When Family and Friends Don’t Understand Your Parenting

Photography: HADAS Images | www.hadasimages.com

By Rachel Schofield

When we choose to parent differently to the norm, we add an extra layer of challenge to our already overfull plates. Without the support and backing of family, friends or professionals, the challenging job of caring for our children gets a whole lot tougher. Parents who choose to parent by connection rather than the mainstream rewards and punishment approach often feel isolated in their views.

We can be taken aback at the tensions arising over our choice to parent differently. We may feel judged for staying close and listening when our child offloads feelings. Or perhaps we have to head off pointed comments and harsh criticism about our parenting style. But often, being judged is not as hard on us as the breakdown in connection with our loved ones, and the misunderstandings that result.

The pain of rejection when those around us don’t understand our parenting is heartbreaking. Mothering without your own mother’s approval is lonely. Fathering without your own father’s blessing is tough.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Bit by bit we can turn things around with these 4 steps:

#1. Build our confidence in our parenting style

#2. Zap our own knee jerk-reactions to other people’s opinions

#3. Tactfully handle the disapproval from others

#4. Help bridge the gap with those around us

A good place to start is to recognise the impact our parenting choice has on others and ourselves. As humans we are deeply social beings, our instinct to maintain close ties with one another is strong and vital. Belonging and sharing values are primal needs.

Simply ‘doing differently’ can seem like disapproval to others. ‘Doing differently’ can accidentally touch on old wounds and fears, and feel like criticism.

And when we rub on sore spots in our friends and family, they’ll likely show us. They may have no idea that we’ve stumbled upon a painful place. To them it feels like we’re the one who is being difficult, we’re the one who is making life hard, we’re the one who is wrong. And that’s what they show us with their “off” comments or looks.

And likewise for us, we tend not to notice that our differing views have touched a vulnerable part inside ourselves. We’re inclined to feel like our mother is really unsupportive, or our friend is so critical or the family doctor is plain annoying.

Accepting that differences do create challenges helps. It calls upon us to navigate them more skillfully. If we are to feel more secure in our relationships and hold steady in the face of differences, we need to heal our own hurts and find ways to show our friends and family how much we still care. These four steps will get us there bit by bit.


When those closest to us implicitly or explicitly disapprove of our parenting style it pretty quickly taps into our worries. Somewhere inside we all carry the fear, “I am not a good enough parent”. We love our children so much and would do anything to make life go well for them. So our imperfections shout loudly. We can’t be perfect parents. We can’t smooth life out for our kids as well as we’d like. Imperfection is inevitable and it hurts. We need to release and counter those feelings and build our confidence.

Get knowledgeable. Getting clear about why we are parenting the way we are can help boost our resolve and strengthen our conviction of the path we are following. Hand in Hand offers a basket full of resources to help: success stories from parents, and articles on the science of parenting (especially the Parent Education series). And our recommended reading list cites plenty of books that back the idea of focusing on building the parent-child connection (notably, A General Theory of Love, and Parenting from the Inside Out).

Get  support. We don’t need to abandon our family and friends but we do need to find others who empathise and support our parenting journey. Hand in Hand has many ways for you to do that. Online, you can connect with like-minded parents with our Yahoo! Discussion Group, Support Calls, Starter Class, or Facebook support group. In person, contact your local instructor.

Get listening time. Working on the fears that get kicked up in the face of others’ disapproval can help enormously. Find someone to listen to you as you figure out what worries you about your kids and your parenting. Talking about and releasing those fears can do wonders to build your parenting confidence. Exchanging warm, supportive listening with another parent is at the core of the Hand in Hand approach. The emotional support offered through Listening Partnerships (where two parents exchange time to listen to one another with a focus on releasing emotion) will leave you refreshed. It will then be easier to squarely and compassionately face the judgements from others.

Exploring these topics might help unravel buried feelings:

– How deeply do you want your mother, father, or friend to agree with you and support you?
– What are you afraid might happen if you can’t agree with them?
– What feelings come up for you as you consider that you might be wrong? That you are indeed a good parent? That you’ve always done your best? That you may also have made one or two mistakes along the way?


Notice your automatic responses. Take a step back at what you tend to do in the face of difference to others. Do you feel defensive, clam shut, or lash out? What impact does this have on your relationships with those people? Some parents freeze and lose their voice, others react angrily, leading to conflict, some parents get so embarrassed or defensive that they might end up parenting the expected way like scolding or distracting their child and later regret not connecting, listening and empathising.

Get listening time. Regular listening time can be a powerful way to shift our knee-jerk reactions and figure out new ways to respond in the face of judgement. We can use the safety of the Listening Partnership to rant and rage in privacy without damaging our important relationships. We can go back to our families and friends with love and compassion, having vented away our anger. We can use listening time to explore:

Finishing the sentence, “I wish my mother/friend/family doctor would…”
What childhood memory the lack of support reminds you of?
Taking the lighthearted attitude, “That’s my mum/dad/friend!” to practice embracing who they are.

Take emergency measures. Figure out some emergency strategies you can use in the heat of the moment when whose around you are pressing your buttons. Maybe you plan to simply walk away, or go drink a glass of water, or phone a friend or perhaps lock yourself in the toilet for some time out. Having a plan and practicing it can help shift the pattern of those tricky moments.

Experiment with new responses. Figure out new patterns. How could you stand strong in your opinion and still convey warmth to others? It’s important not only to hold steady in ourselves but also to get across the message, “I care” to those around you. We can use our Listening Partnerships to try out new responses that might work for us and let us tune into our child. The next two sections give some suggestions.

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