Why we need judgment (on judgment, part 3)

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Let’s return now to the idea of “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1

Most people interpret it to mean, “don’t cast discernment or opinion upon others.” I’m pretty sure that’s not what it means. One has only to read on in the passage a bit to see it’s much more about hypocrisy than it is about casting your thoughtful yes, judgment, on others. If you don’t believe me, Google the passage and read what theologians have to say about it.


Here’s the thing: If someone judges you for something, realize first that their judgment likely comes from something deep in their heart. It says more about their values or fears or regrets than it does about you in the moment.

However, by the same token, if you receive judgment as something you do not want to hear, that may say more about you than the person that judged you.

Here’s my personal “for example.” My 12-month visit for my son with the pediatrician was fine. There were no problems, per se. And yet…she asked about his nursing and his sleeping. I was proud to report that I hit the year mark and was still nursing, and that my son sleeps decently well. ***NOTE: I WAS BEGGING FOR A COMPLIMENT.***

“But does he fall asleep on you while nursing?” she asked.

I paused. “Yes, sometimes…” I started sweating.

Then the sound came. “Tsk tsk tsk.”

And my reaction. OMG, did she just ‘tsk, tsk, tsk‘ me? How dare she judge me? (This all in my head of course.) In real life, I sputtered and tried to defend myself and why it worked out okay for us. In fact, most of the time he fell asleep on me, he did sleep well. So why not? “Stick to medicine!” I wanted to shout.

And yet…her reaction – the weighty judgment – stuck with me and unveiled my own insecurity about the matter. It wasn’t until later that I realized she had judged me on a number of items: my son’s diet, how many books I read to him, and how often I left the house. But the weight of those things didn’t stick. Why? Because I felt confident I was doing well in those areas. Not only well – very well. My son has a great, balanced diet with lots of nutritious, wholesome food and almost no added sugar. I read like crazy to him and we go to the libraries all the time. And I leave the house…well, enough. I do my best.

But the nursing to sleep judgment…caused me to reflect. In that reflection, I retitled “judgment” to “constructive criticism.” What if she were right? Should I push my son to take a bit more agency in falling asleep without a crutch? Six months ago, I would have said, “rubbish.” But now he’s a toddler. He’s 25 pounds. He’s got opinions. He can manipulate.

And then I listened to this, par hazard:

According to the podcast, first-wave feminists turned against physicians not because physicians were wrong (in this case about not having adequate safe pain treatment options for childbirth), but because they found the physicians condescending when they inquired about pain management. Ergo, feminists put themselves in harm’s way by introducing twilight sleep to the American public. Physicians ended up being bullied to follow their lead.

I found this fascinating. In this case, the judgment rendered by the experts was correct, and yet the ire their attitudes inspired caused women to go against best advice.

I think we do this to ourselves a lot. We hear that breastfeeding is best and we think of a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t do it. (It is painful, after all, don’t lie to me, consultant!) We hear that kids shouldn’t have screen time and we justify why “just a few videos” are okay.

In effect, I realized that my pediatrician COULD BE, MIGHT BE right about the nursing-to-sleep business. I had to allow for that possibility. The fact that it bothered me so much said more about my insecurity in having no other way to soothe him or get him to sleep. YIKES.

I implemented a new nap and sleep schedule the following week. No more nursing down.

The first few days were HARD. He cried at least 30 minutes to go down for a nap. But then he went down perfectly at night, and I found fortitude to keep going. (I was doing this alone, mind you. Hubs is away.) And the next day it was similar. But after day 3, it was only 5 or 6 minutes. And two weeks later, it’s downright easy. And he is still breastfeeding (after waking now) and my boobs haven’t exploded. My heart is also intact. And he sleeps more. He sleeps better. I’m more able to cope as a single parent.

Shit, the doctor may have been right.

One of the hallmarks of adulthood is being able to hear people’s judgment, their criticism, and reflect on it. Is it valid? Is it necessary? Was it given with good intentions? Is there support for it elsewhere? Do I really need to change?

Because that’s what it comes down to. If you hear a judgment, you immediately internalize it as a need to change something. As a person, that’s unnerving. But I’ve done it before. I’ve become more tactful in my professional life and more controlled in my personal life, as a response to requests (and judgments) from people who knew me well and thought that certain personality traits were getting me stuck. (Or single when I didn’t want to be.)

As a new mom, however, judgment – the idea that you need to change, THAT YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG – is freaking scary. It threatens your every fiber, it kills your self-confidence, it lowers your self-esteem. The ground may even move under your feet. But if you keep your balance, and reflect, you can decide if the judgment carries weight.

But so often in society, we rush to say that people shouldn’t judge. Well good luck finding a world where you can surround yourself with those people! We pin the blame on the judge in the hope of erasing the need for action on our part. It’s easier to blame someone for improper judgment than it is to self-actualize.

At some point I wondered: Do moms (and everyone in general) sometimes choose exactly the wrong option just to spite our judges?

That’s…that’s a problem.

Because we’re bigger than that. We’re better. We can grow. We can realize that judgment by others isn’t wrong, it’s necessary in order for them to keep their values.

Without judgment, we would all be okay with leaving babies in hot cars, or cheering someone’s decision not to vaccinate, or shooting heroin while pregnant. But we’re not all okay with all these things (even if we’re okay with one or two of them). Everyone judges. Judging reinforces social norms, keeps that crazy PTA mom in line from taking over every meeting, and allows us to have a legal system. But judging isn’t just for people with a robe and a bench. Or God. As humans, we judge.

You do, too.

Yes, you. So let’s stop saying that we need to erase judgment. Because even the good book, if you read it carefully, allows for judgment. What’s bad is to judge someone by a rule that you yourself don’t live by. What’s bad is to be a hypocrite. If you drank a glass of wine while pregnant, don’t give another woman the what-for if she indulges. If I tell a mother she needs to breastfeed but don’t do so myself for no particular reason, that’s hypocrisy. As it is, it may be just my advice that she can take or leave.

In effect, judgment is a necessary tool for society. It keeps us functioning as a somewhat cohesive whole. So next time you decry how awfully judgy people can be to mothers, think about the role this plays.

***Remember, too, that in these posts I’m talking about one-on-one judgments, not those that are in mass media or worming their way into policy. Always more to say about that.***

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