Q: I just visited my family out-of-state and returned home again feeling not good enough, embarrassed by how I’m raising my kids. Although only my youngest was with me on this visit, my parents made more than enough comments about their observations when they’ve seen all my kids with me. They continually commented on what I was doing with my little guy while we were there, until I found myself afraid to do anything for fear I’d get it wrong again. I felt like a child again. Both my parents and my sister, who lives close by, were critical of my parenting and are also critical of my kids. What can I do to change how I react to this?

A: It’s often challenging for parents to shake off judgment and criticism from extended family and friends who claim to offer well-intentioned “suggestions.” It’s not surprising that you second-guessed yourself when your parents were providing unsolicited advice and observing your interactions with your child. This can understandably rattle your parenting confidence, especially if it triggers shame, humiliation and self-doubt.

I often hear parents talk about how stressful it is to be around their own parents when there’s ongoing disapproval and intimidation about their parenting and judgments about their children. Understandably, it’s challenging to know just how to respond. It sounds as though your family treats you disrespectfully and the shame you feel prevents you from responding assertively, confidently. Although your parenting approach is likely different from how your parents raised you, they’re overstepping important relational boundaries when they comment, judge, and criticize both you and your children. You mentioned not “feeling good enough,” which suggests it would be helpful to do some work on strengthening your self-confidence. Protecting yourself from unnecessary shaming and humiliation is essential. Addressing this in a supportive, caring environment with a neutral party can help you heal those inner wounds.

Here are some suggestions for parents in your position: When a grandparent comments: “I would never have allowed you to speak that way to me! You should punish him for his disrespect.”

A possible response: “I appreciate it’s hard for you to hear how he just spoke to me. I’m trying to do the best I can and approach this in the way with which I feel most comfortable. It would be really helpful to have your support.”

Or: A sibling/aunt (also a parent), believing she parents much better, intervenes during an interaction you’re having with your distressed or angry child: “Whatever you’re doing with him obviously isn’t working. I never have that kind of problem with my kids. If you were more firm and not let him walk all over you, this wouldn’t happen!”

A possible response: “Temperament plays a big part. Transitions are a real struggle for him, and there have been many today, as well as lots of sensory overload. There’s so much stimulation with all the noise, activity, changes and people. We’re learning from each other every day. Parenting him is a work in progress.”

This doesn’t mean family members or friends won’t ever challenge even the most determined, confident parent. Sometimes all parental authority is relinquished in the face of their disapproval and humiliation. We must understand that raising our children differently can be threatening to the older generation, as well as other “observers,” as it potentially raises the possibility that “different” might mean their way was wrong.

Compassion and patience are helpful in connecting to the feelings at the root of their unsolicited advice or discipline. Speaking to that: “I suspect what he’s doing makes you nervous. I understand this might be difficult to witness. I’m grateful for your support while I do things my way. Raising children today is considerably different from when we were growing up, with children today experiencing new challenges.”

The potential reward this may bring over time is a collaborative partnership of mutual understanding, love, and the exchange of ideas. Both generations have a great deal to offer, and to learn from, the other.

Please send me your questions.