I watched as a young mom was pummeled for her choices. A steady stream of other mothers came by the blog on which she had posted her story to inform her of how horrifyingly awful she was. How heartbroken they were for her child. How selfish and unloving she was. How wrong she was going about this whole mothering business.
It quickly became obvious from the round-robin punches they were throwing that not only did they find it necessary to attack this woman repeatedly, but they had recruited their like-minded friends to join in on the brutal assault.
If you could read just the tone of the dozens of comments, you would think that the mother in question was on the road to becoming the next Casey Anthony.
But she wasn’t being negligent.
She wasn’t being abusive.
She wasn’t mistreating her child.
She was simply and vulnerably sharing her story about making a decision that countless mothers have to make every single day – she was explaining why she had chosen to quit breastfeeding.
Sadly, this form of mother-on-mother attack isn’t an isolated occurrence. I have seen this happen time and time again, both on the internet with venomous persistence and in real life with sugary coated condescension. Whether it’s about breastfeeding or schooling choices or vaccinations or medicated birthing or any other one of the myriad of decisions that we have to make as mothers, our culture has bred an environment of judgment and derision.
But as easy as it is to spot these overt and nasty attacks, I must face the fact that I myself am just as guilty.
Maybe I keep it inside, judging other mothers for not doing what I would do in a particular situation. Or worse, maybe I talk to my husband or closest of friends about it.
I am those women.
I may not often force my opinions on others, but that doesn’t exonerate me. And I’m horrified and devastated when I think of the times that my “help” could have come across as judgment.
Motherhood is the most rewarding job in the world, but it’s also the hardest. It’s excruciating, exhausting, back-breaking labor that takes every ounce of strength that we have – mental, physical, and emotional. And it doesn’t care that we have at least a dozen other priorities that also need some of bit of our vaporous energy – motherhood wants it all.
And it’s impossibly hard to figure out at times. It’s like that recurring dream where you’re taking your final exam and realize that you haven’t been to a single class or opened your textbook all semester. As you stare at the test, you realize that you have no idea what a single right answer could even possibly be.
And then there’s Mommy Guilt. It seems that no matter how many Awesome Mommy Points we earn in a given day, the one moment that we completely fail in will haunt us indefinitely and steal our hard-fought victories.
When you compound these things by other mother’s judgments, or even the fear of other’s judgments, it’s a miracle that any of us make it out of this job with any shred of sanity or self-confidence left.
But the irony is, even though we’re all scared out of our wits when it comes to our own choices and actions, we think we’ve got everyone else’s issues completely figured out.
My husband has learned well what I want from him when discussing a problem or issue. “I don’t need you to problem solve right now. I just need you to listen.” This should apply to mother-to-mother communication as well. Sure, sometimes we actually want advice. But what we all need more of is to feel true camaraderie and support from other mothers, the only other people who can really understand the myriad of choices that we’re forced to make every day.
We need to remember that the path of motherhood is a fingerprint – no two are ever going to look the same. Every groove making up each print has it’s own unique twists and turns – children’s personalities, financial situation, living situation, needs of everyone in the family, the past…it’s completely erroneous to assume that what works for me will automatically and with certainty work for you.
Does this mean we can’t have a sense of humor with each other? Most certainly not. Over-compensating can lead to walking on eggshells, and walking on eggshells leads to shallow, insincere relationships. We need to be sincere and we need to be lighthearted, but the underpinnings always need to be support.
Here is the pledge that I am taking – I will try my hardest to do these things whenever I am talking to another mother:
1. Listen – Really listen. Hear what they’re saying and what they’re not saying. I won’t interrupt to talk over them. I will just listen.
2. Encourage – I will share with other mothers where I see them excelling, compliment their amazing strengths, and encourage them in their paths.
3. Discern – I will only offer advice if someone directly asks for it. Otherwise, I will go back to steps one and two.
4. Accept – I will appreciate the fact that other people’s lives and choices won’t – and shouldn’t – look just like mine. Choices are out there for a reason – we need them.
Please join me on a quest to support, a quest to love, a quest to…