Has becoming a parent made you more empathetic or more judgmental of other parents?

Posted by
Photo by jen_rab, used under Creative Commons license.
I don’t have kids yet, but I’ve always wondered if being a parent creates a bond or sense of camaraderie with other parents.

For example, when you see parents raise their voices at their children for small infractions, are you tempted to intervene or do you feel like you’ve been there? When you see a child grossly misbehaving and/or mistreating their peers do you blame the parents, the kid, or something else entirely?

Basically: has becoming a parent made you more empathetic or more judgmental when it comes to understanding the parental styles of others? — M

Editor’s note: let’s focus less on specific people or situations and more on how being a parent makes you feel toward other parents in general.

Comments on Has becoming a parent made you more empathetic or more judgmental of other parents?

  1. I’ve become more empathetic for parents of toddlers and younger, but more judgemental for parents of school aged children. I think that the years between 3-6 are the hardest.

  2. I find I’m more empathetic, and there is also a commonality of experience that allows for quick and easy conversation starting. No matter how Onbeat or Offbeat, parents dealing with sleepless nights and tantrums can all commiserate.

    I’m naturally judgemental as a personality trait, but I find that I’m so wrapped up in my own parenting stress and decision making that I’m a TON more empathetic about other peoples choices as parents. Unless what they are doing is actually physically dangerous or abusive. Beyond that, I’ve stopped having time to waste worrying about how other people are parenting their kids.

    Frees up a lot of mental space for worrying about being a parent to my own kid.

  3. My husband and I were just talking about this. Having 15 month old twins we are way sympathetic to new parents. We are also overly conscious and sympathetic to kids with special needs, especially invisible special needs after our own experience with preemies and dev. delays. I used to be the totally judgey person if a kid was crying out of control and the parents were ignoring them or who’s parents “babied them”. Now I totally sympathize with the parents and kiddo because we’ve been there. Like the time we desperately needed diapers and I had to bring my baby who just spent 2 hours in physical/ occupational therapy and is over tired to the store – to only get the side eye from everyone as we raced through the store with 1 screaming baby and another sleeping one. And now I feel horrible for the years of mocking over protective parents and their “babied” babies. Because I get it, after a long NICU stay I am very over protective.

  4. My son is 11 years old now. Quite honestly, when I see other parents freaking out, I think exactly the same way as Louis CK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJlV49RDlLE


    I’d never go as far as to judge a parent. You don’t know what’s going on in their life, You don’t know what discipline method works for them. Unless they’re beating on their kid, let it go.

  5. I think some situations I judge more and some I judge less? I only have a 6 month old so perhaps I’m not really capable of answering this question regarding parents of older children. But I think I’m less likely to judge parents in situations where their children are totally out of control, and more likely to judge where the parents seem to me to be unkind. (For instance, the mom I saw on the bus holding the candy just out of reach of her child and laughing.)

  6. I don’t know that I was more judgmental before I had a kid, but if I see another parent dealing with the grumpy child at the grocery store or trying to quell a tantrum or anything else that can be difficult to do in public, I do try to give them a smile that says, “I know that feel, bro.”

  7. I am much more empathetic to other parents – I have never ever hit my children (and I include spanking in there), but there have been many times in anger that I have wanted to. It is very easy for me to understand how someone with less life experience, more personal problems, fewer resources to turn to, etc could react out of anger, even to someone so small and helpless. I also understand that embarrassing tantrums happen, that children won’t always sit nicely in restaurants, yell when it’s inappropriate, etc.

    That said, I am more judgmental of those parents who I think are abdicating their parental responsibilities. If your child is screaming in a restaurant, I am empathetic because I know that happens. If you ignore it and let your child bother everyone else so you can enjoy your meal, I am judgy. I’ll admit that I am judgy about parents who don’t vaccinate, for example, because every child that isn’t vaccinated makes it more likely that my (vaccinated) child will get sick. Even though I am empathetic to the fact that those parents are simply trying to do what is best for their own child.

    I guess it can be summed up that I am very empathetic towards the parents in the moment, but I react strongly when I think that someone else’s behaviors are negatively impacting those around them.

    • I would like to start a discussion on this. In nearly every non-traditional parenting site I frequent, there is this distaste for families who spank. From experience, physical punishment has a broad range, from the mom who gives her two year old a slight smack on the behind when she ran into the street, to the grandpa who will spank all his grandkids except the ones who are not neuro-typical, the aunt who gets her belt to the dad who slaps his disrespecting son. They aren’t all the same. And I feel that implying people who practice these behaviors are poorer, have big problems, or are just immature is a damaging concept. There scientific studies that back-up the no spanking group, but there are scientific studies showing that co-sleeping is dangerous and that breast milk is the best. Here, we try to be respectful of all parenting choices. This is especially important when you note that the non-spanking consensus is generally middle-class groups of Western-European descent.

      • While I genuinely appreciate the desire for discussion on this point, I don’t want to hijack the thread.

        That said, I said “and I include spanking in there” as a point of clarity. What I should have been more specific about was the fact that, as a general rule, people who abuse their children tend to be poorer and younger (and I would therefore guess less well versed in handling personal problems, but I don’t have any evidence to back that up). And I think even the most ardent supporters of “spanking” would say that you should never hit a child in anger, and that is the impulse to which I was empathetic.

        The point of this post, though, was about “judgyness” and about this point I judge. I’m okay with saying that I don’t think that it’s ok to spank, even if you think its fine (which I know you didn’t – general “you.”) I’m okay with saying that I don’t think it’s okay to spank even if that shows my white, middle-class bias. I don’t think spanking is okay.

        Being “offbeat” or just generally open-minded doesn’t mean that you have to be a total moral relativist. It just means that you have to be willing to try on different perspectives (If you could show me a study that showed me that children who were spanked did better on the traits that I value, I would sure as heck read it), recognize that other people value different things than you do, and realize that, even if you don’t approve (even if you really really really don’t approve) other people are allowed to make their own choices.

  8. I’m not proud to admit this, but right after our child was born, I became judgmental of other parents stuff. I.e.- “this is the safest carseat, why would they buy that one?!” Silly, I know. I think I over researched before the baby was born.

    As far as actions of other parents, I am totally empathetic. We are blessed with a very easy baby who we both bonded with immediately. We have no way of knowing what’s going on in other families that may cause them to act differently than we might in a particular situation. If a toddler is throwing a tantrum in church, I try to give that family space to resolve the issue by not staring at them or whispering to my neighbor. But I am also quicker to offer an extra set of hands to the dad carrying a ton of stuff or the new mom who needs to go to the bathroom.

  9. I had it both ways. My oldest who is now almost 9 was a “perfect” baby. She rarely fussed, played for hours alone, is insainly smart (she does school work 2 grades beyond her actual grade) spoke perfectly by the time she was 2, was well behaved, etc….So (I’m embarassed to say) I was so smug and looked at those parents with the screaming, out of control, tantrum throwing kids and I thought “Ha! That just shows what horrible parents they are, look at their kid and look at how well behaved mine is! I’m clearly a superior parent!” Then when she was 5 along came my little one and let me tell you, that little girl put me right in my place!! I am still as good a parent to her as I am with my oldest but she is a VERY different and she had tantrums and ran around screaming. Needless to say, now that I have been in that situation I am empathetic. And I am now much slower to judge anyone on their parenting (unless it is abusive or something major).

    • I haven’t had kids yet, but this totally reminds me of my mother’s situation. I was the well behaved baby, didn’t cry too much and was well behaved. My younger brother was the one who broke out of his car seat while my mother was driving, and when she got pulled over and the cop ripped her a new one, my brother bit her (my mother, not the cop). Took everything she had to keep it together long enough to receive her massive ticket from the cop. She laughs about it now, but my brother was more than a handful. So… be wary of well behaved first children, because second children can sure humble you!

      • I was the opposite…my older brother was very active and got into trouble all the time. She couldn’t take her eyes off him for a second. I was the easy baby who was happy to sit around and amuse myself. She said I was her “karmic reward” 🙂

  10. I definitely became more empathetic. Before I would wonder why parents keep there kids under control, why they would let them scream and cry and let them throw themselves on the ground in the super market. Now I have a child and he is 18 months old, and although he doesn’t do any of this (at least not yet), there are whinny moments and tantrums at home, so when I see it, I feel for them and want to yell at everyone giving that parent a dirty look because I assure you the parent feels ten times worse then you do.

  11. Waaaaaay more empathetic. I just did not “get it” before I had my own kid. I would see parents doing something I didn’t agree with and be all “I can’t believe they’re doing XYZ, haven’t they read blah blah blah and know not to do that?” Now that I have my own kid I realize that not everything works for every kid or every family, and that it is HARD to raise kids. Maybe it’s because I have an extremely active kind of crazy toddler who has never been an “easy” baby. We have a friend with a super laid back complacent baby and she just does not understand why I can’t force my child to wear a sunhat or why I don’t just plop him in a Pack ‘N Play to get stuff done during the day (because he rips hats off immediately, and because he can, will, and does climb out!).

    • Ghah! I have two sunhats that I bought for my fair haired baby for our daily walks. He rips them off with in seconds. One day, he fell asleep in the stroller so I thought “At least he can have the hat on while he sleeps.” I looked down a few minutes later and it was in his hands. He took it off IN HIS SLEEP!

      • YES!!! My older son was a ridiculously laid-back infant and toddler but kind of a pain in the butt, stubborn preschool/kindergartener, and I thought he was so easy because I was such an awesome parent who did everything right. Wrong! My second baby is living up to the name Wilder and doing SO many things his brother didn’t. He’s a climber, he’s loud, he bites, he doesn’t sleep as easily or as well, he rejects clothing of all kinds including shoes and hats, while his brother loves his accessories. Kids are different, what worked for one will not work for another! When people get an easy baby for their first, I say be careful because your second may knock you on your ass!

        • All of friends totally had “easy” babies, so when our little hooligan came into the world, we wondered what the heck we were doing wrong!!! After reading and research and just realizing we had a high needs, smart kiddo who just wanted to do things his own dang way, I found myself much much more empathetic to other parents. I get the “you’re babying him” (yes, because he is only 7 months old…) and other nonsensical statements from some family and friends, but being confident that you are taking care of your kid the best way you know how helps.

  12. I’ve definitely become more empathetic as well. Even though we were lucky that our daughter was an easy baby and is a relatively easy toddler (as easy as a toddler can be I suppose). Before she was born I had a picture in my mind of the type of mother I’d be — she completely turned that on it’s head and it’s done a lot to help me keep an open mind.

  13. I started a reply to this stating that it hasn’t made me more empathetic. It actually has, but just slightly. When I’d see a child having a meltdown in the store before I got pregnant, I’d think “thank goodness that’s not my problem.” Now I think “that sucks, thank goodness that’s not my problem today.” When I’d see a mother yelling at her child, I’d think “unless he’s about to do something dangerous, there’s no reason to screm at your child.” Now I think “I’ve been to that point, but having a stranger approach me with tips on relaxing before losing my temper would make me more mad and not help, so I’ll just be glad it’s not my problem.” So I guess I am more empathetic, but it’s mostly through my own desire to have strangers not give me unsolicited advice or stare at me when I’m in an awkward situation.

  14. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been “intolerant” to people with kids (or kids in general) before getting pregnant, but now that I AM expecting our first child (which was by no means planned or expected), I feel a sense of “I don’t know how she does it,” coupled with “That poor woman” when a kid is acting out.

    That being said, my tolerance for children of ages that “know better” has severely decreased. 😛

    And this could all be hormonal on my part! ha!

  15. I’ve gotten more judgmental, but that includes judging myself, too. I realize that a lot of my judgments run alongside what I’m doing at the time. For example, first it was, “Cloth diaperers are crazy.” Then it was, “I can’t believe she’s not even trying to use cloth diapers.” Then when I gave up after three months, it was, “I can’t believe she only lasted two months.” And I get that that makes me a douche, but at least it’s not stuff I would ever say aloud.

    I also judge myself really hard. I am confident that I’m doing alright as a mom, but maybe not in the coolest way possible. I always thought I would be a super cool mom, so I get self-judgey when another parent has better ideas or a more colorful life than we do.

    Empathy, though, has also increased. I don’t side-eye moms of screaming kids like I used to, and it also now seems like I see a bit of my child in every person. It’s made me more aware of injustice and given me a driving need to reach out to others.

    • Especially yes to your second comment. I always thought I’d be a laid-back, adventurous mama, traveling, going to festivals, keeping my same lifestyle, going to friends’ houses and letting the babe sleep on a pallet in the corner so we could stay as long as we wanted, etc., but all of that is so hard! We recently got back from a couple weeks in Portland, Oregon which was a total disaster with our 2-yr old not sleeping and waking up crying in a hostel-type situation, and then once the sleeping adjusted she got a horrible virus, and just keeping her content in adult-centered activities is difficult and exhausting… I am much less judgmental now about uptight parents who can’t meet for dinner at 7:00 because they want to start getting the kid ready for bed around 7:30, because now that’s us.

    • Meg- I just had to say, I’m confident you are doing an awesome job at being a mom… There’s no need to worry about the coolness factor of your parenting- because really, what’s cool? I have read blogs and seen great ideas and felt as though my life lacked color as well, but you know it’s all pretty bullshit. Make your own cool. If it were fifteen years ago and you weren’t constantly flooded by other ideas and other people’s lives I think you would see that your OWN ideas and OWN colorful life make you the coolest mom possible.

      And I bet all of those people with supposedly colorful lives have their own sets of issues and limitations. I think my childhood was colorful and I was born into a world without Pinterest. You don’t need fancy camera gear or magazine worthy DIY interior design to have an awesome childhood. Trust your kid on this one, it just don’t matter!

      I say, brush it off. In the end, MOM KNOWS BEST. That’s you.
      It feels great.

    • The best advice I got about parenting was from my day – he said “you’re not going to be a perfect parent. There is no such thing. All you can be is good enough and one day your kids will thank you for it.”

  16. Both, depending on the situation. I was a lot more judgmental when my older son was a baby and then no matter how level-headed and consistent I was with discipline, he still acted out in public as he got older. I tend to lose patience quicker with him now that he’s almost 5 and I believe knows better than to act a certain way, and I empathize with harried moms of little boys. But I have to roll my eyes still at martyr moms who make everything so difficult and make excuses for everything “because they have kids.” I have never had an issue taking a shower or finding time for myself with two busy boys. I also can’t stand the “your life is now over because you have kids” parents. I can definitely say that’s not true, we find life to be a lot more fun and worthwhile with kids!

  17. More tolerant of different parenting styles and decisions – absolutely. There are a million ways to approach almost every situation and as long as there is SOME attempt at addressing things like tantrums or misbehaviours (ie. bopping the another kid at the library) then I’m pretty much ok with most things. I definitely have a massive streak of empathy for parents with strong willed toddlers at the moment (mine is only 18 months and has *opinions* about almost everything despite not talking much yet).

    That being said, my tolerance for parents who essentially ignore their children, whether they are exhibiting good or bad behaviour, irritates me to no end. I get that there are times when you really really need to check your phone (someone is having a baby maybe?) but when its the same parent week after week at playgroup or library time that plops their kid down and then ignores them for the rest of the session it is frustrating. Especially since those are often the kids who are acting out and desperate for attention.

    So yes, I’m more tolerant of a range of parenting styles and tactics but my intolerance for a lack of any attempt at (or even interest in) parenting has increased dramatically.

    I’m usually pretty successful at ignoring the sideways looks from people when my little guy is not at his best. We’re doing the best we can and even if I don’t expect outright sympathy (pity even somedays) I would hope that people would at least attempt to understand that he is a toddler and can’t be expected to behave as an adult. If they choose to be deeply offended by normal toddler behaviour, then that’s their problem.

    • I’ve been the mom who plays with their kid at the park, and I’ve been that mom who lets their kid play while mom is on her phone. Some days I absolutely need that break for my sanity, in order to have patience with my kid for the rest of the day.

  18. I could say yes. I could say no. So I guess I’ll just say maybe, but I’m not sure. It’s all situational. One thing is for certain; I am more empathetic to other parents who live different lifestyles. Whether I find it fascinating or not a fit for me or my family, I admire them for doing what works for them. I find that I at least seek out more information on these different lifestyles so I can be informed rather than keep my head in the sand. If I didn’t have kids, I would probably never even think about any of this stuff.

  19. It depends on the situation. I will judge the parent in a cafe or restaurant who allows their kid to run rampant or the parent who doesn’t leave when their kid has a massive melt down. I will judge the parent who isn’t watching their kids or just sends them to the toy section of the store while they do their shopping. I will judge the parent forward faces there kid at 6 months old when the ministry of health recommends waiting till 2. And I will judge the parent who yells and swears at their child in the presents of me or my child because it scares her.
    And yet I still judge less than before I had my daughter. I understand when a child is screaming in places where you can’t leave, like appointments, air planes, public transport and how hard you are trying to calm them back down and ease their pain. I know what its like to have to go out when you haven’t managed to get a shower in days, I understand the last thing you want to do at the end of the day is go out with friends, I get that being a parent is tiring.
    So yup I judge less on some things more on other things.

  20. both here, too.
    i am waay more understanding when it comes to stuff i just had no idea about “before” – tantrums, how hard it can be to get through some days, that it´s not spoiling when a child is sleeping in their parents bed…

    i am more judgemental on the stuff i researched – i.e. when parents use a carrier that is bad for babies back. especially when it´s all over the web that xx-carrier is bad and yy or zz are good… *sigh*
    i don´t like that about myself very much.

  21. I am WAY more empathetic! I wasn’t a terribly judgy person before I had a child, but when I saw a kid completely lose it & a parent was either being mean or ignoring them, I totally gave them the side-eye.

    Now, not so much. Usually it takes a pretty mean parent for me to think judgy thoughts.

    For example, I was once in the store with my husband & son when I saw this mom with her 2 kids. One of the kids asked for a box of snack cakes when the mom, in a loud & not-so-nice voice, proclaimed that she wasn’t going to buy them anything. It could have been the bazillionth thing they asked for that day, but usually when a mom says no for the bazillionth time, there’s a good dose of exasperation in her voice and she usually manages to keep her volume down (for the most part). It just sounded like she wanted to embarrass or be mean to her kids on purpose. I do get judgmental then. It’s one thing to react out of anger (although still not okay, but we’ve all done it), but it’s another thing entirely to try to be just plain mean.

  22. Quite specifically, being a FOSTER MOM has helped me be waaaaaaay more empathetic. (I’m just now expecting my first “antibiotics plus birth control equals baby” baby, hahah!)
    I used to watch folks with out of control kids and I was super judgy. Now that I’ve had kids with reactive attachment disorder, severe histories of abuse or neglect, or drug problems (yes, even very small children can be drug addicts) I no longer roll my eyes at the screeching child in the supermarket. One of the boys that I keep on a regular basis (I do respite care for his regular foster mom) has such a history of abuse, all at the hands of his mother, that his behavior with me is a complete 180 from my husband. He will scream, punch, kick, and bite me if I try to redirect him but will be a complete angel for males. I’ve gotten plenty of dirty looks about my out of control child (and plenty of comments about the “shame” of being a teen mom- I’m “too young” to have birthed most of the kids I keep) and it’s so hard! Now I know that it’s impossible to know every parent and child’s story so it’s better for everyone involved to give ’em the benefit of the doubt. We’re all fighting our own battles!

    I fear that if I hadn’t done foster care before becoming pregnant that I would have been even more judgy, about myself included! We’re still doing foster care even after our baby is born and I hope that it will continue to positively influence my parenting, patience, and compassion!

    • The compassion has jumped for me, not just by parenting my not-neurotypical kid but also by having friends with kids who have moderate to severe disabilities or illness. I used to cluck cluck at a too-big kid in a stroller…well, my friend’s daughter IS that kid because she physically CAN’T walk and a stroller is more comfortable than her wheelchair. But by glancing at her, you wouldn’t know and so her mom gets judged out freaking loud all the time. They tell her to, “make that kid walk,” and she has to then relate her daughter’s medical condition to some stranger or tell them to fuck off.

      Another friend has a 6 year old the size of an 18 month old with major mental disabilities. So when she’s in the ergo on her mama’s back, people want to talk to her daughter but she’s pretty unresponsive and/or moaning. People think her kid just needs more structure, more SOMETHING that they know all about, to get her to act better. She isn’t acting out, she’s being who she is with the abilities she has and being in the ergo gives her a viewpoint she doesn’t always get. Her moaning is a happy sound for her.

      Point is, you NEVER know why a parent or a kid is doing what they are doing. It may look odd but it might be the right thing for that particular child. My judginess was shot through a few times by knowing and loving these kids in real life and seeing what their families go through to make their lives normal.

      • Word. My just turned 3 year old is almost4feet tall. He can read(hyperlexia) He also has.. Asd, spd, apraxia….. He is also the sweetest most wanting to do good kid ever. I really embrace having fun with my kids. I really have dostain for those that don’t.

      • Word. My just turned 3 year old is almost4feet tall. He can read(hyperlexia) He also has.. Asd, spd, apraxia He is also the sweetest most wanting to do good kid ever. I really embrace having fun with my kids. I really have dostain for those that don’t.

  23. Undoubtedly empathetic. Motherhood has been the most humbling experience of my life. Prior to having kids, I didn’t give this much thought, but my kids are very strong willed and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen another mom dealing with a situation I’ve been in before. Because of that, I can’t really judge another parent as long as they’re trying to parent.

  24. This post came at a great time for me. I have a friend who, despite good intentions, always seems to be judgmental about my child or my life in general. Nothing serious – I just get the feeling that she finds my life less colorful now, as someone said earlier. Anyhow, she is now expecting her first baby and I have oscillated between being super excited that we’ll have this awesome thing in common and super nervous that she’s going to be “that” mom, and become even more judgmental if we don’t share parenting styles. It seems like most people have posted that they have become more empathetic towards other parents, so that’s definitely reassuring.

  25. I was pretty judgmental of parents before I had kids. I know have a 4 year old with Autism and I can’t sympathize enough. When you are the parent of a child who is having a full on melt down you don’t have time to think clear-headed. You are just trying to make it easier for him/her. We have had a lot of stares, but honestly, until you have walked in our shoes I don’t care what you think about my parenting skills. I’m trying my best, and feel that most parents are.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation