Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Problem With Other Mothers

For the past few years, my Mother's Day gift has been a simple tradition: a beer and a bacon cheeseburger at a local pub.

Mom at Work
This year, I'm adding a little more -- I want my lunch alone. All alone. And I want to read while I eat. And if anyone interrupts me to do anything other than refill my water or ask if I want dessert (and I will), we will have words.

With a successful Easter series (start here and work backward if you haven't read it) behind us, I'd like to welcome you, dear Babblists, to the Mothers' Day series.

We begin with a thought launched in my mind by two articles posted on Facebook today by two of my beloved Mom-Friends -- people  I met through our mutual state of having young children, but I love for more than their ability to have kids that entertain my kids.

The first is a brief piece by author Erica Jong, posted in a debate about attachment parenting on the New York Times website. The second is a blog post by April Perry on the Power of Moms site.

The posts are unrelated and the main topics are quite different, but both address a similar problem: the habit of mothers to constantly compare themselves to other mothers, and to certain standards of parenting that may or may not actually exist.

In every city, in every social circle, and I have no doubt in every culture, there is a magical Perfect Mother hanging around, and every other mother simultaneously hates her and wants to be her. I love that both of these articles are in essence asking moms to knock off trying to be perfect.

"We all parent the best we can," Jong writes. "Being human, we’re ambivalent. We want perfection for our babies, but we also need sleep."

And says Perry, in harmony, "Whatever it is we feel we are lacking, can we collectively decide–as deliberate mothers–that we are not going to sit around feeling discouraged about all the things we’re not?"

These messages are so good, and so important. I need to hear them all the time. I'm not perfect, and I remind myself often that it's OK. I don't even do some of the things I'd like to for my boys, like making all of Little Dan's baby food, because I happen to like sleep and reading more. That's OK too.

But here's where I'm going to twist this a little farther: As much as it's reassuring to be told I'm not perfect, it's funny how fast being imperfect turns into a matter of pride.

Example: My boys live in hand-me-downs, yard sale scores, consignment store finds, and clearance-rack specials. New, full-price clothes are gift territory only. I'm quite content with this. I grew up in a similar manner, and I think it's good for people and the environment to re-use and recycle clothing. I also get a lovely little endorphin rush from getting a good deal. (Got these $56 shoes in like-new condition for Henry for $17. Continuing to brag about it. Go. Me.)

I've embraced the fact that my kids don't wear the latest styles, that all their name-brands are second hand, that one pair of shoes that fit is good and two pairs is awesome. And that's great. But ...

I know a mother whose kids who are always in the latest styles, in brands so posh I've never heard of them. They own multiple pairs of dress shoes. And I can't guess how many times I've caught myself observing them, muffling an eye roll, and thinking, "Ugh, how wasteful and shallow."

I'm pretty good at not wanting to be the Perfect Mother. But I have a problem not hating her.

This is the other side of the story that we've got to be telling to each other, moms (and dads, and grandparents, and anyone with little children they love). We're all doing this differently. We have different tastes and values and habits, and different ways of expressing them. Our incomes and situations force us into certain decisions and those situations aren't always readily apparent to the outside eye. We all have different standards of perfection, basically.

It's important to forgive ourselves for the things we don't do, and to embrace the way we do them. But it's also important to forgive all the other moms for doing it differently.

There is room, of course, for encouraging habits I think are good, for supporting positive changes of views and actions. But I have to quit disguising judgement of others beneath acceptance of myself.

I'm working on improving my attitude. I don't wear Danny around, but I need to tell the babywearing moms that they're awesome, too. I don't cloth diaper, but I need to express my admiration for the laundry-loving moms who do. I work a little and stay home a lot, but I know and love some women who have to work, some who want to work, and some who devote 100 percent of their time to the running of their homes, and I need to tell them all that they're important and interesting and good at what they do. And I need to tell the mom of those dressed-up kids how adorable her kids are in their spiffy outfits, because they really are adorable, and I can tell she loves putting together their adorableness.

Step one of ending the ridiculous Mommy Wars is loving ourselves. But it's empty without loving each other.


Happy Mothers' Day to all you mothers and all you who love a mother. Stop by again as the series continues ...


  1. A great post, Tara. It's extremely difficult to not be judgmental of other parents for not doing things the way you do, or for feeling better or be jealous when you see others that do things differently that you perhaps wish you could do but can't, for whatever reason.

    I try my absolutely best not to judge, but it's so hard. We all have our own perspectives.

    There are some things where I'm very passionate about, though, in which I have a hard time not judging no matter what: spanking and vaccines. I don't want to start a debate here, of course, just to be open about my own issues, heh.

    Thanks again for the reminder of being appreciative to all. And happy soon-to-be Mother's Day!

    1. I have some pretty strong feelings about some topics too, and vaccines is one of mine :) I try to get good information out there and be encouraging while not butting heads too directly. I think you do a good job of it, too :)

  2. So, my question is, where does the ball stop? If buying new clothes and shoes for your children is wasteful and shallow--what about buying a new home....a new car to transport food to nourish them. I mean, an old home is still a home; a used car is still a car; Winco food is still food.

    Also, in the name of discussion, let's talk capitalism. I hate to assume, but what if all of those designer clothes went directly to your local Salvation Army/Hope Center? Wouldn't that now positively affect you and your boys? Wouldn't her purchase also help to employ the people that made the items, sold the items to her and the people that sold the items to you?

    Instead of how bad it makes you feel to see her children neatly coiffed, maybe you should focus on the feeling you'll get when you see a pair of those dress shoes for $5.

    1. Notice that I'm trying to *stop* thinking things like that buying new clothes is wasteful and shallow -- that it's not fair for me to think that way, to begrudge another mother something that she can afford and that makes her happy. (And I have no doubt that she does give the clothes her kids grow out of away, and I appreciate it.) The point of this is that I'm working on improving my negative attitudes toward other mothers :)

  3. As a baby-wearing, co-sleeping, organic food-making, and extended breastfeeding mom with my first child, I used to be very judgmental of all those stroller-using, crib-sleeping, jar food and formula moms. Then I almost died of uterine rupture while vaginally delivering my second child (my first was c-section), and all my judgement of others went away. I chose the vaginal birth because of my insecurity about not doing things "the right way", as many people had pointed out to me, even though I had no real desire for a vaginal birth. After that delivery, I couldn't baby wear, since my body couldn't support it, so my baby had to be in the stroller anytime we needed to go out. I no longer look at formula moms with disdain, since I now believe that everyone needs to decide what is right for them personally. I still co-slept, I still make organic food, and I still nurse (baby is now almost 2!). What is right for one isn't necessarily what's right for another. I wish I had figured that out earlier - I would have saved myself a lot of physical and emotional trauma.

  4. Love it Tara!

    When my kids were little, most other mothers I knew stayed at home full time. The few who worked were looked down on in disdain. However, we needed the income - so I attempted to do both! I worked full-time, at a home office, and was a full-time stay at home mom.

    Needless to say, NOTHING was done completely, or correctly. I remember the MOUNTAIN of laundry that used to rise in our kitchen, and the DISASTER of toys that were strewn across the family room.

    But it all passes, and my kids seem to be reasonably well-adjusted. And even though it was nuts, I learned to multi-task to the MAX!!!

    Just keep up the good work - you are doing fine!



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