There are few things more disconcerting than being accurately and kindly informed about your weaknesses, only to discover that it’s not better than when your critics are aggressive and wildly wrong. Being pulled up on well dodgy behaviour is an essential ingredient in having ‘a commitment to continuous self-development’, as every job description puts it nowadays. It hurts though, of course. I like to claim that when criticism provokes defensiveness and hyper emotionality, that’s because it is poorly worded, loaded with projection or simply insensitive. When it isn’t any of these things, well then it must be true, right? So it hurts more, and you have to analyse it closely and carefully.
I have variously been accused of overanalysing everything, micromanaging my kids, infantilising my younger child, letting the same offspring territorialise my home, dominating him, thinking I am better than others, putting myself down, being my own worst enemy, having too many clothes, books, films and ornaments but not enough cutlery, making everything negative (aka having free-floating anxiety) and of course from the divorce/separation process: being a shockingly, hopelessly thoughtless and boundlessly selfish homewrecker. All hail the critics for their contribution to my self-development.
What do I say to my critics? Analysis can go too far, but then, it is essential; sometimes I am better than some people at some things (and vice versa? No shit); whatever parenting behaviours you adopt will appear wrong to somebody. Sometimes I feel as if criticism can only help you with your relationship to the critic themselves. I’m sure this can’t be true, because I long to tell some people some things about themselves that plenty of others besides me can see, things which make them almost unbearable to be with; and because I feel certain that there are plenty of observations my friends have given to me that have improved me. But how can we assess these things when one man’s meat is another man’s murder?
For example – being told I talk too much or ‘go round the houses’, has led me to develop a consciously succinct way of expressing myself. I can assure you (and probably don’t need to), that this slips sometimes, but I often feel it happening when it does. The flip side of this one would be: being told I am talking too much as a way to avoid listening to me properly; interrupting me on the assumption that there is nothing of interest to be seen round these houses; not having the skill to ask a helpful question when I am confused. Infantilising my son sounds unhealthy, and it surely is, but what if the charge comes from someone who competes for my attention? What if I coddle him because he suffers from weak attachment? What if my critic wants nothing more from me than to be coddled himself? Oh if I were a silent, forgiving, patient, coddling listener, who only speaks in short sentences, hits the perfect balance between self-esteem and modesty, and knows when the replacement parental constancy has suddenly tipped over into ‘suffocating’ and promptly fucks off, allowing space and freedom for a menagerie of developmental weaknesses to bumble along uncriticised. That sounds pretty good, I could do with one of those myself.
I will admit though, that yes I have caught myself infantilising my youngest, but the concrete moments (where you are really, actually doing it right now and catch yourself), have tended to be about buying him things that are suitable for younger children. He is notorious for liking kids’ stuff and girly stuff, and it can be hard to separate being loving and kind from a counterproductive indulgence. The critique helped a lot here I think, not least because buying stuff is a shit way to show love and it inadvertently revealed that habit. But interestingly, all the kids’ stuff I didn’t get him was also girly stuff. Maybe a different critic would have picked up on that.