Dear babe without kids, soon-to-be mom, new mom and mom with oodles of practice,When I was getting ready to bring my first shiny babe into the world, I wish I’d been told about the game moms play. Unfortunately the game isn't a fun one. I’m writing you about it today for a few reasons; to shed a big white spotlight on it, and to bring you some comfort. A big fat hug letting you know you’re not the only one who’s felt sick after being shamed or judged, when all you were doing for your kid was right.
The game: ‘mother-wars’ as Dr. Brené Brown calls it. I’ve been listening to Brené a lot lately - devouring her books, TED talks and everything else I can get my eyes and ears on.
She said something along the lines of this - and I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like:
‘You can’t say you love kids if you’re judging other mothers’
No shit. When I heard this, I stopped dead in my tracks. I think I was standing on a street corner, paralyzed with my mouth gaped open. I do this. I judge moms.
According to Brené (Ph. D., scholar, and research professor) and her exploration on shame, she goes on to say:
‘We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices….’- Daring Greatly, Brené Brown
Brené mentions that ‘shame seems to be the weapon of choice in the so-called mommy wars.’ People said things to me that made me want to throw up in my mouth: stay-at-home-moms would say ‘I could never let someone else raise my kids,’ and ‘why’d you have kids if you’re going to ship them off to daycare’. I’ve done the same judging on the other end, declaring ‘I’d go nuts if I had to spend all day at home with the kids.’ These projections are dangerous and have the ability to invoke pain and rage in any mother. Kinda like the rage that grew in me when someone asked me if I didn’t love my kids because I was going back to work or the rage I probably sparked in the mom I told that I’d go crazy at home.
The ‘mother-wars’ game is a dangerous one; more dangerous than you might think.
Nothing will prepare you for the life-changing moment you pop out a mini-you, and the mommy wars is certainly something my other mother friends didn’t talk about. I hope this letter is more helpful than ‘What to Expect when you’re Expecting’.
You’re not alone
It’ll seem like someone is always pointing out what you’re doing is wrong, plain out sucks, and you’re not doing it good enough, making you feel like you’re not enough.
Formula fed from birth?
Breastfed ‘til the kid is 5?
Doesn’t matter, someone thinks their way is right, and they’ll only be too happy to tell you they did it better and looked hot while doing it. Making you feel small, and wretched inside.
Stay at home mom (SAHM) vs. working mom?
Let me tell ya, I’ve done both, and they’re both hard. Whatever you choose, pick what feels good in your heart.
You’ve probably been asked:
When are you having kids?
You only have the ‘one kid’?
When are you having another one?
These questions can burn. Especially if you’re trying to get pregnant, and can’t or if you’ve lost a pregnancy – I’ve been there, it’s ugly.
People are going to tell you things that’ll make you want to cry:
- On being married without kids: why aren’t you having kids? You’ll regret it someday, that’s mighty selfish of you. Having kids; big decision. Not having kids; big decision.
- On pregnancy: you’re still running? You’re not exercising? Should you really be having caffeine? You’re drinking? Do you know what fetal alcohol syndrome can do? Know that what feels right to you will be different for someone else, do what feels right to you and know that other moms are in the same boat.
- On giving birth: au natural vs. drugs, homebirth, hospital birth, c-section, water-birth, when to cut the cord, save cord blood? Do some research and do what feels right, and listen to some med pros along the way.
- On formula vs. breastfeeding: to some moms you’ll never breastfeed your kids as long as they did, to some you’ll be a fricken hero because you were able to do it for a week. Do what makes YOU happy and know other moms are doing the same. Happy mom = happy baby.
- On maternity leave: back to work in 2 weeks? 6 months? 2 years? Some will say it’s way too soon, others will say it’s way too long.
I know I’m barely scratching the surface here; I could go on – cloth diapers or disposable? Cry it out vs. suck it up, sign language, learning mandarin, Montessori, sports, music, dance…. the second you’ve got another life growing inside of you, you become a big fat target to examination, judgment and shame.
So how can you support other moms? Hint; it’s not by playing the mom-shame-game.
Listen when they tell you their struggles and don’t judge
Offer up a super-size helping of compassion + empathy
Keep opinions quiet unless asked (unless it’s a 911 kinda situation)
Give the nervous mom on the flight an empathetic ‘I’ve been there smile’ and help with her bags
Ask how another moms are feeling – and listen
Talk honestly about what you’re feeling. It’s a courageous move, and chances are you’ll find out you’re not alone
Know that everyone’s doing the best job they know how to do
You probably feel there are bigger expectations on you than ever. There’s a shit-ton of pressure to have it all and do it all. Earn a living, cook dinner, rock the PTA, keep a clean home, be the household event planner and project manager, breastfeed forever, exercise, have a social life and oh, make sure you’re smiling and look good….damn good while doing it, MILF good.
On my road to mommy-hood I was judged for:
- gaining 50 lbs.
- eating gummy worms
- not eating gummy worms
- not eating meat
- having a c-section
- having a second c-section
- putting the kid in a crib, in another room, without a monitor
- pumping breast milk instead of actually putting the kid ON my boob
- supplementing with formula
- nursing for 8 months
- going back to work in 4 months and 6 months
- going back to work (someone said “don’t you love your kids?”)
- not going to mommy and me sing-a-longs
This brings me to a sometimes dark side of being a new mom that you might encounter; post-partum depression (PPD). PPD is like a 4-letter word. Being a new mom is HARD, and it can suck, suck bad. Some moms will tell you they loved every minute of it. You’d go to the ends of the earth for your babe, but if you don’t feel that ‘bond’ right away that everyone talks about – you’re not alone. It doesn't make you a bad mom, it makes you human.
When I was going through this, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it – if I told the doctor, he’d put me on drugs. I hate drugs. Was it PPD? Or was it just that I was adjusting to the biggest mother-of-all-life-changes that left me feeling emotional, short-fused, and irrational?
So far, the friends I felt I could confide in the most are the ones are the kid-free ones. I realized it’s because they didn’t judge my mommy-skills. You’ll find coping strategies, new friends, and learn how to become more resilient to the judging and know in your heart that the shaming doesn’t make you less of a person.
When I’d go to the park and talk to other moms they’d ask if I was staying home with J, and when I said I was going back to work, conversation came to a screeching halt. I felt small.
The stay-at-home moms didn’t want me, maybe I’d fit in with the working moms. One overly stressed out exec, said to me, ‘don’t worry about working too much when they’re young, they won’t remember it anyways’. That wasn’t the point, what if I didn’t WANT to work too much?
It’ll be messy and emotional, and not easy, and fun and exciting. Sometimes you’ll want to say F this and hide under the covers. Like the first day I was home with both kids I called Ry in tears and said ‘I quit, I can’t do this’. Other days you’ll feel you’re all over this mommy biz-nass and be on top of the world.
You’ve probably worried about being a good mom, and I’m right there with you. The stuff women say to you that makes you want to throw up in your mouth doesn’t make you a bad mother. The best piece of (unsolicited) advice was:
“Don’t try to be the best mother in the world, to your kids; know that you’re the ONLY mother in the world to your kids”.
My unsolicited advice to you is don’t go to combat in the mommy wars, because the game never ends, and there’s no winner. There’s no special prize at the end of the game for breastfeeding the longest or hardest or having the tightest butt. Be the adult you want your children to be and the rest will fall in place.
PS - This letter is by no means saying I don't judge people; I'm still human after all. I think identifying the fact that I was judging and being judged is the first step in building my own awareness. In recognizing the judgments that other people made that me want to cry I can take a step back to digest and figure out how to react. I have A LOT of work to do, and having an inkling of awareness can hopefully make at least one mother's journey just a little easier.