Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting


Have you had the experience of thinking a particular thing for a long time, and then your child challenges it and you realise you were wrong?

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with my teenage daughter and the idea of judgment came up. As we were going back and forth about the idea, I made the statement… ”Of course judgment is the poison in all this”.

She went quiet, looked at me thoughtfully, and said, “But dad, don’t we make judgments all the time? How could judgment be a poison if we can’t avoid doing it?”

In the certainty of my rightness I tried to explain the concept of mindfulness (the non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment) as if my case rested. She looked back at me and said, “But I make judgments, and I don’t feel it poisons me most of the time. And isn’t it your job to make judgments about your patients. Does that poison things between you and them?”

Ummm.……… (sound of crickets in the distance)

She was right!

We DO make judgments all the time. As parents one of our jobs is to correct our children, necessitating a judgment that something needs correcting.  My simplistic idea that “judgment” between people in itself was a negative thing was not justifiable. I must have been equating the word judgment with some other factor that was the actual poison.

We laughed, and then together thought about what it was about judgment that made it poisonous at times, and neutral or helpful in others. Because there ARE times where judgment is a terrible poison between people, stealing fun, joy, and leading to conflict and loneliness.

So if judgment itself is not the problem, what is it that can make it problematic?

I know I bang on about disappointment (the gap between what you get and what you expect) and anger a lot, but this is one of those situations where it seems to explain much of the problem with judgment.

If when we judge we have an underlying expectation that the other person shouldn’t have done it, then the necessary judgment we make is infused with disappointment and the emotion of anger. If we expect them to not be making the mistake, then no matter how we respond the emotion underling it will be one of annoyance. And our child will likely respond to us with submission and shame that they have disappointed us, or defensively and annoyance at being criticised, and either way will likely avoid us for a time.

As an alternative, if when we judge we have an underlying acceptance of where our child is at, then the judgment is associated with understanding and empathy. In this situation, when we look at our child making a mistake we accept that this is where they are at (at this time in their life) and using empathy we try to relate to them even while we are pointing out where the error occurred.

Judgment itself is not right or wrong. Rather it is the mindset of expectation that can poison the relationship with shame, resentment and avoidance. The antidote for such expectations is acceptance.  As you take a more accepting approach, the judging of errors in others and in ourselves is perceived as much less serious as the shame of unmet expectations lessens.

Correction of course still occurs (acceptance is NOT permission) but the implementing of consequences is not personal or emotional.  And most importantly, the relationship between you and the person you love is not poisoned by the noticing and correcting of mistakes.

Happy New Year.