Parenting criticism often comes from a place of unacknowledged discomfort.

So often, when someone chooses to parent in a way that seems countercultural, they come in for a lot of criticism from family and friends, and even strangers.

Why is this? Why do so many people feel the need to pass commentary on how someone else has chosen to bring up their child?

There are several reasons for this. Sometimes it comes from a place of love, especially from our nearest and dearest. They may recall how exhausting they found parenthood themselves… and want to help you avoid that, by passing on the things they heard and the advice they were given as new parents. Unfortunately, these bits of information may not be any more helpful now to you than they really were to them back then, but we tend to remember the warnings more than the encouragements. “You’ll make that baby clingy if you don’t put them down.” Fear is contagious, and it’s natural to want to protect those you love.

However, making important parenting choices out of fear is not productive or helpful.

Sometimes criticism comes from a place of self doubt. Parenting is tough for everyone and involves constant decisions. “Do I go to my baby when they wake at night?” “When should I stop letting them sleep in my arms?” “How should I feed my baby?” “How long do I leave my baby crying?” And so often, the choices we make cast long shadows and a feeling of guilt that we tend to suppress. All parents have a sense of guilt about parenting – we’re doing it from scratch, learning from our babies and getting some of it wrong. So when someone else has a baby, much of that self-doubt can resurface, unrecognised for what it is. A sense of unease and uncertainty.

And, often, this can present as a need for validation for the choices that were made. “It never did me any harm…” (are you sure about that?) “You shouldn’t do this.” “You need to do that.”

Are they really saying, unconsciously, “I need you to make the same choices that I did so I feel that my choices were OK.”

That’s a really tough situation for a new parent to find themselves in, to navigate their own parenting self-doubt, and also be able to see and recognise the unacknowledged discomfort and distress coming from the other person. However, it may help to be aware of this, rather than immediately feeling attacked and becoming understandably defensive.

Also, criticism can come from a place of cultural conditioning. We coo over small babies being cuddled and sleeping peacefully in arms for only a few short months, and then the pervasive ideas about creating early independence begin to creep in. It seems wrong to see children taking up their parents’ space and time. “Adults shouldn’t be inconvenienced by the needs of children, they’re just children!” “They need to learn not to need you!” The concept of “clingy” children is at the heart of this. It is right and normal for a small person to need the presence and encouragement and support of their trusted parent for many years. The human species has one of the longest periods of childhood: and yet society tries to bring this to an early and abrupt end, stigmatising entirely normal childhood behaviour/

Adults must be free to be productive and useful. Nothing should disturb their sleep or their ability to work. Children should be seen and not heard. All these deeply ingrained attitudes to childhood really mess with the collective perception of children just being normal children.

So, much criticism (often from strangers) comes from that cultural pressure and the need for adults to be in control. A toddler being carried on the back triggers so much more negativity than the same toddler in a pushchair: the toddler is “invading” the parent’s space. A baby being held in arms all the time is “a rod for your own back.” Being told to not make eye contact with your baby at night is all about giving adults control.  A lot of targeted advertising plays on this vulnerability.

So what to do? How as a new parent can you navigate all these complex emotions around you and your family?

1. Arm yourself with up-to-date evidence-based information from trusted sources who do not have an agenda or a product or a programme to sell.

2. Be confident in the parenting choices you have made based on this: when the self-doubt comes, remind yourself that you chose this way when you were calm, rational and not exhausted and overwhelmed. You made the choice to be a responsive parent for a good reason. Don’t let misplaced fear drive what you do.

3. Recognise and understand the discomfort and distress the person offering “advice”/criticism may be experiencing. It’s about them, not about you. This may make it easier to not take it personally.

4. Thank them for their input, say that you appreciate their care for you. Help them to see that you have done your research with the latest science on the topic, we know so much more about child brain development now than we did a few years ago. You have new information and you’re acting on it. You are not rejecting their parenting choices, or them, but you’re making decisions that feel right for you and your baby at this period of time.

5. Offer them new ways to provide useful support to you and your child. If grandma wants you to use the buggy more, perhaps she would like to use it whenever she comes round and take baby for a walk? Suggest alternatives for them, eg instead of asking “aren’t they sleeping through the night yet”, “What can I do to help?” “Perhaps I could cuddle the baby to sleep so you can have a shower?”

6. Stand your ground with strangers. “Thank you. I’m very happy with how I’m bringing my child up. We’re good.” And mentally remind yourself that your child has a solid foundation for a happy and healthy future and perhaps won’t feel the need to tut at other parents when they grow up!