National survey finds mothers receive most parenting criticism from family members

Published: Jul. 14, 2017 at 8:45 AM EDT
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News 12 NBC 26 News This Morning | Friday, July 14, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A new national survey has found that many of the moms in our lives feel criticism about they way they raise their kids.

The survey, conducted between February and June, found that six out of 10 mothers with kids ages five and younger felt they received some sort of criticism about how they parented their children. But what's surprising is so many of those critiques come from the people they feel closest too - their own family members.

It's moments like these on a Columbia County playground when Carley Frohling gets the most quality time with her three kids. But like so many other mothers, she feels the stress of always choosing what's best for her six, three and two-year-old kids.

"I think moms are really hard on themselves," Frohling says, "and I think any kind of feedback can be taken, can be magnified when it's not really intended that way."

She's not alone.

A recent survey by the C.S. Mott Children's Poll on Children's Health (CPCH) and the University of Michigan surveyed moms across the country with kids ages five and younger 60% felt criticized by members of their own family. Discipline was the most common topic of criticism, followed by what mothers were feeding their kids, how much sleep they were getting, how much time they spent outside and how much time was spent on electronics.

The survey found that generational differences between grandparents and newer parents were some of the biggest reasons behind critiques, followed by issues between mothers and their in-laws.

"I think grandparents are probably all well-intentioned about stuff that they want to tell you and share with you about how they did things in their day," Frohling says. "But when you hear [negative] feedback from your mom, it's always a little harsher than you would take it from someone else."

Sarah Clarke, the Co-Director of CPCH and one of the women behind the study, says it's all in how the mother perceives the comment. She says raising children at that age is one of the more stressful times a mother can go through and the last thing any mother wants is another level of stress.

"The interpretation of the comment by the mother is what the dividing line is between someone making a comment and something that feels like criticism, and that feels hurtful," Clarke says. "Most criticism can feel hurtful. When grandma makes a comment about something being done she used to do it, that can really get at a mom and make her feel vulnerable."

The survey found that half of all mothers said being criticized made them more likely to avoid those certain people, which is not healthy for blooming relationships between the children and their relatives at this age in their lives.

"You don't want to miss out on those fun, younger years with them simply because you weren't careful with how you delivered your comment," Clarke says. "That's not healthy for the child, that's not healthy for the mother. We want those connections to be strong for years to come."

A big surprise they found was the lack of criticisms from other mothers and social media, which contained 12 percent and 8 percent of the survey, respectively.

"I think what's happening now is many mothers might be able to let those kinds of comments just roll off their back," Clarke says. "They think that's a stranger, it's somebody they barely know and don't really care for that. Whereas if that same statement came from by a close family member, they take it to heart a little more."

One-third of the all criticized moms in the survey felt more insecure about their parenting skills after receiving criticism while the other two-thirds felt stronger and more confident. An encouraging takeaway from the survey, according to Clarke, was the strong response by mothers to look more into those critiques and see if they know what's best for their children or if there's a reason for change.

"Searching for information was a great response to that either to validate the mom and what she was already doing or to maybe provide that mom with some new information. And about a third of the criticized moms said they actually did make a change," Clarke says. "If grandma says to put your son on his stomach because he'll sleep better, our moms would talk to a pediatrician and discover nowadays it's better to have them sleep on their backs. Even showing grandma that new information is helpful."

As for Frohling, she just wants people to know the one things moms really want.

"As a new mother, you do just want to have a sounding board," Frohling says. "But I think women in general just want that. They don't necessarily want you to fix it, they just want you or someone to listen."