Today’s post is written by Roxanne Hobbs, founder and maternity coach at the Hobbs Consultancy. Here, she explores the struggles that many parents feel in regards to feeling judgement when it comes to parenting choices.
I’ve been reading about the so-called ‘sippy cup test’ recently. Imagine your child says, “I want the pink sippy cup, not the blue!” yet you have already poured the milk into the blue sippy cup. Your reaction is the test. Apparently you ‘fail’ the test if you reach for the different coloured cup. According to Emma Jenner, Author of Keep Calm and Parent On, “more often than not, the mum’s face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum. Fail! What are you afraid of, mum? Who is in charge here?”
I would most certainly fail Emma’s test. I would, without doubt, switch the cup.
And I wonder how many of the 1.2m people who have shared this article might also fail the test?
Yet the ‘test’ troubles me on a number of levels.
There are a lot of reasons why that cup might be switched. Fear of a tantrum might well be one of those reasons. And you know what, if you’ve endured a two year old who tantrums frequently and for prolonged periods of time, there’s going to be absolutely no judgment from me if you make a decision to avoid going to that dark place. I’ve been there. It sucks. It drains you of your sanity, patience and enjoyment of parenting.
But there are other reasons the cup might be switched. What if you switch the cup, not from a place of fear of a tantrum, but from a place of wanting your child to know that they have options and choices? Two year olds are independent little characters just waiting to develop their own independence and separateness from their parents. We want to bring up adults that aren’t afraid to ask for what they want. We want to bring up teenagers that feel able to talk to you about their emotions and feelings. We want to bring up five year olds who know that they are listened to. Maybe switching the cup is one small step towards this?
Parents face hundreds of situations like this on a daily basis and constantly have to think, ‘what is the best way to respond to this?’ in a society which seems eager to judge and tell them the right answers. I’m not a parenting expert by any means. I’m more interested in supporting parents through a vulnerable stage in their lives to make decisions that resonate with their values and to navigate the shame minefield that parenting in public today seems to consist of.
So what is interesting about the sippy cup test is that it even exists in the first place. Why are we so ready to dish out judgment as to whether other parents are doing things right or not?
Research suggests that we are more likely to be in judgment in areas of our lives in which we feel most insecure. Brené Brown tells us, in Daring Greatly, that ‘we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance’.
If we hold this research as true, we are a nation that struggles daily with their parenting choices – as I see judgment dished out continuously by friends, colleagues, randoms in John Lewis and the media. And once you know this, it then feels just as rubbish giving out the judgment as it does to be on the receiving end of it.
So how to navigate this? It’s really simple – be mindful and be curious. This is about paying attention to the decisions you are making, getting curious as to the beliefs behind them and making decisions going forwards from that place. I take time to reflect on why I’m making the decisions I’m making and hold true that others are doing the same. And it’s worth saying – I do this imperfectly, slipping up frequently. My most uncomfortable parenting moments have happened when I’ve forgotten to pay attention – or was just too damn tired to!.
Paying attention means that even if we get to a vastly different parenting choice than someone else (switch the sippy cup vs. don’t switch the sippy cup, let your 8 year old watch Harry Potter vs. don’t let him watch Harry Potter), there really doesn’t need to be any judgment. Or any feeling that we have in any way failed. We really are all doing the very best that we can.