The Perfect Comeback: how to respond when someone tells you you suck at parenting.


Last weekend I went to a party and a woman said someone that really annoyed me. I know this because I spent the last five days trying to decide what I should’ve said. You know how that is? When you know you missed the boat on the perfect comeback and then when you finally figure out what you should’ve said, you find yourself wondering if deep down you might have the skills to build a fully functional time machine so that you can go back and take care of business properly.

We were talking about our kids and their behaviors. I mentioned that my daughter is the very definition of a spirits child. She feels deeply and expresses everything she feels out loud and dramatically. She has streaks of independence and persistence that quite frankly don’t always (or even usually) coincide with my timelines. I often didn’t understand those needs, resulting in frustrating tantrums… from both of us.

The woman I was talking to said the one thing that would drive me absolutely nuts. It was this: “my daughter tried that exactly once… She learned never to do that again.”

I felt judged. Or rather that my parenting skills were judged and found lacking. I felt inadequate. And weak. I felt the implication that I had failed to assert my authority as a parent. That I’d let my children run my life instead of the other way around. I felt ashamed – embarrassed by my choices. What if she found out I also regularly co-sleep with my three year old? That I have never been able to allow my kids to “cry it out” or enforce that they accept “no” for an answer “because I said so…” She thinks I’m a weak parent. I felt attacked and immediately went on the defensive

What I replied with was, “that would not have worked with my daughter.” I assessed. I declared. She stated at me with incredulity. The judgment I perceived intensified. Clearly I had just not enforced boundaries assertively enough.

As I’ve said. I spent a week replaying this conversation in my mind and churning over the feeling that I’ve made so many mistakes in laying the foundation of parenting with my children. They’ll never respect me as an authority, I lamented.

But then I remembered a few things. First, the woman didn’t make me feel any of those things. I made my own interpretations and conclusions and sent myself into a mood of weak, inadequate failure. But as I look at my daughter, who adores me, and completely respects my authority (in as much as a happy healthy six year old should) and is actually very compliant and thoughtful and loving… Well if my parenting has the power to ruin her then I suppose I can also take some credit for raising her to become a beautiful young lady. I had the power to shift back to confidence, claiming ownership in my choices both as a parent and also in my attitudes around my parenting. I choose confidence.

Secondly, I remembered trying to parent differently. I remembered trying to let my daughter as a toddler cry out her tantrum. I don’t really remember how that impacted her. I think she dug deeper in, but I don’t actually recall. In truth, the idea that “that wouldn’t work for my daughter” wasn’t based in truth. I had no evidence of that, which is why I sat in doubt. It might’ve worked well for all I know. But that wasn’t the point and therefore that was the right response. The more accurate comeback was NOT that that would not have worked for my daughter, it was that it would not have worked for ME.

While I don’t have a strong memory of what it was like for my daughter when I tried to ignore her tantrums, when I tried spanking the tantrum out of her, or any of the other things I tried she. I thought that’s what a good mother would do; I can’t remember her reactions but I do remember mine. I remember sitting with my head in my hands, wondering how this could be right when it felt so wrong. I remember wondering if I’d ever forgive myself for this. I remember wondering feeling like the villain – making her a victim – and wondering if she felt abandoned. Because I felt as though I was abandoning her and her needs. It felt wrong. To me. It wasn’t who I was – who I am. It was inauthentic.

To be clear, many people would find my way of parenting wrong for them. That is actually the point. There isn’t a right way – a one size solution that fits all. There is, however, a way that feels authentic. And when we embrace that, we parent from our best selves – in all of our individuality. This is why coaching parents is not based on teaching parenting skills. It is about reclaiming the honesty and authenticity of parenting from our best selves, and doing so with confidence and joy.

Parenting is high stakes. And there’s no dress rehearsal. As with anything we endeavor that is significant and powerful there will be doubts. There will be moments we question. There will be mistakes made and apologies required. It’s all part of a journey that has no final destination. Enjoy the ride, folks.

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