What You Wouldn’t Have Done (and Why I Hate You For It)

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[A warning about this post.  I don’t usually get snarky or angry.  But I’m breaking that this time because I felt the pull to.  If you don’t want to read snarky, then please leave now.  You have been warned.]

Imagine this:

You’ve been parenting along just fine and one day you find yourself yelling at your child.  You never wanted to do this and you feel horrible about it.  You decide to share and talk about the feelings around screwing up and hope that other people who have found themselves in the same situation will feel a little better knowing they aren’t alone.

Or imagine this:

You’ve witnessed someone publically shaming their child and it’s being discussed online.  You join in the discussion and ask what this person was supposed to do given the situation this person and child find themselves in at this moment.  Knowing public shaming does work to change behaviour and knowing that raising teenagers is hard work, you really want to know what better solution there is.

And now imagine in either case that the answer you get is along these lines:

Well I wouldn’t have found myself in that situation to begin with because…

To those who answer in this manner I must say – congratulations.  Now, when we set up your parade in honour of your “perfect” parenting abilities, which banner would like hanging overhead?  One that says, “Want useless advice? Enquire within” or “I like to make myself feel better by putting others down” or how about, “I’m a sanctimonious ass” because all three apply equally.

I realize I’m being snarky myself, but this specific comment drives me absolutely nuts and I’ve seen it too frequently in the past few months.  At the basic level it offers absolutely nothing to the conversation at hand.  You aren’t helping anyone try to solve their problem or allow others to feel a tad bit better about screwing up and moving on.  No, instead you offer up what they should have done ahead of time and it is now too late.  Imagine your child has been going through school okay when suddenly he finds himself failing a particular subject.  He goes to the teacher and instead of help, the teacher says, “Oh, you needed to work harder on what we did six months ago” and left it at that.  No help, no ways to improve in the current moment, just an admonishment for something that should have been done when the child had no idea it should have been done.  As a parent, I imagine you’d be in that classroom reading the teacher the riot act – as you should.  Yet here you are doing the same thing to another parent.

Which brings me to the second problem: Doing this only makes others feel crappy about themselves.  Good for you.  You kicked someone when they were down or when they were trying to climb up the education ladder.  Sadly I see this comment more often from people who on one hand say they want to promote natural or peaceful parenting, and yet I’m not sure how their arrogance is going to do that.  I can see that in some cases the advice might work going forward, but then why not say, “Next time, why don’t you try…”  It puts the answer in a way that allows someone to realize it might work for them.  But no, when you start with, “I wouldn’t have found myself in that situation” you are immediately putting yourself above the person who has commented and tried to make them feel even smaller.  What kind of person does that remind me of?  Oh yeah, a bully.

I honestly don’t know if you don’t understand the questions being posed.  If that’s the case, I apologize for this rant.  However, I imagine many of you are intelligent enough to know that someone is looking for help and instead of help, you’re pissing on their parade for no apparent reason.  When I use the term “sanctimonious ass”, I do mean it, and the petty part in me can’t help but hope you fall on your ass soon enough and come looking for help only to be met with the same asinine comments you’ve been giving other people (but then I think of your children and retract that hope).

Although many times others may call you out when you answer this way in a peaceful or attachment or natural or evolutionary parenting forum, it’s less likely to be called out when you make it in response to an act we tend to look down upon.  Thinking of the second imagine scenario above, I know I read lots of these types of comments on the sites that shared the public shaming images of children and these comments were, in those places, applauded by other “peaceful” parents.  I’m not saying the actions are always laudable, but when the question is raised of what else could someone do, are we not obligated to give them an answer that helps them?  Saying “I wouldn’t be in your situation” doesn’t help them move forward.  It either makes them feel worse about where they are or dig their heels in deeper that what they did was okay.  Or both.

So, to avoid being the sanctimonious ass myself… what can you do?

1)      When people ask for help, give them help.  Oftentimes the comments that come after the “because” can be helpful to a parent, but not when it’s phrased like the parent is an idiot for not having thought of it (or acted on it) earlier.  Hindsight is 20/20 and so many parents may realize some of the “advice” you dish out, but simply had moments where it was forgotten.  Simply being reminded about it can help keep it in their heads for the next possible breakdown, but only if it’s presented in a way that doesn’t make them hate you.

2)      It’s not awful to discuss how people got to a bad situation.  Examining the events that lead up to our screw ups or bad situations is important.  However, it has to be done in a way that tries to help people understand how these particular actions actually led to the crappy situation they found themselves in.  One of the comments I saw regularly when I was looking at the public shaming pieces was, “I wouldn’t have found myself there because I’d have a better relationship with my child”.  I mean, c’mon, however true this is, that’s about the least helpful thing anyone could say.  How did you develop the better relationship?  What did you do specifically to build this relationship?  How did you handle disobedience?  These are aspects of the earlier relationship that can be helpful to people when presented without moral authority.

3)      Address the poster’s concerns.  Sometimes we read into a question what we want and yet that’s not what’s being asked or discussed in a forum.  Take the first example where a mom shares a screw up for other moms to read.  A comment about how you wouldn’t be in that situation is, well, asinine.  That’s not the point of what was posted.  The point was to share a situation that many parents have been in (perhaps not that exact situation, but the feelings of failure are certainly something many parents relate to) and allow a discussion to ensue about how we overcome these scenarios or how we felt in these moments (or whatever it is).  Or, in the second example, what if someone says the issue had to be fixed immediately for the child’s sake and that’s why public shaming was used?  The only appropriate answer there is one which gives the individual practical advice they can use (and perhaps some moving forward advice once the crisis has passed).  That is, how can they fix things quickly to keep a child safe while working on the relationship at the same time? Anything else is you touting your own horn for your own benefit.

One thing we (hopefully) all acknowledge is that parenting is hard.  My belief, and why I run EP, is that education is best.  The more you know, the better off you are because you make your decisions with more in mind than those who know less and you can better weigh your options.  I think that’s why this statement bothers me so much.  It’s the antithesis of education.  So the next time you find yourself ready to tell the world what a perfect parent you are, please keep it to yourself or find a way to provide the information without making the reader want to punch you in the face.  I think that’s in everyone’s best interests.

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  1. says

    I completely agree and would even say that if a parent has tried a lot of the same things you do then it is likely that your children are *shocker* different and require different strategies. So your advice of what you did may have already been tried and rejected. I feel that the advice is sometimes cookie cutter…

  2. Jespren says

    *snort* *giggle* sorry, you should snark more often though, 😉 you do it quite well. I agree. Opening with ‘well, that would never happen to me’ is the opposite of answering the question, regardless of what comes after.
    Now, I will say I can imagine a question assine enough that I *would* answer with ‘yeah, well that would never happen to me, so you’re on your own with that one’ but, that would be when I was attempting to be snarky jerk. And I can’t imagine it would be a question given to me in any seriousness.

    • says

      Thank you :) And yes, I’m sure I could see myself being snarky that way to a really truly stupid question, but as you said, not one worth giving any thought to. And certainly never one from a parent looking for help!!!

  3. Misti says

    I’m eating a lot of thoughts (because I’ve never voiced my opinion) as 3rd time parent who exclusively breastfed my babies, getting my cycle back at 15 months, and then 18 months with my first two and feeling perhaps smug at nature’s spacing of my first two babies, and then with my 3rd, getting my cycle back at 8 weeks… Realizing that I could have very easily been one of those moms who had babies within a year of each other… It’s been humbling! No more smug thoughts of “well, I wouldn’t have been in that position to begin with…” from this peanut gallery… (My first sttn, mostly, at 5yo, my second at 4yo, and this third about 1week old. All co-sleeping. Feels bizarre!!)

  4. Barb says

    Yup this approach makes me uncomfortable. MY RANT and some insights – I have a friend who also gives “YOU MUST” advice that goes totally against what I am doing. I usually can keep calm and carry on when she gives me breastfeeding advice as she never breastfed and I can easily discard it but lately she started going on about sleep training and enforcing schedules because if I don’t do it the baby will never fit in into a school schedule etc. We are on a good baby led schedule and I told her that I am not going to change it but she keeps at it and I feel attacked. Also she told me that it’s not good that mister baby is not sitting up by 7 months and her baby was sitting up at 6 months. I wasn’t worried because baby is doing what he chooses when he’s ready but asked another friend. She told me that my “YOU MUST” friends baby wasn’t crawling or sitting until 8.5 months, doesn’t sleep through the night and is not developing as fast as his mum makes it. CONCLUSION – I think some parents try to feel better at someone else’s expense and give you bad advice so they don’t feel as bad about their own enforced schedules, sleep training and other things that are secretly gnawing on them…

  5. Ness says

    Thanks so much for this and agree that sometimes a bit of a rant can help so much!
    It’s hard enough in our current society with the expectations on how perfect we should be in all areas of our lives, that it’s very disconcerting and unempowering when superiority appears on EP or peaceful parenting forums. These are the places where I would expect the most support in our journey as parents and also where I would expect that people would treat other adults with the respect and support that they say they give to their children. I try to parent gently but aren’t always successful, I would love to have no issues but realise

  6. Ness says

    Sorry it sent to early!

    …but realise that my children seeing me learn from my mistakes and how to be a better person is a good lesson in itself. With some of the comments lately I would be nervous to post a question.

  7. johanna says

    I enjoyed this article. Often i read things and would like to comment as i feel I’ve something to add but oftentimes there are a handful of people commenting so unhelpfully or negatively i dont even want to be part of the response. It’s a shame as it prevents people getting much needed support and asking for help for fear of the response. Sadly I doubt those that speak like this will actually take heed as don’t you know this isn’t about them as they know everything and always get it right!!!

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