When They Judge Us, They Show Their Weakness — Not Ours
“When someone judges your parenting or your child, don’t engage — don’t respond to it and, most importantly, remember that it’s not about you or your child. It’s about somebody who has a need to make themselves feel morally superior to you, even for a brief second.”
Years ago, I worked with an occupational therapist named “Kim.” Kim was a single mom to a boy with nonverbal autism. She did not have it easy. Her ex-husband had significant mental health issues and was not equipped to deal with their son, even for short periods. She was doing this completely on her own. I learned a lot through my conversations with Kim, perhaps the most important thing I learned from her was to not take on others’ judgments about your parenting or listen to their ADHD stigma.
My son had been with me for almost 2 years prior to meeting Kim. At that time, I had moved back to the community where I grew up as I wanted to my son to go through the same school district I went through. Prior to moving, my son had been in a small, self-contained classroom with an amazing teacher who facilitated his success in her classroom. Upon entering the district, I suggested to the Special Education Director that my son go into a smaller, self-contained classroom (like the one he was coming from). I was basically told that I was being pessimistic and should give him an opportunity to be in a larger classroom setting based on how he presented to them.
The faculty did not understand how a child who appeared so charming in school could be so difficult at home. This is extremely common with older adopted children. They charm people whom they do not need to have a close relationship with because it gives them a sense of control. Their behavior at home can be profoundly stressful for their adoptive family because bonding with primary caregivers is something they typically did not experience, thus they fight against it as hard as they can. The diagnostic label for this is Reactive Attachment Disorder.
During school meetings for my son, some of the faculty would make underhanded comments implying that I was overly negative about my son. They had no idea of the turmoil I was dealing with at home and I understood that. I only knew of one couple in the community where I lived (who were at a different elementary school) who had adopted an older child, like myself. The faculty had no experience with this. Their judgments about me were based on their lack of education and experience dealing with kids with this diagnostic profile.
Over lunch one day, Kim showed me a business card that she had printed up. I wish I had the card to show you because it was brilliant. The card said “My son isn’t having a tantrum because he’s being a brat. He has autism and can’t communicate his needs verbally which is why he’s having a tantrum.”
Kim explained to me that she had this card printed up because when she would be out in the community and her son would have a meltdown she would need to let him lay on the floor until the tantrum was over. People passing by often made comments to her about her son’s behavior. She made this card to hand out to them when they would make a comment or give her a demeaning look.
Kim and I often shared our struggles of being single parents to extremely challenging kids. She gave me some words of wisdom that really helped to ground me: “You do what you know is right. If the school faculty want to judge you, brush it off. They have no idea what you’re dealing with. If I took on every judgment of every passerby I wouldn’t be able to function and then how could I do what I need to do for my son?”
When children with ADHD struggle with emotional regulation in front of others, people are quick to make judgments about the child’s parents. Attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is not easy to identify thus people are quick to assume that a child’s behavior is a result of poor parenting.
If you choose to try to educate people, I admire your tenacity. If you feel that you don’t have the interest or the energy to do that, there is nothing wrong with that.
What is a problem is when you take on and internalize the judgments of people who don’t understand your day-to-day struggles. Unfortunately, Facebook and social media has become an echo chamber for people who want their judgments to be heard and affirmed by others.
My unsolicited advice to you: When someone judges your parenting or your child, don’t engage — don’t respond to it and, most importantly, remember that it’s not about you or your child. It’s about somebody who has a need to make themselves feel morally superior to you, even for a brief second.
Others’ judgments about your child or your parenting is about them, not you, so don’t take something on that doesn’t belong to you.