Does it bother you when somebody judges you?
I am an unmarried mom.
No, not a single mom, but an intentionally unmarried mom. In a committed relationship with the father of my 2.5 year old daughter for the past 11 years.
While many of my friends are happy for my happiness and have accepted my choice (whether they agree with it or not), every so often, I stumble into people who just cannot mask their disbelief (and often disdain) at the path we’ve chosen.
While I don’t easily get fazed by judgemental people, when someone assumes a moral high ground, it makes me wonder. Am I missing something? Is a traditionally married mother better than an unmarried one?
We have come a long way from branding the letter “A” on an unwed mother’s forehead, and yet, the only socially “acceptable” way to bear children is with a ring on mom’s finger.
Discrimination against unmarried mothers is just one example of why it’s time for a tune-up of our moral compasses. Whether it’s race, religion, sex, money, or education, our beliefs are often out-of-touch with today’s world.
If we’re to raise kind, compassionate kids into moral, empathetic adults, we need to separate judgement from morality.
There’s right and wrong, of course. The basic ten commandments, in whatever dish you prefer them served. Thou shalt not lie, cheat, steal, or harm (well, that’s the condensed version).
But judgement is often hidden under a veil of morality.
The unmarried mom, the breastfeeding preschooler, the attachment parent, the unschooler. In today’s world of 24-hour news channels and instant status updates from friends around the world, is it really our place to judge anymore?
We see lifestyles and events we never would have been exposed to before technology took over, and when the ideas go against our beliefs, attack is too often the first line of the defense.
Technology has brought judgement to the forefront of our collective conscience, in the form of social media shaming, internet trolls, and opinion-based journalism. Judgement is our instinctive response to anything that is different from what we’re used to.
Let’s explore the grey area between right and wrong, where morals often become judgement, and conformity is our “safe place.”
Morality and Judgment are Having an Affair.
Everyone does it.
We judge people, ideas, and actions based on what we were taught by our family. While you might buck the status-quo of your family, deep down, you and your family’s beliefs about what’s right and wrong are likely similar.
My parents valued respect over success. Both are intensely moral people – the ones who count the cashier’s change to ensure the cashier isn’t shortchanged. The people who always put employees before profits. They value respect, hard work, and on-going education (likely in that order).
So do I, though my methods may vary. My basic moral code looks very similar to my parents.
But it’s not just how your mom (& dad) raised you. Morals are rooted in genetics. Yale psychologist Paul Bloom’s research shows that babies are born with basic moral codes. Empathy and compassion, just like suspicion and judgement, are ingrained in us, as a species, and transferred genetically.
A perfect example of genetic morality is the Compassion Test, conducted with children as young as 3 months old. Offered a choice between two toys (one toy that was seen being “nice” and another that was “mean”) children overwhelmingly chose the kinder toy. Kids want to do the right thing.
But that’s not the end of the (moral) story. Professor Bloom, and others, explain that our brains are not wired for “modern morality,” which includes the outrageous number of decisions we must make every day. The challenges of modern-day life – an endless parade of people, choices, and events – have made some people doggedly cling to morals that may be outdated, unfounded, or just plain wrong, because humans crave like-minded community.
We judge what’s different because familiarity is safe. People want to be around those who agree with them. The definition of “moral” is “concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong: ethical.”
Judgement is often nothing more than our interpretation of the moral rules of conduct. So, who wrote all the “rules” I’m supposedly breaking by staying unmarried?
History wrote the rules. Religious leaders, community leaders, and grassroots movements shaped, and altered, our communities. That’s why it’s so important we stop and ask, “Did I even agree with these past leaders? With their beliefs, judgements, and moral codes?”
Chances are, the answer will be “no”, just as often as “yes”.
If a community judges those who act differently, and a community is defined by its leaders (who are defined by their beliefs, and often religion) shouldn’t we be asking a few more questions about the members of the community who are driving the Judgement Train?
Whew. That was heavy. What I’m saying is this: are we teaching our children antiquated versions of right and wrong? Is it time to get off the Judgement Train?
I’m a work in progress, but here are 5 things that I’m trying in my family to make sure my child won’t grow up to be a judgmental person –
#1 Avoid Saying “It’s Wrong” When You Mean “I Disagree”.
Your child mentions that a friend in school stays up quite late, when your child is tucked into bed (mostly) on schedule every night. Your instinct is to react negatively and assume they’re up watching TV or playing video games. After all, the importance of night sleep is well researched and documented. Those parents should know better, you want to say.
Except…in many cultures, a late bedtime is expected – even encouraged – as a way to enjoy family time. Dinners are late, and bedtimes are later, but these kids are happy, healthy, and thriving.
Anytime you’re confronted with an issue that pushes the envelope for your value system, ask yourself, is it “wrong”, or do you just disagree?
#2 Avoid Saying “It’s Right” When You Mean “It’s Socially Acceptable.”
Simply put, we learn how to judge by the people who judged us. Growing up, you were tested and taught by your caregivers, teachers, and neighbors. Breastfeeding for up to about one year is right…longer and people start to judge. Why? Because full-term breastfeeding is not common (aka socially acceptable) in the westernized culture.
Another great example is the Cinderella waist-shaming incident, where being skinny is (almost) as bad as being fat. Socially acceptable is a culture’s way of cultivating conformity.
#3 Avoid Saying “It’s Bad” When You Mean “It’s New and I’ve Not Wrapped my Brain Around it Yet.”
I let my daughter sleep on the floor for the first two years of her life. In the United States, I may as well have put her outside to sleep in the doghouse…few people just could understand why I would deprive my child of a crib. The reason? Her room was a safe environment that promoted independence and exploration. A classic Montessori-style nursery.
Unfortunately, it’s a novel concept to most people, and they refused to consider the valid points of a floor bed. You could see them trying to hide their shock and shaking their heads at my “crazy talk”.
New doesn’t have to mean bad.
#4 Before Offering Your Opinion, Ask Yourself if It’s Really Your Opinion.
Community beliefs are ingrained and deep. Search out examples for your children where communities believe the opposite and talk about the differences.
- In Japan, I could be accused of child neglect for placing my sleeping baby in her own room. United States culture discourages children sleeping in the same room as parents.
- In Sweden, if I turned the car seat forward facing when my daughter turned 1 year old, I could be arrested. In the United States, people ask me daily why my daughter is still rear facing.
Even better: Don’t offer your child opinions. State what you agree/don’t agree with and give them the freedom to make up their own mind on the issue.
#5 Foster Free Play in Your Children
Studies show free play leads to more compassionate, moral kids. The benefits of free play are numerous and varied.
You’ll often find my daughter engaged in free play. Pom-poms become sorting pieces, rockets, or balls, depending on her mood. Open-ended toys, like wooden blocks, are great ways to encourage free play. Step back and let your kid be a kid.
Educational advancement (especially in science and math), problem-solving, kindness, compassion, and empathy are just a few of the side benefits of allowing your children the freedom to play.
Our Children’s Future Depends On It
Raising kids with strong concepts of right and wrong is one of the biggest parenting goals. That’s how we raise kind, compassionate children into like-minded adults. I want my daughter to stand up and fight for the (deserving) underdog. I want her to know that, at the end of the day, what matters most is how you treat each and every person who crosses your path.
Helping our kids reject judgement, and embrace tolerance, requires redefining what matters to us, in the present, and for the future. It’s about finding a balance between awareness and conformity, that suits your family’s individuals needs and lifestyle.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick contemplation questions today, let’s assume your kids walked up to you right now and asked you a difficult question (go ahead, pick one that clashes with your long-held belief system – unwed mothers, same sex marriage, atheism, unschooling – or anything else that rankles you)
- How would you answer the question?
- Is the discussion really based on what is right or wrong? Or is it a judgement based on moral high ground?
- Should we even be raising these questions, or should we just quietly accept the existing social norms?
- Did reading this article make you a bit uncomfortable? Does questioning what is right and wrong inherently feel wrong in the first place?
As always, there is no one correct way to answer these questions. Their goal is to help you figure out where you are and get a better sense for where you want to be.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Over the course of the next week, make an intentional effort to get off the Judgement Train. Ask yourself what really matters – to you. Not your family, your community, your partner – but to you. The judgements you make will surface in the next generation, whether you know it or not.
Lead by example. Whether you believe that marriage is necessary is or not, don’t raise your eyebrows when you hear a co-worker is pregnant, and unwed. Talk to your kids about the grey areas between right, wrong, and judgement.
Above all, try to be careful about voicing your judgements. Only then can you help your child develop their own sense of what right and wrong really means.