What Do Others Think?

I’m absolutely certain that every parent, at one time or another, has asked the question above and perhaps many variations thereof: What do others think of my parenting? What do others think of my children’s behavior? What do others think of how I reacted to my children’s behavior?

Sometimes thinking about what others might think of our behavior regarding our children can be a positive thing. I often find myself striving to be more grace-filled and that my temper happens to be just a little less quick to show itself if someone else is watching me. If only I could pretend that another person was watching me all the time! Somehow, knowing that God can see me all the time doesn’t have the same effect which is a shame.

However, being concerned with what others may think about our parenting and about our children’s behavior, more specifically, can be extremely detrimental in other ways.

I honestly think that the biggest “risk” that gentle parents run is the “risk” of looking like “bad parents” to others. The risk of looking like our children are completely out of control or even *dun dun dun* SPOILED!

Now, first of all, I truly believe that if parents are judged at all, they should NOT be judged based on their children’s behavior, but on their responses to their children’s behavior. As Lucy already put it so well, we cannot ever hope to completely control our children’s behavior – they are not us – they are separate human beings. BUT, we can control our responses to their behavior. We can react with patience, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. Yes, even when our children are being impatient, unkind, rough, and completely out-of-control, we can still control ourselves while removing our children from any bad situations to prevent them from hurting themselves or others.

We can let our responses be rooted in grace and in the understanding of our children’s developmental stage. We can seek to understand the process by which God created children to grow into adults so that we can help them along the way and teach them what they need to learn ways that they can understand.

The act of hitting children, by its very nature, ignores their developmental stage and doesn’t teach them anything about growing up or behaving properly. It teaches them that if they do X they can expect their parents – the people in their lives who ought to love and protect them the most – to physically hurt them.

Other punishments that are more related to the undesirable behavior can be more productive, but often they teach just as little as spanking does because they have no concrete connection to the behavior and young children are unable to think in the abstract yet. This is why the idea of “sharing” is so difficult – especially for toddlers and preschoolers. The concept of, “If you have it, it’s yours” tends to work better, in my experience, since they can actually understand the idea. They also can’t hold ALL the toys, nor can they have much fun while hoarding several in their arms at once.

There’s a huge problem with judging other parents based on their children’s behavior as well. Often when children are acting “spoiled” it’s because something not age-appropriate is being expected of them. For example, I attended a book group a few weeks ago. This group is for gentle and attached parents to come together and discuss parenting books and strategies to add to our parenting toolboxes. It’s a wonderful group!

Now, this particular meeting was very loud and it probably looked like we were the most permissive bunch of parents on the face of the planet, but the walking children present were 5, 3 (x2), and 1 (x2). It’s not age-appropriate to expect children of those ages to sit still and be quiet during an entire book meeting so we just worked around that fact because it’s much more important to us that it be a child-friendly event than that we get to discuss our book in relative silence.

One of the 3 year olds was being particularly exuberant that night, but her parents are certainly not permissive. I know them very well and they set quite reasonable limits. However, at some point during the meeting, their daughter reached her limit. Punishing her and expecting her to be quiet at 8pm at a meeting that held no interest for her wouldn’t have accomplished anything positive. Her parents would’ve gotten frustrated because she wasn’t reaching their goals for her and she would’ve gotten frustrated too because, well, it’s frustrating when people expect you to do something that you are developmentally incapable of doing.

Instead of being punished, she ran around happily (and a bit noisily) and was allowed to do so as long as she wasn’t hurting anyone else and as long as the discussion was still able to continue in a reasonable fashion.

Permissive parents wouldn’t have set any boundaries, and yet her parents were getting up frequently to guide their daughter’s actions. I remember that they took her out at one point because she had gotten too loud for a discussion to take place at all and she needed to calm down a bit. It may have looked to some other people like permissive parenting of and catering to a spoiled child, but to someone who knew what her parents were doing and who knew that she was behaving in exactly the way a normal 3-yo would in that situation, it really wasn’t.

Her parents remained calm, took her out when she got too disruptive, and kept everyone safe by removing her from the situation when she started to get excited enough to possibly hurt herself or others.

Many of the frustrating, obnoxious, and messy things that young children do are normal things that they eventually grow out of. I didn’t have to spank my 3 and 5 year olds in order to get them to stop pulling books off my shelves – they eventually just stopped doing it and I no longer have to redirect them away from the shelves! My 5 year old was rather well behaved at the book discussion despite the fact that it was a late evening meeting and a boring one for her, at that!

The difference between my friend’s daughter, my 3 year old (who was also fairly exuberant – though not as much, probably because she’s several months older than my friend’s 3 year old), and my 5 year old? Two years, that’s what. We have very similar parenting styles, very similar boundaries and goals for our children. Once my friend’s daughter and my 3 year old are 5, I’m sure that they’ll have the same age-appropriate skills that most 5 year olds do.

After all, I clearly didn’t spank any behaviors out of my 5 year old because she’s never been spanked. She has, however, quite nicely grown out of many behaviors that are unacceptable to most people and that were completely normal at the time she exhibited them. By minimizing her negative impact on others and helping her to control herself before she could do it by herself, I allowed her to naturally grow out of those behaviors instead of forcing her to before she was ready.

So… who cares what people think about your children’s behavior! Other people are coming to the situation with their own ideas, baggage, possible oblivion about normal child development, and almost certain unfamiliarity with your child and your family.

Instead, care about what other people think about *your* behavior. How are you reacting to your children’s undesirable or anti-social behavior? Are you reacting with grace or are you reacting with anger?

Consider allowing the question, “What do others think” to be a positive force in your interactions with your children instead of allowing it to negatively affect how you view your children’s behavior and reacting accordingly just in case someone might think that you’re a “bad” or “permissive” parent. Have more patience with your children out in public – treat them with even more grace – and then bring that patience and grace into your home as you consciously make it into a habit.

I’m writing this partially so that I can remember because it’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to yell or scream or feel like hitting in the moment. Being a parent is wonderful and miraculous! It can also be infuriating and frustrating and oh so repetitive… but our children are growing. They’re learning. They’re mostly learning by watching us. Modeling grace and kindness and patience, regardless of what other people may think, is one of the best gifts a parent can give their child as they both grow in understanding.


About barefootbetsy

I'm a musician, a mama, a lifelong lover of learning, a seeker of truth, and an avid barefooter.
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15 Responses to What Do Others Think?

  1. Dulce says:

    Excellent, as always! ❤ Reposting

  2. I definitely need this encouragement. We are surrounded by a culture that does not parent this way so it is hard when you know you are being seen as “permissive” and a “bad parent” for parenting differently. It kills me when my very exuberant 2 year old is “acting out” and I know what people are expecting me to do. I know they are thinking I should do things differently but at the end of the day, it is my relationship with my daughter that matters, not someone else’s opinion of my parenting.

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Thank you! Yes, it’s terribly difficult sometimes to be parenting so differently than everyone else. I live in the deep south where most people still believe in spanking hard and often 😦 It’s also hard for me to take my children out of a room and just know that nearly everyone is probably expecting me to spank them before we come back in.

      You are absolutely right that our relationships with our children are so much more important than what others think about, well, anything really. It’s always best, I think, to either not care – to not give others that power – or to try and look at it positively whenever possible!


  3. TealRose says:

    Exactly so !! Being gentle with children reaps such good benefits. Hitting anyone is always a negative action.

    And when you are being gentle and kind and thoughtful with your little ones, even if you don’t remember Him in the moment, don’t you think He is watching you and smiling anyway? After all, you are doing what is right by Him, and looking after those little ones as he instructed – with love and gentleness, with grace.

    So many parents are so busy keeping up with and worrying what everyone else thinks of them .. as parents and as people… that they end up expecting way too much from their children. They don’t remember those age related behaviours. They don’t remember or care that their child is tired and thirsty in the supermarket but do care that Mrs Jones from the church/school is in the aisle watching … so they over-react to their child’s behaviour instead of carrying on with their gentle ways . One thing my mother taught me was to never worry about what others were thinking of me, but to do what was right. Not to be a lemming. Not to follow the crowd if it is wrong….

    Children are children for such a short time and teaching them about life and living with grace is the most important thing a parent can do. Hitting a child is just so potentially damaging.

    Thank you for this article ..

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Thank you! I really appreciate your comment 🙂 It’s a hard thing to not care about what others think, but it’s so important to not let it negatively affect the parent-child relationship even if you can’t stop caring completely.

      It’s so odd, because sometimes I’ll get stuck in the, “Oh, what is that person THINKING about my child’s behavior” mindset, but other times it’s because someone is watching that I behave with extra grace. Other people are there and most of us do pick up on others’ disapproval to some degree or another so I’ve found that it’s more useful to redirect the energy, so to speak, and make it into a positive thing than to try and not care that someone’s there at all. To try and be a good example.

      I can’t even tell you some of the horrible ways I’ve seen parents treating their children in public… they were probably thinking about how horrible their child’s behavior looked, but it didn’t. At least, it didn’t to me. Their child looked tired or hungry or bored – maybe like they should be taken home and fed a good meal and put to bed or given a drink of water, but not punished or yelled at. I don’t judge the parents on their behavior either because I’ve been there too… I’ve lost it and yelled (yelling is what I struggle with, not hitting), but it’s always a bit easier not to lose it in public, I’ve found, because I do want to model grace-filled parenting to others.

      Now… there’s a thought. I want to model grace-filled parenting to my children as well… and they’re always around when I’m parenting 🙂


      • TealRose says:

        It always made me wonder, just how those children were treated by their parents at home it they were prepared to treat their children so appallingly out in public. I seethe when I hear others state things like “Children in supermarkets need a good spanking when they do .. xyz” – because that person has NO idea of what is going on. The child could be autistic, hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable, in pain, wet, tired, falling sick with something, or just frustrated with being dragged around by a parent for hours who should know better! Some parents have no sense … and expect perfection from a child who cannot achieve this false ideal that some others have for children.

      • Claire says:

        Modeling grace-filled parenting to our children – that *is* a thought! I wonder whether I can train myself to step back and ask myself, “When they grow up and meet this situation with *their* toddlers, what tape would I want playing in their heads?”

  4. Pearl says:

    I too have noted how the conciousness of others watching my parenting has an influence, at times for good (being extra gracious, gentle, patient, etc.) and other times for ill (putting a tighter or more unreasonable standard for behavior that doesn’t take into account developmental capabilities).

    I especially appreciate the perspective of a mama a bit ahead of me, and the reassurance that they DO grow out of some things!

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Isn’t it odd how that works? The human mind is such a funny thing… being influenced in very different ways at different times by the exact same thing.

      No problem! They definitely grow out of things. My nearly 4 and 5.5 year olds haven’t torn up any books in years now (2 and a bit over 3 years respectively, to be precise), but I literally just now caught my nearly 1.5 year old doing just that! I didn’t spank the others for doing it and they stopped so I continue to just take the book away, tape it up as well as possible, and try to keep her out of them for the time being. Impulse control has evidently not developed to an appreciable degree in my youngest yet. It is coming though!


  5. Katy-Anne says:

    This is a big issue for my husband and I, especially when we go to his parents house.

    The kids will do something that they see as unacceptable, and we’ll hear “when I was their age, if I’d have done that I’d have been spanked so hard it would have been the ONLY time I ever did that” or something to that effect, you get the picture.

    One such situation was Sunday two weeks ago. We brought the children to their house after church, and we’d bought burritos for them. My three year old was just sitting crying that he didn’t want to eat his burrito. He generally likes burritos. He was making rather a fuss about it, too. So grandpa gave us the line about spanking. I simply packed up my son’s burrito and told him that he didn’t have to eat it if he wasn’t hungry (he had already eaten half an apple), but that he wasn’t going to eat anything else either but to let me know if he got hungry in a little while so that he could finish his burrito. He went and played outside and then crashed he was so tired. His grandpa continued to go on about the spanking thing.

    One of my sons is disabled and you cannot tell by looking at him, so I hear comments all the time about how “naughty” he is when to me it’s quite clear that he just has no clue whatsoever about what is expected of him. And he really doesn’t. You can see it in his face, no comprehension whatsoever. Why would I punish my son for things he is just not capable of understanding?

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Your children are so lucky to have you as a mother! It’s even more difficult, I think, when family members are the ones commenting. You can choose your friends, but not your family. It’s much easier also to brush off something a perfect stranger says than to brush off something that a family member says. They do know you somewhat and sometimes their criticisms are very difficult to shake off. Good for you for not giving in!

      I’ve had similar encounters with some of my family members and pretending like it’s water rolling off my back tends to help, but it’s not an easy thing to continue on with what I know is right and to ignore their well-meaning advice. Remembering that they are well-meaning keeps my temper (and tongue) in check at least. They’re giving that advice because they care about me and they care about my children, but that doesn’t mean that their advice is worth taking!

      Thank you for your comment!


  6. Pingback: Appearances | Why Not Train A Child?

  7. Maureen says:

    I appreciate your thoughtful comment about observing parents response to their children rather than the children’s behavior. It is amazing how much presure is put on mother’s to have their children ( some as young as one and two) in a very controlled and polite way when the child in fact is far too young and developmentally immature ( or hungry, tired, over whelmed or simply bored) to ever have that level of control. I wonder all the times if parents are spanking in public, what on earth are they doing in the privacy of their own home.

  8. TealRose says:

    Exactly Maureen … what ARE they doing in their own homes? What do those children have to go through .. just because their parents either don’t know or don’t care about age related behaviour.

    It makes me so sad to hear of children being hit .. and makes me MAD to hear the parents or just others say that it’s fine, it works, it should be ‘in their toolbox’ [huh.. I didn’t need a ‘toolbox’ for my children they weren’t machines….] it does no harm, it will stop them becoming criminals, it teaches them not to run in the road, and worse … it will save them from hell. No .. it won’t … only GOD can do that.

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