It always starts so innocently enough. Some moms are standing in the corner of the playground, watching their children frolic and discussing the mysteries of motherhood:
“I just don’t understand it,” Mom 1 says. “My other two loved sweet potatoes. I guess we’ll move on to pears tomorrow.”
Then Mom 2 inquires, “Did you buy them in a jar? My kids always preferred the foods I prepared at home.”
And along comes Mom 3,who dramatically squawks, “Oh my gosh! I NEVER bought my baby pre-made food! How do you know what’s IN IT?!”
All eyes squarely focus in on Mom 1 – who was just venting, mind you – and now she has been set to a standard of excellence by Mom 3 (whose child I will imagine is eating mulch under the play set because I believe Karma is a you-know-what), and what does she feel?? MOM GUILT.
Because maybe she did buy those sweet potatoes in a jar, and is now thinking that she is a terrible mother. Clearly her baby would have eaten those sweet potatoes if she had baked them herself, run them through the food processor, and then frozen the extras in little ice cube trays. She is a HORRIBLE MOTHER and has ruined sweet potatoes for little Lilac forever.
(Can you tell I did not make my own kids’ food in the beginning? Bravo to all of you who did, and continue to do so. You are superheroes.)
But honestly, insert any scenario into this situation and it all ends the same way: with one mom feeling badly about the way in which she is raising her children. And I know this issue spans fathers, grandparents, and other caregivers too; it’s just that I can only speak from the title I hold.
Why? WHHHHHYYYYYY? I ask myself this all the time! I am a thinker by nature – no, scratch that – I am an over-thinker by nature. I was that way before I had children, and having the responsibility of raising two human beings just happened to make me think even more…about everything.
Breast vs. Bottle. Pampers vs. Huggies. Bassinet vs. Family Bed (vs. Couch, but you get the idea)
And that is just within the first 48 hours of their existence outside the womb!
We are required to make a multitude of decisions about another person’s life on a daily basis. Some of these decisions happen in the moment and some we get to gather information about. Some of these choices are insignificant, and others life-changing, but so often we are already unsure and look to those who have walked before us to get the go-ahead (because their kids seem to be okay!). So when we get the incredulous eyes or the muffled gasps instead, we just KNOW it is because we are wrong and they are right…right?
It is exhausting. Can’t we just high-five each other for keeping our kids safe and alive each day and move on? OK, some days – barely safe – but you know, it’s a balance.
This, my dears, is one avenue of the loneliness I mentioned two weeks ago. Who can you share with? Do they worry about this stuff like you do? Will they judge you? It is even worth the effort?
Without hesitation, I have to say, “Yes!” Yes, it is worth it, and yes, you have to keep talking and sharing because God knows, if I kept all my questions and thoughts bottled inside, my head would explode. We need to seek community and support because without it, we can break under the pressure. Our friends will be the ones to lift us up when we fail, and they will lift us up even higher in the times of triumph. But please note the verbiage here: LIFT. A friend will not put you down. A friend will not make you feel guilty. A friend can voice concern in a place of trust and compassion without breaking your spirit.
Sweet moms, each of you have to know this: You are not alone. For every question you have had, there is at least one other mom who has had the same one. We have to be brave enough to share.
Often times the Judgey McJudgersons of the world operate out of their own fears and/or insecurities because it is so much stronger to exude “knowledge” than to admit your ignorance. People are viewed in a more positive light if they are confident rather than meek. It is basic human psychology. Lest we forget that the choices others make for their families might not be the right choices for yours.
Let me give you a recent example from my life: Several moms have approached me about the decision to red-shirt our son Max last year (give him another year of preschool as opposed to sending him to kindergarten), and wanted to know how it has turned out so far.
Asserting knowledge would sound like: “Everyone knows that sending your son to kindergarten when he has a late birthday is a bad idea. They are just babies and will be so far behind their peers.”
Admitting ignorance: “It was such a hard decision! We ultimately decided to give him another year because he was not ready. He could have been fine, but it just wasn’t worth the chance.”
Did we know if we were making the right choice? Um, no, but we were trying to do the best for our son. Can I tell you which choices to make about your child? No. No, I cannot. I can, however, talk it over with you. I can listen empathically and be supportive of the choices you make. As Dionne Warwick would sing, “That’s what friends are for…”
Please know that I have cast more than a few assumptions in my day about mothers whom I have encountered. It is an honest, knee-jerk occurrence of which I am not proud. Sometimes these thoughts and ideas appear in our head without so much as a Jiminy Cricket to give us the side-eye. I know with certainty that I have never intentionally spoken a word to another mother to bring her shame (at least that I know of), and work diligently to be kind to any parent I meet because this gig is hard.
I remind myself on a regular basis (daily…hourly…), Mom Guilt is proof that I care. It is evidence that I would move mountains for my children, and that when presented with the option to do the absolute best for my boys, I will do it. Period. I totally appreciate the decisive people in my life; I am in awe of them actually. I have some mom friends that know what they are about and go to it without looking back. So let’s take a page out of their book: Tell yourself that you are a good mom. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you love your children and that you will do all in your power to be the good in their lives. Pretty please, show them what supportive and caring friendships look like so that when they grow up to be parents, they can high-five their friends for keeping their kids alive and move on.