Monday, 9 September 2013

Bad Judgement part one

If you read any parenting forum for long enough you'll find somebody accusing someone else of judging them.
 It isn't confined to fora, of course: articles on breastfeeding, private conversations, even public health campaigns, at least where children are concerned, are apparently rife with considered opinion.
 Sorry, I mean with judgement.
Which is, apparently, a bad thing.

Of course the people accusing other people of judgement actually don't mean that at all: they mean that the accused is being judgemental, a rather different thing.
 You don't have to do a lot to incur this opprobrious slur on your good name, indeed all it takes, sometimes, is the expressing of an opinion.
 In short, if you exercise judgement you will be thought to be judgemental, and accused of judging.
It's all very confusing.

I have in the past been accused of judging an acquaintance because I* asked for advice on her behalf.
I've been accused of being judgemental and condescending because I mentioned that I did things differently to my accuser, and that her methods weren't something I'd come across before.
I've been accused of sitting there smugly judging from my lofty pinnacle of perfect parenthood** because I, oh horror, shared a link to the World Health Organisation's website.

What's funny is that each time my accuser was in fact judging me***: they looked at my words, decided: "She's judging me", and announced their verdict to the world.
 Yet if I had mentioned this they would not have been at all amused.
The problem is that parenthood is fairly stressful and one is frequently uncertain that one is doing the right thing.
 Once one has chosen a course it can be horribly distressing to find out, some way down the line, that it was the wrong one, or at least not the best possible choice one could have made.
Add to this all the fuss that is made in the newspapers about judgement, the Mommy Wars****, and so on, and you can see why some people might be on a hair trigger.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a parent in pre-revolutionary China.
 You have a daughter, and wanting only the best for her you have, as any good parent would, crushed the bones of her growing feet and over slow, agonising, potentially fatal months, remodelled them into a more aesthetically and socially pleasing form.
 Then the revolution hits.
Suddenly your daughter's feet are symbols of the corrupt imperial past.
 She is unfit for work and unsuited to life in the new China.
 What is more, it turns out that it was never a good idea to torture her like that.
What you believed was an act of love which, however painful it might be for both of you, would eventually ensure her happiness by enabling her to marry and live as a good wife should, was in fact just a pointless, dangerous cruelty.
 Imagine how that must have felt.

That, I suspect, is not a million miles away from the way a parent must feel when they hear that, for example, leaving their child to cry to itself all night long was not, as they believed, the only way to teach their child to sleep, but a good way to encourage future insecurities, and perhaps even cause brain-damage later on.
 Of course it hurts.
And of course it must feel as though the person offering their opinion, however well-meant, however gently given, is being judgemental.
Everyone wants to do the best for their children, to be told that you may have failed, or by extension that your actions may have harmed your child, is like a knife in the stomach.

Of course, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't offer our opinions, that we shouldn't share our judgement, our reasoned decisions, with others.
 Because, actually, footbinding really was a terrible idea, and there are other and better ways to teach a child to sleep, and a hundred little things which seemed the right choice last year, or last week, or the day before yesterday, will turn out on further study to have been rather less than ideal.
 We should be considerate of others, of course, but we shouldn't keep silent: to do so would be to offer tacit approval, to suggest that in our judgement that not-so-safe method was just fine.
And so, because no-one said anything, nothing, not even the worst things, would change.
 And that just isn't worth it.

Not in my judgement anyway.

* With permission.

** not in those exact words, though smug, perfect and a few other such words were certainly employed.
I just like the sound of pinnacle of perfect parenthood.
I like the image too: somewhere high and pointy with wisps of cloud, and me sitting cross legged, surrounded by exquisitely balanced children who I, bodhisattva-like, am bringing up, my many arms each attending to a different task.

***Not to mention being rather judgemental in the process.

****In England too, you'd think we could at least have Mummy Wars, or something.
I favour Maternal Skirmishes, myself.

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