Wednesday, February 15, 2012

mama don't judge

I read a blog post recently that harshly rebuked mothers who melt down and yell at their kids in public.  I was dismayed by the willingness of the author and some of the commenters to judge other parents with such a swift and righteous hand.  They sounded so angry.

In our effort to come together under the umbrella of feminism, nothing can send women scattering to their various corners of the ring like motherhood can. 

I am no stranger to those corners.  Once upon a time, I was a young mom.  My hair was thicker, my breasts were perkier, my legs…oh, but I digress.  Yes, I looked nicer, but I didn’t necessarily think nicer. 

Fourteen years ago, I put my brand new infant on a schedule. I needed him to sleep so that I could study, and sleep he did.  Right through the night at 6 weeks old, and every night after that.  In fact, he’s still doing it.  Here’s something else amazing that I did.  I wiped his nose whenever it ran.  No snotty-nosed kid here.  What was wrong with all these other mothers with their tired and dirty-faced children?  Hadn’t they the discipline to adhere to a schedule?  Didn’t they have any tissue?

I carried my successes around with me, my little banners of good mommyhood.  I didn’t articulate my judgment to people, but I felt it.  Yes indeedy.

Apparently, the god who reigns over judgmental parents doesn’t care if you utter your criticisms out loud or not, because said god soon delivered unto me, child #2.  I think there is nothing so humbling for a parent as child #2…or 3, or 4—whichever one breaks all your rules, defies all your expectations and proves you wrong.

Olivia would not adhere to a schedule.  And a clean face?  She had undiagnosed food allergies that gave her a bright red rash on her cheeks and an incessantly runny nose.  I wiped and I wiped, to no avail.  Her face remained perpetually wet, chapped, goopy, and crusted.  I had a cranky snot-nosed kid.  Yes indeedy.

So I rolled up my banners of judgment and put them out with the recycle.    Or I tried to anyway. 

Why did I feel so at odds with my fellow mothers?

First, as a new mother, I think my judgment reassured me during a time of insecurity, adjustment and learning.  I naively assumed I had found the way of handling an infant, when really, I’d only figured out how to handle my infant.

That’s the key, isn’t it? To recognize a multitude of parenting experiences.  Lawyers and other professionals certainly don’t approach their jobs in exactly the same way.  Why should mothers?  

We struggle to recognize and accept our own diversity because we are subject, every day, to the generalizing powers of discrimination (you know, the ones that say all girls like pink). 

If a man backs his car into a ditch, no one says, “Oh – male drivers!” while rolling their eyes.  As an individual, his mistake belongs to him alone, but if a woman screws up behind the wheel, the whole gender goes into the ditch with her.  

When society treats us as a homogenous group, it suggests not only that we share the same faults, but that we share the same values, same aspirations, same interests…the same approaches to motherhood.    

If we internalize this idea of sameness, which we do, we end up in a mess.  We get all pissy with the woman who drove her car into the ditch instead of working together to pull her out.  We start criticizing each other’s driving in order to protect our own records.  Working mothers and stay-at-home mothers, for example, see each other’s choices as mutual condemnations instead of as what they are: different ways of getting a car down the road.

If we can reject sameness and embrace the wildly different experiences and needs of mothers, then perhaps, when it comes to questions of career, discipline, breastfeeding, sleep schedules, and schooling, we could debate instead of judge, listen instead of condemn, and when necessary, simply agree to disagree.  

It’s worth the effort because, as members of a marginalized group, mothers need each other. When our kids push us into the world of the public meltdown, when their noses won’t stop running, or when the balance between their care and our career eludes us, we could use one another’s support.

If we can open our hearts and minds to one another, resisting the knee-jerk rush to judgment that can feel so validating despite its divisiveness, then I think we will find the umbrella of feminism, the one that asserts our worth as intellectual, individual and dignified human beings who love our children, but who also demand autonomy over our careers and our bodies, is big enough to accomodate us all.


  1. Hello Deb. I am so happy that you left a comment. I have a few confessions to make. #1, my real name is not Franny, but I love that name and that is why it is my pen name. Also, Franny Glass is a JD Salinger character whom I identified with back when I read his books. I should read them again, as I love his books. And I would love to have named a child Francis or Frances, but my husband did not like it, so instead I have a guinea pig named Francis (a boy, not that it matters much for a pig with a male pig roommate.) #2 I absolutely have OCD. It is strange how now it is kind of "cool" to joke about having it. It is no joke to struggle with OCD. One of my children seems to be expressing OCD symptoms more and more lately. Her main obsession is that she will throw up, so when anyone gets sick, she wants to stay away from that person. At dinner she won't eat chocolate because in the way past I didn't let my kids eat chocolate when they were sick because my oldest would always throw up on it when he was sick. Now on Wednesdays, she has a problem eating anything at dinner because the last time she threw up was during the night on a Wednesday. Then when it is time for her to sleep EVERYNIGHT, she cries and is very anxious and needs reassurance over and over that she will probably not throw up. My OCD never manifested in this way. Mine has been all over the board, but usually has to do with worrying about doing something not right enough or hurting someone. I hope we can keep in touch about OCD in our girls. I am considering taking my daughter to a shrink. My shrink is the BEST, though very expensive. I really do feel that my brain is trying to kill me sometimes. And although I wrote it in a sort of joking way, anxiety is a very real thing. My father committed suicide for various reasons, one of the big reasons, I believe, was anxiety.

    I only read one of your posts, the above one, but I plan on reading the others. I am so glad that we have connected. I totally agree that mothers are not homogeneous and that we should be less critical when acknowledging different mothering styles. I really need to become less judgemental. As a stay-at-home mom, I get defensive about what I do because, well, I feel like it is often not enough that I am only a mom. I also have an "uber-tolerant" husband, and I really can't imagine how different my life would be if I married a jerk, which I would have done if said jerk had proposed. Without my spouse, I really may have fallen apart and I would be a much worse mother. I did fall apart before we got married, and I could not even take care of myself. Ok, I have taken up enough space here for now. Thank you so much for your comment on my blog.

  2. Wise words, Deb. I remember thinking something similar about not judging other parents after I had my daughter 8 1/2 years ago. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that being a parent would be so challenging... And Sage wasn't a difficult baby really... she just didn't sleep through the night for the whole first year. Anyway, once I found out how difficult parenting can be, I decided not to judge other parents. (Of course, I slip up now and then... thanks for the reminder!)

  3. [BTW, it may just be my computer, but I'm finding it a little hard to read your blog with the gray background. Just thought you'd like to know! :)]

  4. Hey Jennifer, thanks for all your nice comments! no one has ever said "yowza" to me before! :) Also, I really appreciate your telling me about the gray background. my husband said the same thing, but I sort of ignored him because that's what we do when our spouses offer advice! I will change it. Don't be surprised if you stop by here and find a disaster - i'm not very good at the design aspect of all this. who knows what will happen when i start to fiddle!

  5. I have a child #2 as well... Chickadee was a breeze, but Sharkbait...well, I describe him as my "extreme sports kid"--at not even three, he was referred to the developmental pediatrician (after nearly getting kicked out of a 2 yo preschool class) and given the diagnosis of "probably ADHD, he's just not old enough to diagnose yet". 24/7 chasing after a child that will climb a fridge to get to the cookie jar rather than ask for a cookie is rough--both mentally and physically.

    It completely changes your perspective on parenting.

    1. hey thalassa, olivia used to climb book cases just because they were there. She gave me heart attacks because they could have fallen on her. there will be plusses to all that energy eventually, but it's definately really hard when they are little. i empathize!

  6. Perspective is an amazing thing . I remember being horrified by the actions of some mamas as I now sit in their shoes and ignore the judgement of the fresh crop of gawkers as my disheveled daughter, with her morning breakfast still lingering on her face, makes snarky comments to me - whenever, wherever. Not because I'm incompetent (well maybe a littlle but that's another conversation) but because of a host of struggles she faces. It took me a long time to realize that her sassiness stems from her fear and anxiety, and I think back on all that judgement too -- long before "they" became "me". Thanks for posting.

    1. i'm with you. i also have an anxious child who acted out when she was younger. her behavior and other people's judgement were so difficult. it taught me so much about what i don't know about what other people might be dealing with. thanks for your comment!

  7. So true.

    Mother Teresa says, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."