Many of my friends and I became mothers around the same time. Most of my closest friends these days are those who I met when my kids were babies. It's funny because I seem to be looking, constantly searching for camaraderie, from people who share my experience or who have been through the same experience so that I can learn from them. But I'm learning a valuable lesson from this searching. No one shares your exact same experience, and while other mothers will have struggles with the same issues I struggle with, I can't base my actions or opinions on what others' actions are. I must make my own way.
I say this because I've been thinking a lot about how moms tend to be in competition with each other over the best way to nurture, feed, educate, and even diaper their children (see the discussion over at Mommywords.) One mom feeds her children only nutritious food with nary a sugary snack in sight and only organic fruits and vegetables; another mom attachment-parents her baby while another is Ferber-ing and night weaning; in the last 2 decades, the classic SAHM vs. working mom debate has reached mammoth proportions; public school, private school, home school; television or not. It's constant--everywhere--especially in the blogosphere.
I have found myself caught up in this gossip mill sometimes. I've said, "I would NEVER...." and "I can't believe she...." I've searched like-minded individuals who have shared my opinions and unknowingly, under the guise of making more sense and resolve out of my own decisions, have bashed unsuspecting mothers whose choices are different from mine. I've made comments based on my beliefs without thinking about how others might feel criticized. This behavior has weighed very heavy on my mind lately. I feel so badly about my past gossipy tendencies, and I am making a change.
My daughter has very strong opinions and never hesitates to voice them as she sees fit. I practice reflecting her feelings back to her, in a very neutral way, so that she knows she's been heard and acknowledged. However, I almost always follow that reflective listening with a "but...." and then spew forth my own opinion and rationalization or belief that is meant to get her to think beyond her feelings and see my point of view. Eliminating the "but..." is part of my new change in relating to other moms. I don't think it's productive to echo a mom's feelings about how she's coping with some new dramatic change in her child's behavior/health/education and then negate it all with a "but....here's what I think...."
I'm not saying that I don't want to hear how others are coping and even get suggestions, like I mentioned above. I want to know what you've done that works for you. Maybe it would work for me too. What I'm making a conscious effort to do now is see everyone's path for what it's worth. We all want the same basic thing--to help our children grow into strong, independent, confident beings who navigate the social waters like experienced sailors using all the tools taught to them by the experienced sailors before them. It's my job to be the example I want them to follow. I can't very well teach my twins how to treat others the way they want to be treated if I'm engaging in clandestine character assassination. I need to be done judging.
In "Bad Mother" Aleyet Waldman discusses how she saw her first "bad mother" on a train--a woman who pulled her daughter's hair as she was putting it into a ponytail. She relays how she was mortified at how this woman could do such a thing, in public, no less. She says we moms are constantly trying to live up to some unrealistic expectation and when we see others who fail to meet that expectation, we judge them. I've judged and been judged, and I really want to let that drama go from my life. Waldman says the definition of a reasonable good mother is, "one who loves her kids and does her level best not to damage them in any permanent way. A good mother doesn't let herself be overcome by guilt when she screws up."
This is my goal for today--I'm gonna try not to screw it up, but if I do, I'm gonna cry to you, who will lift me up, and I won't feel guilty about it.