British Columbia·Point of View

Who are you to judge? Parents are increasingly calling out others for their pandemic behaviour

From screen time to sleep schedules, parenting has always been ripe with opportunities to judge. But as COVID-19 has forced families to make difficult choices, judgment of those choices can be swift and particularly harsh.

Being critical during COVID-19 isn’t helping anyone — including yourself

Why be critical when you could be curious about other parents’ choices? ( christinarosepix/Shutterstock )

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

From screen time to sleep schedules, parenting has always been rife with opportunities to judge. But as COVID-19 has forced families to make difficult choices, judgment has been swift and particularly harsh at times.

I'll be the first to admit I've often struggled to not don my judgy pants when it comes to other parents — both before and after I became one. But during this particularly hard time for a lot of parents, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the way people are side-eyeing each other in real life and on social media.

Our choices have a big impact on others

Pre-pandemic, I might not have agreed with someone's choice of Montessori or a sugary snack, but it was just a matter of personal opinion. But COVID-19 has raised the stakes to an unprecedented level — and that's why some people are struggling to not pass judgment.  

We all want what's best for our children, that's why we make the choices we make, but right now our individual choices really do affect the community.

That's why Vernon mom, Jennifer Brandle-McCall, is one of many parents feeling frustrated by those who are seemingly not following the "rules"  when it comes to preventing infection. 

"We all make choices and if you make choices that lead to negative consequences for you, that's your own business," says Brandle-McCall. "What makes this situation so different is that there are shared public consequences. So 'you doing you' affects 'me doing me.' It's a really hard time to navigate."  

We never know the whole story

More troubling, is that people often judge without knowing the whole story.

We never know what led to a toddler's tantrum or a dad losing his temper in Canadian Tire. We see a snap shot of someone's life and assume we've seen the big picture. But for so many parents, what people judge as irresponsibility is a result of them doing their very best under extremely challenging circumstances.

You never know what led to a toddler's temper tantrum or a parent's evident frustration in public, so best not to judge. (Shutterstock)

Single mother Courtney Hall, an essential worker in health care, worries that what she's doing in the best interest of her family is misinterpreted as a lack of care. 

"There's days when I've had to take them to the grocery store with me and it's hard not to feel that people are passing their own judgment on myself and the choices that I have to do," said Hall, adding it might seem to others that she is taking COVID-19 lightly. 

Be curious instead of critical

So what can we do to check our judgment at the door and extend some basic understanding?

The biggest step is doing nothing. Not muttering behind someone at the grocery store. Not rolling your eyes, and certainly not posting passive aggressive, inspirational quotes to your Facebook page. 

Alyson Schafer is a Canadian parenting expert and author who urges everyone to remember that being safe and kind right now includes finding out more before we jump to conclusions. 

"Everybody has a backstory," says Schafer. "Wanting to be curious. Wanting to know is what reduces the judgment and allows us to open our minds to possibilities."

No one is perfect

There are still going to be times when people slip up.

We'll forget our masks and hand sanitizer, or not realize our child is standing too close to someone at the park. We'll be forced to quickly make choices that could have ramifications we weren't anticipating.

But we are all in this together, whether we like it or not, and what feels right for your family will likely not be right for many others.

So before we decide we know better than someone else, let's take a minute to be curious instead of cruelly judgmental.

And let's try to avoid judging parents for screen time or their child's current hairstyle, either. There is only so much parents can do in the midst of a pandemic, after all.

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