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Why We Need to Give Parents the Benefit of the Doubt

You don't know how you'll be until you're in that moment.

It’s confession time. When I was in college, I’d often see kids throwing a fit in stores, restaurants, or movie theaters. When I would see it, I’d say things like, “That could never be me as a parent,” or, “My kids will not act like that.” I was a super judgmental college kid who did not understand parenting at all, and I certainly wasn’t giving anyone the benefit of the doubt. I once saw a kid, who I labeled the “demon book thrower,” destroy an entire shelf of kids toys and books at Barnes & Noble. I was sure that his parents were ill-equipped. I knew when I had kids, they would never do something like that.

When my oldest son was about two years old, my wife and I decided to go to get some books from Barnes & Noble. My son, Austin, asked for a red and yellow fire truck toy. I said, “Sorry, buddy, but we are here to get books. We are not getting the toy.” I think you know what came next. Austin threw the largest fit I’d ever seen in my entire life—running up and down the toy aisle, throwing himself on the ground, throwing toys from the shelves, biting, kicking, scratching, spitting. I stood there for what felt like 20 minutes but was more like 30 seconds. I thought about the “demon book thrower” kid and his parents from all those years ago, and I realized that all kids throw tantrums

I judged those poor parents, and now my wife and I were those poor parents. 

When it comes to parenting, there are so many opportunities to judge. 

I’m just going to say it: Parents experience more shame and judgement than many of us realize. I was once the person passing judgement, and now I know I have been the subject of some judgements made about my parenting. From public freak outs and parenting blogs to play groups and parent friends, there is no shortage of judgement. 

Negative judgements about other parents or yourself as a parent are never helpful or healthy for us nor our children. So instead of judgement we really, really need to start giving parents the benefit of the doubt. 

Here’s why: Parents love their kids. 

That’s it. That’s the point. Speaking generally, any parent who’d seek out a YouTube channel or a parenting blog loves their child. Even the extreme parents out there. Everyone knows that parent who goes up to the school and yells at a teacher on behalf of their “perfect” child. (By the way, if you don’t know a parent like that, make sure it’s not you!) Yet, this is still a parent who cares deeply about their child. 

We all make very real mistakes and all have our own ways of doing this difficult job. You should not feel bad for your parenting decisions or failures or differences. You deserve the benefit of the doubt because you love your children. It’s as simple as that. 

This is a messy job where there are no right or wrong answers. 

There are so many different ways to do a single thing. We should all give parents the benefit of the doubt because there is no other job on earth that is messier than this one! It takes one minute of parenting to know that there is no manual, no description, and no instructions for this job. The truth of it is that parenting is just, well, messy. No one gets it all right all of the time, and we all will likely all make a mess at some point in our kids’ lives. There are so many good and effective parenting styles. And by the way, most of them are imperfect in some way. 

With parenting, we often get focused on milestones or what children should or shouldn’t be doing at certain ages. Yet, who are we to judge what age your kid reads, or loses their training wheels, or learns how to drive? Why should we compare how we view sports or who is more talented at hobbies? We need to find more ways to come together as parents instead of comparing and judging others.

You are not accountable to other parents. 

There is no formal evaluation or performance review for parents. But you are held accountable to someone. And guess what: It’s not to your neighbor, friend, or parent blogger. You are ultimately held accountable for your parenting by your children. They are the only ones who get to audit and critique you. Period. No one else. Not even your own parents. 

So yes, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and give other parents the benefit of the doubt. Take comfort in knowing that we are all ultimately being held accountable for our choices, decisions, and parenting styles by the children we raise. Here’s what it might look like if we gave ourselves and other parents the benefit of the doubt:

We all get better. 

My mom always used to say, “You can’t clean someone else’s house and your own at the same time. Focus on your task at hand.” Now she said that to keep me from reminding her that my brother’s room wasn’t clean when she’d ask me to clean my room, but it applies nicely here. 

If we give each other the judgement-free space to be parents, we can all make sure to take care of our homes and our children. 

You can step back with confidence. 

The more confident you feel in your parenting decisions, the more secure you can become. With that security, you can finally step back and let your children step up. At the end of the day, you are in this whole parenting thing to see your kids grow and learn. In my experience, when I feel less secure as a parent, I try to get my kids to “straighten up” when really it is me who needs to get it together. I need to relax and be confident that my wife and I are doing a good enough job for me to be able to step back and let my kids grow, make mistakes, succeed, and learn. 

So when you see a kid screaming and throwing a fit in the middle of Target, knocking the Reese’s Puffs off the shelf to get attention, don’t judge. Maybe that parent doesn’t do things the way you do, but their perspective is valid, too. Let’s all help each other by giving ourselves and other parents the benefit of the doubt!