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.