medicated labor versus pain med (and hence pain-filled) labor? Bottle feeding in lieu of breastfeeding? Cry-it-out or co-sleep? Disposable diapers or cloth (service or do-it-yourself?)? Processed food (and sugar) or organic from scratch everything (no sugar!!!!!)? Shopping at the mall or shopping at Goodwill? Football graphics and cartoon characters or organic fabric? Johnson & Johnson or all-natural bath products?

Guess what? These are not the choices that will make or break whether or not you raise a love-filled, respectful, enjoyable, intelligent human being. I happen to fall on the second string of almost all of these comparisons. (Yes, I freaked out and screamed at my sainted mother when she let SuperBoy have a lick of her ice cream when he was two years old. I did. In public. And then cried. And then cried because I felt so badly that I had so so so badly overreacted.) But that doesn’t mean I’m a better mother than my friends who fall on the first string of the above mentioned choices, or my friends who do a little of both sides. It simply means that I’ve evaluated what works for my family, at this point in time, and these choices work for us. And I reserve the right to do a 180 on any of them!

Educate yourself about your options. Then choose according to what works for your family. We can all put down our self-righteousness and just support one another where we actually are in our journey of familyhood. And most keenly, support one another to continue on the path we want to be on. I’m in a number of moms groups–and just had one at my house this weekend–the key to a functional group is agreement about all this business.

3) Use stop-think techniques when you find yourself heading down Judgmental Road.

I find myself on the verge of criticism of other moms all. the. time. And it’s a hard habit to break. We live by comparisons. We comfort ourselves by comparing our choices (and their highly superior outcomes) to our friends (these aren’t even our enemies!) and their “mistaken” choices. Just stop that thought before it finishes. Then remember when you’ve felt defensive about your choices. Maybe what you’re seeing another mom do which appears to be a poor choice is the result of lack of support in her life. Maybe her family isn’t around. Maybe they are and they’re critical of her. Maybe she needs me, her friend, to just step in and affirm her for where she is, and encourage her to get to a better place by supporting her decisions that lead to a healthier place. Just take a second and admit that you’ve taken short cuts, had meltdowns, said and done things you never thought you would to your own children, and not always lived up to your sanctimonious standards. I’m talking to myself here!

The sooner we ditch the fear that we’re going to make the wrong choice–like so-and-so is–the sooner we can lead happier and better lives as mothers. Being judgmental for me comes from a place of fear that I’m not doing it right, or that there’s only one right way to do it. The spectrum of good parenting is a wide one. And I just hope that I’m on the better side more often that the not-as-great side. Luckily I have lots of non-judgmental friends and family!



  1. beth on March 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks I am a grandmother. I stay at home with my almost one year old grandson so my single parent daughter can teach school.
    I make baby food and wash diapers and shop at goodwill and try not to be judgmental.Pretty funny since I did none of this while raising my daughter.
    Thanks for the reminders 😉

    • Natural Mama Nell on March 12, 2013 at 10:07 pm

      So great to hear from you, Beth. What a unique perspective you have with multi-generational parenting! Thanks for tuning us in. And way to go, being so supportive of your daughter and grandson. You’re a hero.

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  5. Erin @ Humble Handmaid on June 11, 2015 at 8:17 am

    What a great post. I happen to have pretty different parenting styles from you;), but that is what works out really well for my family and my marriage and our living situation. Loved that point!;) There are a million ways to be a great mom, and you can be a great mom without doing everything that another great mom is doing. I have struggled with anxiety about the foods that we eat for example, and how my family doesn’t get all organic, or no fast food. But in the end, my kids are doing great, are pretty healthy, and it is a joy to do things like make homemade ice cream with my mom or enjoy a picnic lunch of hamburgers and french fries after Mass on Sunday at the local park. I tell the Lord that if my family needs me to do something different with food, then he’s got to make it clear to me and give me a season, a conviction, and a living situation that will support that change.

    Again, great post. God bless you sweet momma!;)

    • Natural Mama Nell on June 11, 2015 at 9:55 pm

      You’re so awesome and what a GREAT perspective!! We are all doing our best, and being joyful during this time and doing parenting in a way that actually works (peacefully) for us is the most important thing, not the ingredient label. And what beautiful memories you’re building with your kids! Seriously!! God bless you too, sweet friend!!