Why we must support – not shame – parents who are trying their best

Posted in Relationships.
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Dr Warren Cann is a psychologist and the CEO of the Parenting Research Centre and he spoke to Babyology podcast Feed Play Love about the epidemic of judgement parents are facing.

A confidence game

When Feed Play Love host Shevonne Hunt asked whether parents are subject to more scrutiny than ever before, Warren said it certainly seems that way – and that nobody wins when the parent-shamers cut loose. Least of all struggling parents and their children.

“When you’re getting negativity from your society and then you also find that you can be blamed or criticized by strangers on the streets, by members of your own family sometimes even by your own partner,” Warren told Shevonne.

“I think the sum total of all of this is that it can begin to erode your confidence. Parenting is a confidence game. When you start to lose your confidence [and believe that you haven’t] got what it takes to parent, then I think that that can have significant implications for children.”


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“Lay off parents”

So what approach should we be taking to ensure that parents are encouraged and supported, rather than shamed?

“We need to – as a society – lay off parents a little bit in terms of the tendency to blame them for everything when things go wrong for children,” Warren told Feed Play Love.

Warren explained that while it’s very easy to judge parents, this sort of jumping to conclusions doesn’t address what’s really going on in families. Nor does it touch on the significant challenges that many parents are facing.

“Trying to do the best that they can”

When something does go awry, it will be down to more than just their parenting, said Warren. The common thread is that parents are trying their best.

“There are many more factors involved,” he explained.  “This is not about parents not caring or not trying. It’s not about a moral failure on their part.”

“Almost universally it’s about the parent having to encounter difficulties that they are not prepared for or you’ll find that they’re under a level of stress or having to operate under significant adversity,” Warren points out. “And in all of this, they’re trying to do the best that they can do.”

young mum and baby

Three ways to support parents

Parents play such a vital role in their child’s development and very often they need more compassion, education and practical assistance.

“Parents actually need at least three different kinds of support,” Warren told Feed Play Love. 

  1. Practical support – somebody to help out when they need it in terms of caring for their child.
  2. Emotional support – somebody who is willing to pat them on the back, listen, be understanding and provide encouragement.
  3. Information support – information that can help them make decisions and develop their own skills and strategies.

mum breastfeeding baby

Be an active listener

Warren also suggests that when supporting the parents we know, we must be prepared to listen actively.

“I’d like to suggest that … when somebody is talking to you and even complaining about a situation don’t assume they’re asking for advice,” he said.

“Put the advice in your back pocket for a little while and just show interest. Just listen and empathise.”

“If you can find ways of encouraging and giving positive feedback, that can make a terrific difference to parents,” Warren explained and that sounds like brilliant advice to us.

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