Establishing Judgement-Free Zones

Recently I was just griping about life and politics and current events and one of my kids snarkily said to the other, “And she gets onto US about OUR bad attitudes…” At first I got indignant and gave a little speech along the lines of, “I AM THE PARENT HERE. YOU DO NOT GET TO TRY TO PARENT ME,” or something cliche like that. But it sat with me for awhile and then it hit me: Oh, shit. I don’t ever just let them bitch for the sake of releasing that frustration.

We all have safe places where we can complain/whine about people/things. Sometimes it’s just minor irritants we need to vent about. Sometimes it’s major irritants someplace (or with someone) that we can’t do anything about, so we just need to vent. We have friends that understand we love our spouses so we’re safe bitching about how loud they snore. We have spouses who will let us say mean things about our bosses or coworkers and not judge us. We have cousins or siblings we can call when we want to let off some steam about that one family member we love, but we don’t really like.

And in my quest to nip that TERRIBLE teenager attitude in the bud, I removed all safe places for my kids do do any of those release/venting things that I do all the time.

SO! I’ve been working on it. I’m trying to allow my kids room to be irritated, angry, whiney and NOT constantly be nagging them about “having a bad attitude.” At first this came up when one of them was ranting about an authority figure and I told them, “Listen. Here’s our deal. I want to give you a safe place to let off this frustration but when you see them again, you still need to be respectful and kind because while you don’t like them at all, or the way they handle your needs, they’ve not done anything to lose your respect. PROMISE ME THAT.”

And ever since then I give a smaller version of the reminder, let them bitch as much as they want, and then cross my fingers that they’re not continuing the treatment in person.

BUT! The more difficult part of establishing this new “judgement free zone” is I’ve decided to also give them this space when they’re angry at ME. I tend to do that token Mom move when I am RIGHTEOUSLY ANGRY about something and DEMAND that they listen at me and look at me when I’m being angry and they had BETTER NOT RESPOND WITH ANY ATTITUDE SO HELP ME, GOD.

But you know what? Even if they know they’ve screwed up, they’re still going to be angry with me for yelling or punishing them. So I’ve started giving them space to storm off or give me a silent treatment and I’m not just lecturing them indefinitely. I mean, I guess what I want is for me to say, “THIS THING YOU DID WAS UNACCEPTABLE.” And for them to lovingly respond, “You are right, most wise mother. I sincerely apologize and will never do it again. Will you please forgive me?”

And anything less than that response means I’m in lecture mode, “How dare you give me attitude right now. YOU are the one in trouble! YOU should be apologizing….IT IS NOT A REAL APOLOGY IF YOU ARE ROLLING YOUR EYES WHILE YOU DO IT.”

But now? Now I’m trying to allow them room to be angry and then afterwards, I’m trying to commend them for simmering quietly (because some of my kids do not simmer quietly when they’re angry) and for returning to a kind, respectful child eventually.

THIS IS ALL VERY DIFFICULT. One of my kids was giving me really harsh and attitude-laden silent treatment this weekend and I just kept reminding myself, “They know why they are in trouble. You don’t need to quit nagging them to remind them. They’re just angry because they disagree and that’s okay. They don’t have to agree. Just let them be angry.” But it’s hard because I want to be all, “YOU CAN’T BE ANGRY TOO. I AM ANGRY AND SINCE I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG THEN YOU DO NOT GET TO BE ANGRY!”

I just thought I’d share my current struggles. It’s hard because I do feel our kids spend so much time watching janky attitudes from teenagers on social media. Currently I love TikTok because it has learned my interests and my feed is curated to give me what I like…art, bullet journaling and dogs…but the first few weeks it was teenager hell and I realized where a lot of the “inspiration” for my kid’s attitudes come from. So there is DEFINITELY cause to try to undo the damage that is done from social media and from the real world because…let’s be honest…we’ve seen even the best kids dish out shitty attitudes to teachers and coaches and bus drivers.

So finding that line between teaching them to hear their shitty attitudes and teaching them the negative impact that has on relationships is important…but home is also a safe place and we need to give them room to feel those negative feelings and maybe bitch a little in a judgement-free zone because if we need that as adults…then of course they need it too.

3 thoughts on “Establishing Judgement-Free Zones”

  1. Longtime lurker, first time commenter, but just popped in to say that I love your thinking here! One of my favorite methods of emotional regulation is the Tiffany Roe “Feel. Deal. Heal.” Method. The main idea is that you have to learn to feel your emotions before you can deal with their repercussions and heal your relationship both with yourself and others! This is a great example of applying that kind of energy to parenting! Letting your kids feel their anger or frustration but then learn how to process it productively! Go Mom!

  2. Last night my freshman got in the van after a day where he arrived at school at 6:30 am, did 8 classes, stayed for Speech Team, ate a quick dinner, and practiced marching band in 50 degree weather for 3 hours. All this only 3 weeks after knee surgery and with the fact of being unable to bend that knee for 8 weeks of recovery. He got in the van and started complaining vehemently. I bit my tongue at first, bought him a hot chocolate, thinking “I told you this would be too much!” I just said, I’m sorry, I know it was a long day, is there anything I can do to make it better? And then I realized I too would moan and complain after a day like that even if I signed myself up for it. And all I would want is for someone to listen and get me a hot beverage too.

  3. I love your thinking there came a point in my daughters life that I realized the same thing. Same with my Granddaughter. We vent , they weren’t allowed. I also realized the same with preschoolers. When trying to teach them how to handle themselves in a conflict, I would ask what they should have done instead of hitting, etc and would always get this downtrodden look and I shouldn’t have done anything and I should say I am sorry. For many years I thought yeah that’s right, then realized it wasn’t. So then I taught them to say- Don’t hit me. I am angry. Leave me alone. A friend of mine started a time nightly called parenting after dark. They waited until her young kids were asleep (she has 2 sets). Then they would sit down with the older 3. Judgement free zone. She wanted her kids to always come to them with questions, and had found they were going to each other. It worked well for them

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