I like to think that I am not a judgmental person and am pretty open to ideas that are different from my own. So it’s hard for me to admit that, yes, I do (or at least did) suffer from a mild case of mom-shaming.
Very rarely did I share my feelings or concerns with friends who became mothers before I did about their parenting techniques. Nor did I share my conceptions of what parenting should look like—but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking them:
That’s fine if she wants to let her toddler watch television when he wakes up, but I want my child to read books every morning.
Wow, she gives her children a lot of unhealthy snacks. I’m going to try really hard to be a mom who only keeps healthy snacks in our pantry.
I can’t believe they still haven’t sleep-trained her! It can’t be that hard . . .
Oh, silly, naive me.
Now, as I look back on all of those thoughts I kept to myself, or shared only with my husband, before and during my pregnancy, I find myself laughing. As I write this afternoon, my toddler is watching her beloved Elmo on Sesame Street, and she is eating gummy fruit snacks (I may be eating them too).
I am "failing" my pre-baby self right now, doing so many things I never thought I would do once I became a mother. Instead of letting myself become upset by this fact, though, I’ve fully embraced it, forgiven my inexperienced and mommy-shaming former self, and learned from my real experience. Here’s some of the wisdom I’ve gained since my mommy-shaming days:
Motherhood has put my already-limited patience to a whole new test. Too often, I feel as if I’ve already spent my allotted patience portion for the day by noon. Despite numerous, labored attempts at teaching my toddler to sleep through the night, I can still count the number of successful attempts on one hand. She is only a few months shy of two years old, and pre-mommy me never imagined this would be her sleep-training experience.
What I’ve learned from many (many) sleepless nights, however, is that good things take time—and sometimes they’re not on the timeline I’d like. Guided by parenting books and internet searches, I assumed pre-baby that my child would be sleeping through the night by eight months, would be weaned from breastfeeding by a year, and would be able to entertain herself for longer than five minutes by 18 months.
However, I’m still waiting for all of these fantasies to come to fruition. Slowly, I’m letting go of my stubbornness and surrendering my ideas of how a child should act by a certain age to how my own child is acting right now.
I’ve been forced to discover a new store of patience and to try to ration it so that it lasts the entire day. And although it’s something I have to work at every single day, it is encouraging when I notice the fruits of my efforts (and even more so when somebody else notices). On those days when my husband comes home from work to find me still smiling as Lucy runs laps around my legs, we both celebrate this small triumph in patience.
No, my life right now is not as I imagined it would be, but then again, I’m not the mother I thought I would be either—and that’s okay! I’m learning, patiently, that I am exactly the mother I am supposed to be for my little Lucy, the mother she needs, and I’m learning to merge my timetable with hers.
I am a work in progress—a mother in progress. I’m constantly reminding myself not to compare myself to other moms who I feel are doing a better job than me. Case in point: you know those moms who get their children out of the house every day for educational, fun activities at kid-oriented locations? I’m not one of those moms. In fact, I’ve been known to consider a trip to Aldi our “activity of the week.”
But let me tell you, I am a very good cuddler. And play-doh castle maker, and snack distributor, and Tangled movie watcher. I’m gradually learning to accept the aspects of this motherhood “job” that I’m naturally gifted in, while giving myself grace with those parts that don’t come easily to me. All mothers have different strengths and challenges, which is exactly the way it should be. We simply need to make the most of those areas in which we excel.
As a literature enthusiast, I always imagined that my daughter would share my love of reading from an early age and that I would spend hours (or at least half an hour) a day reading to her even as an infant. I never considered that her only interest in books would be to find new ways of destroying them (who knew that it was possible to bite large chunks out of board books?). It did not take me long to give up on mother-daughter reading time altogether and let TV time take its place.
Slowly, though, my toddler is learning that cardboard doesn’t really taste good and that ripping paper makes mommy upset. Sometimes, at night, I can even get her to sit on my lap long enough for the entirety of Goodnight Mr. Darcy (yes, that is a real board book, and it is amazing!) And while I doubt I’ll be reading Pride and Prejudice to her anytime soon, I no longer blame myself for Lucy’s disinterest in books, or for not spending enough time forcing her to sit with me reading. Giving myself—and my daughter—some grace allows me to step back and re-evaluate my expectations for my young child. It also gives me the assurance that I’m still doing my best and not failing her as a mom. (I’m even brave enough to imagine that reading Madeline together is a very real possibility in our near future!)
When Lucy’s first food was mashed avocado, and she liked it, I celebrated with a little mom victory dance. That victory dance was shortly replaced with sighs of exasperation, however, as she soon revealed her true feelings towards foods containing any hint of nutrition.
Once upon a time, I told my husband that I would not have picky children who ate nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sadly, now I find myself … eating my words. I even judged mothers who had picky children—as if this was undoubtedly a sign of failed parenthood. I now see how utterly ridiculous this was; more importantly, I’ve learned not to judge other mothers for what it looks like they are (or are not) doing. More than likely, they are doing their absolute best, and if their children are surviving on chicken nuggets and graham crackers, it’s probably not their choice.
Because here’s the biggest truth of them all when it comes to motherhood: We are all doing the best we can for our individual children with their individual needs and little personalities. There is no best way to mother our children; there is only trying our best.
In one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Although I sometimes still get defensive at the occasional comments from single friends who question what I do all day with “only one” child and “only a part-time job,” I no longer find myself getting angry at them. Because I get it—I’ve been there. They simply don’t understand, just as I once did not understand. Trite as it sounds, you truly do have to put yourself in another’s shoes.
Now, when I see a mother in the grocery store struggling with a child who is having a meltdown, or jumping from the cart, or tearing apart the shelf of cookies, I get it. My feelings of judgment have been replaced with only the most profound empathy. I want to hug her—or perhaps to open one of the cookie boxes lying on the floor and give her a few. When I hear a friend tell me about her sleep woes, or when I visit a friend with a (very) messy house, I feel nothing but solidarity and empathy.
Motherhood is hard, but it is also a truly beautiful gift. What I’ve come to realize is that what a mother needs more than anything (even cookies), is the support of friends and family who are simply there for her, who understand her, and who will remind her that she is doing her absolute best.