A young mother wrote to me: "As the mother of a toddler, I'm really grateful to moms and dads who've given me great advice and support. But at the same time, other mom's comments also have made me feel inadequate."

"Are we all sensitive and a little defensive," she asks,"because we love our kids so much? Maybe we feel threatened by other people's choices, because we see them as an implicit criticism of our choices."

Alternatively she suggests, “Maybe we're more hyper-aware, even painfully aware, of the many dangers to children and have trouble putting them in perspective?"

Welcome to the Age of Anxiety.

Parenting, like many endeavors, has become a public as well as private affair and we've entered the competition for the Highest Achiever Award. We're asked:

Are you married? How long? How many children do you have? What nursery school does your little boy attend? To which colleges is your teen applying? What kind of work do you do? Does it pay well?

Everything is open to discussion and when other people judge us their voices are echoed by the inner critics we carry around from childhood. In fact, we've become so used to evaluating ourselves via the public scorecard we no longer trust our own judgment.

This competition heightens our already-elevated level of performance anxiety, as we analyze every parent-child interaction to determine if it's right or wrong according to the myriad of expert authors and speakers.

An additional ingredient is our subconscious predilection to transform peers into our psychological siblings, with the result that yesterday's sibling rivalry gets played out in today's adult world.

It's a wonder we can get through the day!

Mark Twain's words are relevant here: "Each man is afraid of his neighbor's disapproval - a thing which, to the general run of the human race, is more dreaded than wolves and death."*

Finally, let's not avoid the concomitant question of why strangers think they have the license to comment on our children's behavior and by implication our parenting skills.

Ever try to stop a toddler from throwing a tantrum in the supermarket? Or a child from running into people as they pursue some unknown target? What about the chutzpah that children invariably show in public places? You'd think they speak to us like that all the time (which they may or may not do)!

People too often have a fix-it syndrome for every interpersonal problem that they witness. After all, it's much easier to fix someone else's problem than one's own! We've been trained to become problem-solvers in every area of our lives; naturally that mother on the playground bench would welcome our advice.

We've also tumbled like Alice down the hole into the world of virtual relationships. Strangers have become voyeurs of other people's lives (witness the popularity of so-called Reality Shows) and authorities on anything they can Google. Internet networks have replaced real-life connections and we think that "friends" on Facebook are as close as members of our own family.

True relationships take time to form. We are impatient nowadays to get results and we may lack the fortitude and equanimity to take it slow, to assess the terrain and determine if what we're about to say will trip us up on the rocky road of interpersonal communication.

Parenting is very similar. It takes years of endless experimentation to determine how best to proceed with each individual child. We need time, energy, humility and love to raise our children and remember, along the way, to champion ourselves.

*The United States of Lyncherdom, Mark Twain's 1901 essay written in response to a newspaper account of lynching in Missouri.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Mona Spiegel is an experienced Psychologist and Life Coach. Women turn to her after hearing her lead a workshop, read an article she’s written, or through the recommendations of friends who have experienced the value of her coaching. Dr. Spiegel helps women resolve their problems and tap their inner strengths to realize their goals and dreams. Dr. Spiegel is a member of the American Psychological Association and the International Coach Federation. Learn more about her at www.myfamilycoach.com.