I wrote a post two weeks ago about my experience with breastfeeding, and the whole time I was writing it, I was feeling nervous about posting it. Which is ridiculous, because, first of all, I wasn’t really saying anything controversial… and secondly… it’s MY blog and it was MY experience with breastfeeding that I was seeking to share.
So – why did I hesitate before hitting “publish”?
I think the answer is probably one we’re all familiar with on some level: the fear of being judged by other mamas. I wish I could tell you that I don’t care what other people think – but I do. I wish I could tell you that it doesn’t bother me when people speak ill of me – but it does. I wish I could tell you that the opinions of others don’t impact some of the decisions I make – but they do.
I’m a firstborn, and I believe by nature, a people-please in a lot of ways. I have always been a person who seeks approval from those around me. Now, obviously this is my own issue to deal with, and I’m not saying every firstborn is this way – but from what I have learned, a lot of us actually are to some degree.
It has to do with meeting expectations and that thing we all do as parents where we tend to expect a lot from our firstborn children, right from the time they are little. I, personally, do this all the time with my daughter Isla. When I think about how I expected her to handle moving to China when she was just shy of two years old, it blows my mind now! She was so little! But, at the time, I had a newborn, and she was my “big girl”, so… cue the expectations. I know for a fact that my parents had a similar approach with me, so, I’m not saying anyone is doing anything wrong – just that this seems to be a common way in which we treat our firstborn children.
Anyway – because of this desire to please people, I tend to shy away from controversial topics. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a saint – and I certainly have lots of strong opinions. I just tend not to rock the boat, and I really weigh and measure whether or not something needs to be said. So, now that I have decided to start blogging again, I find that there’s this constant tension for me over whether or not what I’m saying will offend someone. And truthfully, I think that’s kind of sad.
I think it’s sad that we live in a culture where people are so easily offended, and where so often we assume the worst, or choose to believe that others must have negative intentions. I don’t actually think most people are like that. Even when we disagree about things. Things that are trivial AND things that are important. We all have things we are passionate about, beliefs and value systems that shape how we live our lives, which will – and should – filter into our conversations with others.
Which brings me to the topic of motherhood and judging. When I was pregnant with Isla I had zero concept of the world of “motherhood” I was about to enter into. I mean, I knew I was going to have a baby, and that I would be learning a lot very quickly. But I didn’t really grasp that I was also going to entering this “motherhood club”, with nearly as many cliques and opportunities for awkwardness as middle school.
I learned pretty quickly that there are a lot of different ideas out there about how to raise children. Breastfeeding, formula feeding, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, sleep training, vaccinations, home-schooling, public school, to work, to stay at home… the list of decisions to make, and opinions to form, is endless in this world of mothering. The reality is, we ALL fall somewhere on every issue, because ultimately, we make decisions about what to with our kids. But why do these decisions cause tension and create division? Why, as mamas, do we feel threatened when someone chooses to do something differently for THEIR child, in THEIR home, and under THEIR circumstances?
I suppose it’s because in our minds, the stakes our so high. I mean, after all, it’s our children’s lives we’re talking about here! We have to get it right or we might ruin them! And we need everyone else to get it right or our children might grow up in a society we don’t like very much… right? Hmm.
Look, I’m not saying how we choose to raise our kids isn’t a big deal – it is. But, at the end of the day, there isn’t just one way to go about doing things. And the idea that people doing things differently is some sort of attack on how we choose to do things individually is just plain silly.
I’ve also come to realize that this “judgy-mommy” thing is really more of a North American issue… at least in my experience. When I lived overseas with my two children, who were newborn and two years old at the time, I never really experienced the kind of pressure or “judgy-mommy” attitudes that I feel we face here in North America. In fact, when we chose to move back to Canada, having to face judgmental attitudes regarding parenting was one of the things I dreaded most.
Overseas, we were part of a really great expat community. There were lots of young, international families living in our area who were doing the same thing we were: trying to raise our kiddos in a different culture. I suppose you could argue that the reason we didn’t judge one another is because we had that common experience of parenting overseas to unite us – and while I agree that this did help us to bond uniquely, there were probably more differences than commonalities in terms of our parenting styles.
I think the reason we didn’t judge one another as moms overseas had more to do with the fact that we all expected each other to do things differently, because we all came from different places, with different cultural practices, values, and philosophies. We were obviously different – so we weren’t at all offended by the idea that we would have a range of parenting ideas and practices. I never compared myself to other mamas overseas, because I didn’t assume that we would, or should, do things the same way.
I think that’s really the big issue here in North America, when it comes to the business of mothering and raising children. We compare ourselves to one another, and we fear that we will somehow be found lacking. We look at what other mamas are doing, and if it’s different than what we have chosen to do, I think deep down we find ourselves questioning whether or not what we have chosen is the right thing. Because we know the stakes are high – these are our kids we’re talking about, and we need to believe we’re doing the right thing. We compare ourselves as though we are exactly the same, when truth is – we’re not.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop doing that? If we could stop internalizing what those around us are doing? If we could truly see one another as unique individuals with different practices, values, cultures, and philosophies, even if we happen to live next door to one another? Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually embrace diversity in parenting-styles the way we encourage embracing diversity in every other aspect of our lives? How nice would it be to have honest, authentic conversations with other mamas about what’s working for us, and what isn’t, and genuinely be able to support and care for one another – even when we disagree? Instead of feeling like we need to have it all figured out for fear of being judged?
And how about we actually take steps to stop doing the judging ourselves by becoming more confident in our own parenting decisions – and who we are as unique mamas, being gentle with ourselves when we fear we’ve gotten it wrong. I have been guilty of this myself, and am working to check my own heart and attitude surrounding motherhood. Wouldn’t it be nice if entering the “mom club” felt more like a sisterhood and a little less like mean girls?
The say it takes a village to raise a child, and I am so grateful for so many of my mama friends, and they way that they have provided advice, encouragement, support, and love over the years. For the way that they love their kiddos and want what’s best for them; for the way they look out for me and mine. I love being able to raise my kiddos with the help of other mamas – some near and some very far away – who support my efforts as a mother. Not necessarily because we are choosing to raise our kids in the exact same way – but because at the end of the day, our core desire, our common goal, IS actually exactly the same, even when our journey isn’t.
“There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills, and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family.”
– Elder M. Russell Ballard
Photo Credit (bottom) to Kira Nelson Photopgrahy