This might be a bit more of a soapbox post than I intended, but I do think this subject is important and something I’d like to address, both for me personally and for other fellow mothers. Mom shaming and judging is beyond prevalent in our mom world – especially that which exists in the online community. #ittakesavillage, as they say, so why can’t we support different methods or styles of parenting and encourage each other to be confident in our parenting decisions? This isn’t really about mom shaming or judging, but rather about finding the empowerment as moms to stick to our guns and trust ourselves. We will never be able to control what someone else does or says, but what we can control is how we react or behave, (which will play into how we parent, as well).
You see, for the last two years since the birth of my son, I have been working to define the type of mom I am – something that will surely be a lifelong journey, and one that will never have a single label. I have surely been the one asking the questions, and been the one giving advice (hopefully all solicited, but I know that is a fine line). I have read the books, been to the classes, and, of course, compared myself to other parents. I am always thankful that the experts, websites, consultants, doctors, friends and family are there when we need them for advice and guidance in their appropriate field. However, because there is so much “advice” and “guidance” out there for the taking, I am often left with one nagging internal question: are the decisions I make or ideas I have as a parent based on my intrinsic values and principles, or are they based (loosely) on, and skewed by, what I read and hear from other “helpful” moms? It’s a slippery slope – but admittedly a hard one to avoid. I know I’m a good mom, but this world we’re in has the power to make us question every single move we make – and I’m beginning to see how unhealthy that can be.
For the record, I’m not talking about calling our closest girlfriends or looking to our own mothers for this guidance. These nearest and dearest are in your life for a reason, and giving invited council and advice will always be one of their most coveted roles (just as it is when they seek it from you). We should and need to stick together as moms/parents – we deserve the support from each other, and the ability to both celebrate and commiserate with one another is what keeps us going through the longest of days. It does take a village, and thank God the village is there when we need it. But as individual parents raising individual people, we owe it to ourselves to define who we are and what our parenting principles are. But what’s frightening is when the online community becomes a mother’s sole barometer, decision maker, therapist and confidant.
Most parents who are honestly doing the best they can are naturally and holistically good parents – even if what I do in my household is different than what you do in yours. We all come into parenting with some preconceived ideas of what is right and wrong, but with little to no actual experience. And let’s be honest, we have all judged other parents before we were in the same boat. But while you might quickly realize judging any parent is futile before you are a parent yourself, I don’t think judging is entirely bad. We judge and are judged every day in all sorts of other ways. It’s part of how we learn to make decisions and choices, and learn to define our own values and principles. However, when it’s used against someone without knowing all the facts, that is simply unfair and unjustified. And what we often fail to recognize are the ramifications of our outward judgements, when parenting, especially for first timers, is already riddled with insecurity and constant self-doubt. Our society is full of enough criticism from people and places that have no business stepping over that line. So as parents and fellow mothers, we owe it to each other to recognize and respect that we make the decisions best fit for our individual lives – and almost no decision is a bad one if made with honesty, conviction and strength.
Case in Point:
Breastfeeding is one of my personal absolutes. I’m amazed at the fact that we as women and mothers have the power to feed our baby the most perfect meal they need to grow and develop throughout infancy. Our bodies are truly incredible. So when I was pregnant with my first, there was no doubt I was going to breastfeed. And I did – I successfully nursed my son for a total of 13 months. Was it easy? No. Could I and did I do it? Yes. Am I doing it again? Yes. No one talks about the immense commitment that is breastfeeding. Your body isn’t yours, and neither is your life – every action you make, every thing you consume, and every waking hour is carefully planned around when and where your baby needs to eat. And adding pumping into the mix arguably makes your job that much more stressful – missing a feeding, stimulating your supply, washing parts and accessories, and keeping your stored milk dated and fresh (God forbid any precious breastmilk goes to waste). I worked my way through sleepless nights, strategically timed outings, and painful teething for over a year in order to ensure I was giving my baby the best and healthiest nutrition I could – because I could.
Now, between my first and second pregnancies, my sister had a pregnancy and baby of her own. She and I are different people, and, in many ways, we are different mothers. But we are both good mothers and we both respect our individual mothering decisions. When she was pregnant, she would ask me a lot about breastfeeding (among other parenting inquiries), and she prepped herself accordingly to make the same commitment I did – and of course, I highly encouraged it. When her son was born, she had no issues nursing – her milk came in, her baby latched, and after the initial frustrations that come with learning the process, she was off to a great start. She lasted about 4 months before she gradually shifted to formula. To be honest, we never discussed it. I never asked, and she never brought it up. I don’t know if this was an easy, emotionally charged, or guilt ridden decision she made, but I give her a lot of credit for making the decision on her own, without input (as far as I know) from anyone else. She did what worked for her.
While I know wholeheartedly that breastfeeding was the best thing for me and my baby, and while I could have had many judgements about her decision to stop and switch exclusively to formula, I saw one thing in her formula life that I didn’t have in my nursing one: freedom.
I saw her freedom to dress the way she wanted without thinking about boob access, her freedom to have a social life and love life that didn’t require special timing or pumping breaks, her freedom to more quickly redefine her identity as a woman and a mother.
Say what you will about formula vs. breastmilk, and why one might be better than another. But what I have seen in her is a mother who confidently made the decision that was right for her and her lifestyle, and allowed her freedoms that those of us with a baby at the breast do not have. There is something enviable and extremely respectable in that. (And, yes, what she has is a baby who is just as strong and healthy as my breastfed one).
I may have my own preconceived ideas of formula feeding over breastfeeding. I may also be confident in knowing what is best for me and what I am comfortable committing to for my children. But I am also impressed and supportive of any mother making a well thought decision to do it a different way with the same confidence and commitment.
We all owe it to ourselves and our children to find it within, as hard as it can be, to stick to your convictions and have faith that you and only you (or, you and your partner) know what is best for your child and your family. As much as we have the power to seek advice from others, we also have the power to pick and choose how we use that advice. We are all great parents if we are honestly doing the best we can, and while the help and advice is there when we need it, so is our instinct and intuition, which should never be discounted. Advice and opinions from others will often be offered without an invitation, and so comes into play our mommy strength that gave us the courage to have kids in the first place. Use it.
It takes a village, yes. But our children only need our individual confidence and leadership. That’s what they seek, and that’s what they deserve.
As thankful as I am for the community of moms I know – friends, family, and those in the social media world – I am more thankful for my husband, my kids and my own intuition to help keep me grounded in knowing the decisions I/we make will always be the right decision for us and our family. And as this parenting journey is constantly evolving, offering moments to learn and grow every day, we should find comfort knowing that we are not expected to be experts – not from the beginning, and not ever. We are simply expected to do the best we can. For every situation we handle in a seemingly less than perfect way (and undoubtedly beat ourselves up for), we will likely be presented with the opportunity (for better or worse) to try and try again, until we feel like we’ve figured it out. And that’s the beauty of it all.
TV will not make our children stupid, inorganic foods will not ruin our children’s health, formula will not make our children any less perfect, and none of the above will make you any less of a mother. But our strong leadership as parents is the best thing we can offer our children, even if we don’t know what we’re doing half the time. I’ve questioned a lot of things, and felt a lot of emotions for making a number of parental decisions over the last two years. But if there is one thing my spirited, thriving toddler has taught me it’s that WE’RE ALL GONNA BE ALRIGHT. #momstrong