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It's Not the Parents or the Kids: What Really Happens When We Shame Parents

When we take a black or white approach to telling parents how to raise their children we create a culture that rarely give parents the space to reflect on their parenting decisions.
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"It's always the parents, isn't it?" A colleague once said to me when I began to tell her what I did for a living. We were talking about how we could collaborate and make our services more accessible, and when I told her that I was a parent coach she quickly commended me on doing a job "she could never do." She proceeded to telling me her thoughts on how she feels that it's always the parents and not the kids who have the real issues. While I didn't get into it with her about how it's neither the parents or the kids, she got me thinking about how we have come to be a culture who unabashedly gravitates to shaming parents.

I realized, from that conversation and many others that I've had when I share what I do for a living, that we really need to have an honest dialogue about parent shaming and it's effects on our children and families. We need to talk about how we all make quick judgements about how parents raise their children. We need to stop and reflect on how those judgements seep into our general consciousness and get internalized as facts for us to use against one another. And we need to talk about our fascination with blaming either the parent or the kid when the real issue is the environment in which the family lives.

As we begin to have this dialogue -- because I've taken your continued interest in this article as your consent to continue -- we must bring to light the double standards we have in our culture towards parents. On one hand, we expect parents to lasso their children into good behavior and we blame bad behavior on the parents inability to properly control their child. But, on the other hand, we demonize and condemn parents who use physical punishment and tell them that they are abusive. Still on another front, when we witness a parent physically disciplining their child in public and it's for the greater good we applaud and praise them (remember, the mother in Baltimore whose physical discipline video went viral.) And while we're doing this flip-flop dance on what's right or wrong in parenting this week, we leave parents either grasping for whatever skills are available to effectively raise their child or remaining silent as they struggle with the demands of raising a healthy child. Is this what we're really aiming for in our society? Do we really want parents to feel this conflicted as they raise their children?

The fact of the matter is this: When we take a black or white approach to telling parents how to raise their children we create a culture that rarely give parents the space to reflect on their parenting decisions. How can anyone make a decision on choosing effective solutions for their families if there is constant fear that they'll be judged and shamed no matter what? In the end, we leave parents out in the cold if they don't fit into our societal bubble of what they should be doing and how they should be acting as effective stewards of the younger generation.

When we shame parents we leave out the humanness that comes with making healthy decisions. We forget that mistakes and failures are actually part of the growth and change process. And in our haste to save children from the plight of their evil parents, we leave families shattered with no real direction as to how to pick up the broken pieces. I am amazed at how each week my Google Alerts emails (that I have set to send me updates on what's going on in the parenting world) are filled with articles proposing that this way or that way is the way to parent and that everything else has become nullified. I look at these article and wonder how we can catch a parent doing the "wrong" thing when what's right and what's wrong seem to shift with whatever is "in" this week in parenting.

We may think that we are helping families by telling parents what to do based on science, experience, research, observation, or anything else we tend to use to bolster our shaming arguments. But beyond our so-called helpful advice, what really happens in a parent's home? Does the parent we just shamed miraculously gain the skills we deem worthy? Does the parent then garner an awareness of all the changes they have to make based on your expectations? Does the parent magically understand their ineffective parenting style and reach out for the help they need? The answer is no! No one changes from being shamed into it. No one changes because society's wishy-washy nature tells them to change. And, no one changes because they have been fear-mongered into it.

The overall effect of shaming parents is we get parents who are too embarrassed, too ashamed, or too fearful to reach out for support and the whole family suffers for it. They don't get the help they need and they don't have the support they need to heal or be more effective. The best way to raise resilient children is to provide support to their parents -- not just chastise or praise them based on what we think is effective. When families are whole and connected they do better -- children feel heard, parents feel less stressed, and families can connect on an authentic, empathic level.

To be honest, all we really want is to raise healthy children who feel ready to take on the world. But, let me be part of the voices who shout that shaming parents does not lead us down the road to saving children or strengthening their families. Let's make a promise to ourselves and our society that we will work on reducing the shame we throw at parents and increasing the empathy we share as we all try to create a better world for the children we love!