Wednesday, August 15, 2012

People In Glass Houses

Let me start by saying I have been incredibly lucky. My friends are nothing but supportive, and have always been great sources of advice, comfort, reality checks and chocolate - whichever is most appropriate at the time. Today's post came about while I was researching for an article I'm writing. I asked for input from lots of different sources and I came across something that made me a little uneasy. There were some who were quite outspoken in their opinions to the point that some comments caused offense. There were others who were afraid to speak their minds on a public forum or at mother's groups for fear of being vilified for their choices (based on previous experiences.) This is my response to all of that...

I hate to admit it but I am guilty of being judgemental from time to time. I've looked at other mothers and raised a brow at some of the things I've seen and heard. I try to be discreet about it and keep my judgements to myself but I know there have been times when I have pushed my opinions onto others, sometimes because I wanted to be helpful, but I'm ashamed to admit, at other times I've done it because I thought my way was better. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I want to scream "what are you doing?!?" but I don't. I know how it feels to be judged, and there are a lot of things I do that make me feel so guilty that I want to curl up into a ball on the floor (and it's pretty tough to be judgemental from down there). Like giving my baby boy a bottle of formula at night so he'll sleep through (something I feel so guilty about I'm not doing it anymore). Or occasionally putting my toddler to bed early so I can have a glass of wine and watch TV at the end of a very long day (definitely still going to do that). To some mothers these actions are comparable to heinous crimes, and while I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, what I don't get is women who feel they have the right to openly berate anyone whose parenting style differs to theirs. Being a mother is hard enough without other mothers, who you imagine would be your best allies, quite openly attacking the choices you've made (especially before they know the reasons behind those choices...). I don't know many ladies who would dare to criticise what their friends are wearing to their faces, or tell them what they're doing wrong in their jobs or their marriages - so why do so many of us feel it's ok to judge a mummy who might do things a little differently when it comes to parenting? Surely if any area of our lives deserves support, sensitivity and tact, motherhood must be it?

Not a single day goes by when I don't feel guilty about something. I am constantly questioning every choice I make. I am far from perfect and, to be perfectly honest, I die a little inside every time I do something that someone has told me will be bad for my kids. Like giving them formula, or letting them cry a little before they go to sleep. Even as I write this, and admit that I do those things, I'm cringing because I know there are some of you out there thinking "I can't believe she does that!" 

So, why are we so quick to judge, so keen to criticise? Is there any mother out there who doesn't question herself at least once a day? How many of you haven't had that crisis of conscience, that voice in the back of your head questioning a certain move, that late night, panicked trawl through baby books and parenting websites, desperate for answers?? Are any of us so good at this gig that we have the right to tell others what they're doing wrong, without first wondering if maybe they have good reasons for doing what they're doing? Is it a misguided attempt to be helpful? To make ourselves feel better about what we're doing? Or are some of us just completely oblivious to the fact that our "suggestions" might cause angst and heartache? I just read this great post about "Mom Bullies" that does a great job of describing the kind of mums I'm talking about. I agree that parenting is a damn tough job, and when you have a good day, when you find what works, you have every right to feel sanctimonious and superior. And I know how tempting it can be to share your insights when you see that someone has made a decision without knowing all the facts (I had to bite my tongue very recently). But that doesn't mean that what you do - what works in your house - will work in mine. Because really, whatever you practise, whichever parenting philosophy you subscribe to, there will always be "evidence" to back it up, and you will always find someone who agrees with you and who will tell you you are absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, doing the right thing for your family. But likewise, there will always be just as many voices that argue against it, and for those of us who aren't that confident, despite all that evidence, it's that one negative voice in the day that speaks the loudest. And don't get me started on how easily such helpful suggestions can be misconstrued in emails or forum comments. A tongue-in-cheek, "oh, he really should poo more often," can easily be read as, "you're clearly neglecting his needs."

When a friend, or a complete stranger for that matter, confides in you that she is thinking about giving up breastfeeding/going back to work/trying "cry-it-out" sleep training/swinging from the chandeliers high on Xanax every night, what she's really looking for is reassurance. She wants you to tell her she's doing the right thing. However much you disagree with her choices, whatever you know that she doesn't, whichever choices you think she should be making instead, chances are she has already made up her mind, and your input will not change it - it may just alienate her. If it works for her, then it will always be the right choice. What we all need is support and respect for our decisions, and the best thing you can say to someone seeking advice is "I don't know what I'm doing either..." That's not to say that you should never offer advice, because advice can literally save lives, just think very carefully about how you deliver it. A mum carrying her baby incorrectly in a sling, should probably be told, but the one buying formula, might be less receptive...

I could write post after post justifying the choices I've made, but I won't, because I believe that I shouldn't have to. But I still feel like I need to at times, and I hate that. Our world revolves around our boys (yes, we live in a Kindergarchy, deal with it), and when it comes to how to raise them we make educated decisions whenever possible, and the rest of the time we rely on gut instinct and our hearts to work out what is best for them, and we strive to make sure the needs of every family member are met. We want our kids to be happy, healthy, well behaved, independent young men who feel loved and know that they can rely on their parents to make the right choices, does any of that sound like the motivations of a bad parent? We all want that for our kids, does it really matter how we go about it? And is it anybody else's business? I may not be a perfect parent, and I'm overwhelmed by how little I actually know, but most of the time I know what works for us. So until my boys can tell me I'm doing a great job (and they may never get around to it) I just have to look at them and see how happy and healthy and bright they are, to know I'm doing the very best I can right now, with the resources I have to hand. And then I'll have another chocolate biscuit, put the boys in front of the TV and call my friends and tell them what a great job they're doing, because that's the kind of mother I want to be. It's a constant work in progress, and as I've educated myself I've changed the way we do things - but it hasn't ever been because someone has told me I'm doing it wrong.

There are so many factors that influence the choices every parent makes, and they may not always do what is considered "right" or even what they planned to do, but you can never know what is behind someone else's decisions. It's quite possible that choosing to give a baby formula, or going back to work, co-sleeping, using disposable nappies, or whatever it is you disagree with, may have been one of the toughest decisions that parent has made. In fact, the decision may have been out of their hands entirely. So, before you judge a friend, a neighbour, a random stranger on a forum who might be desperately seeking advice and wanting someone to tell her that what she's doing is ok, remember how tough this parenting gig is, and try not to make it any harder. We all deserve credit for loving our kids and doing the very best we can.

THIS POST RIGHT HERE is at the top of my list of "Posts I Wish I'd Written," and it perfectly sums up what I've been thinking this week and what I wanted to say today, only it says it better, of course.

And just to show I'm a good sport, here's a completely different point of view for the mums who do step in and bravely offer advice out of genuine concern. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, I just happened to know about your site via Playtimes and I am so glad that I did. I have skipped through a couple of your posts and I already find a lot of similarity in our thoughts and behaviour. To start with I have 2 boys as well - 8 and 4 and I love being a mom to them, yes that's my full time job and no matter what others may think of it - boring, hard work, smelly, I love my job and dread the day I am not going to be needed. About this particular post, I completely agree with you that all mums have a diff view point and they know what works best for them and their children and while we may think diff from outside i think we should keep our opinion to ourselves. Wonder if u have read the Tiger mom book?? Makes my blood boil but then it was her choice right? Do visit my blog when free, I just about started writing a few months ago.