I wasn’t in my first food fight until I was 17-years-old. Senior in high school, sitting in the cafeteria, minding my own business, and suddenly a slice of pepperoni pizza hit me right in the eyebrows. Actually, it was a rather one-sided food fight, and my attacker just happened to also be my sworn enemy. I don’t know why she was my sworn enemy. She decided upon meeting me that she didn’t like me, that she would reign in a four-years-long competition with me, and anyone who’s seen “Mean Girls” at least once knows, that’s just how it goes with high school girls.
And though since I’ve still been shocked at the immaturity and competition that exists between women, I’ve also learned to develop friendships with my same-sex peers. We’ve learned to co-exist, even commiserate. We’ve built traditions and support systems and tightly knit circles based on love and acceptance. I mean, we’re no Carrie-Samantha-Meredith-Charlotte combo, but we’re making it.
At least that was what I thought until I became a mother. Because while I didn’t ever wear pepperoni pizza in my hair well, I think enduring that humiliation was more bearable that constantly facing the cattiness that pops up between us moms.
The Biggest Surprise
Motherhood is the most intimate thing I’ve ever experienced. In my body, I grew a human. I kept her alive, I felt her moving, I protected her with my own flesh and blood. Then one very long day (well, more like three days) I labored and bore her. I brought her into this world and laid eyes on this little person that I somehow already knew. And in those first moments, I swore to love her and protect her even more deeply than I had while she was in my womb. Being a mother is a sacred responsibility and so truly meaningful on many levels. And noted: I’m certainly not the only mother who feels this way.
Yet it is in motherhood that I’ve felt brutally attacked during this first year of my daughter’s life. From being induced (but avoiding c-section, mind you!) to making the decision to stop breastfeeding, I’ve tackled the major arguments with all the outspoken hippie moms I’ve encountered. And I was little prepared for that.
But what I really wasn’t prepared for were the petty arguments over formula choices, sleep schedules, play time, physical development, and even things I do simply for my own sanity, like continuing to work from home, putting up baby gates, or letting Iris use a walker. In these areas and more, I’ve had my judgment questioned. I’ve been held as a villain in the eyes of my peers. I’ve been looked-down upon and flat-out challenged by other mothers, grandmothers, and even girlfriends who aren't parents.
It’s always seemed so simple to me. Isn’t she my baby? Didn’t I give her life through my own blood, sweat, and tears? Haven’t I sacrificed everything and so much more to ensure that I’m giving her exactly what I think she needs? When another mother judges me, what I feel they’re telling me is: That doesn’t matter. It’s not enough. I am not enough.
A few days ago, I met my girlfriend at the park. She’s still nursing her six-month-old son. While lunching with her sister earlier that week, she’d breastfed at their table, using a Hooter Hider. Occasionally, her son will fuss right before he nurses, she told me, a simple indication that he’s ready to eat. It’s a cry that she has learned and understands.
When she packed up to leave the restaurant, two women complimented her son, who is perfectly angelic by the way. My friend smiled and thanked them for their kind words, which any mother loves to hear. But before she moved on, one of the women changed the conversation.
“May I give you some feedback?” she said to my friend, who is very mild-mannered and not keen on delivering rude, snappy remarks like I am. She consented to hear the woman’s advice.
“Your son cries when you feed him because he cannot see your eyes,” she told my friend, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, thank you,” she responded, dumbfounded and searching for the proper way to respond. “My nursing cover does have a wire at the top. It creates an opening so we can see each other.” But the stranger protested further, insisting that it was unnecessary and wrong for my friend to cover her nursing child.
As she recounted this story to me, she said, “I just didn’t understand the need to tell me anything. He wasn’t in danger; he was feeding quietly. If it’s not something someone is morally opposed to, why say anything?” But people find all sorts of reasons to oppose things on an alleged “moral level.” As mothers, our parenting practices are important to us, essential even. Who’s to say that we don’t hold all our motherly rituals on a moral pedestal? But if one does, so does another; and to assume that your own supposedly inspired opinion is more important than another’s is unfair.
What Moms are Judgmental About
I started asking other mommy friends. Had this effected them deeply too?
Sleeping was an issue for one of my friends. “Even in pregnancy all the advice and questions begin!” (Many women feel this way.)
“One comment I remember in particular was, ‘I highly recommend you don't have the baby sleep in your room.’ We did have our baby sleep in a bassinet in our room for three months. While I understand the concerns of the person who gave us that advice, it worked really well for us, and we slept fine. I understand that everyone has her own way of raising a child, and what one mother does may or may not work for another mom. Parenting is as unique as an individual or a relationship. Sometimes I find that it helps to try something that works for another mother, but just blindly following any advice or expectations doesn't seem like a good method.”
Another woman even mentioned feeling judged for being successful at breastfeeding. “I felt judged anytime I said the word ‘breastfeeding.’ I breastfed for five months. I was very lucky and had a cooperative baby and cooperative supply. I would encounter a fellow mommy and the topic would come up, so I would be honest. I felt like as they looked at me they were judging me in their head [because they were unable to nurse]. It got to the point where I felt almost ashamed that I had success at breastfeeding. There were times where I would put myself down just to make sure that I didn't make anyone else feel bad. I told one mom that the only reason I was still breastfeeding was because I had spent too much money on a pump and wanted to get my money's worth out of it; but in reality it was something I was proud of and it was working for me.”
For as freely as we dole out advice, sometimes without even realizing it, apparently we’ve all felt judged too. Last August, MSNBC conducted a survey, collecting information from moms across America: In what areas are you judged by other mothers? The highest-ranking topics effected mothers with children at all ages and stages, in every imaginable scenario, situations ranging from bratty or unruly behavior, eating junk food, not breastfeeding, breastfeeding too long, co-sleeping, television watching, and working or not working with kids still at home.
How many of us had an opinion about each of those topics perhaps even before we even had children? I certainly did. But to sit and think about it, my opinions have also changed since becoming a mother. When it comes to breastfeeding, yes, I would have loved to; but I couldn’t. Hormonal imbalances from my induction affected my milk production and I could never make enough to feed my ever-hungry baby. Of course, the mom sitting next to me on the park bench one day, who watched me give my baby a bottle, didn’t know that. And then when she asked about breastfeeding and I told her I couldn’t, she gave me all sorts of unsolicited advice about increasing milk production. What she didn’t inquire about were the stressful three months I’d just lived, pumping and bottle-feeding at the same time, desperately preserving every half-ounce of liquid gold I could squeeze from each breast, depressed as I’d watch my husband feed and bond with our baby while I hooked myself up to a pump like a cow.
Don’t We all Deserve More Credit?
I think there are right ways and wrong ways to do certain things. But one very simple fact that we judging mommies overlook is that circumstances must dictate more than beliefs. All children are different; and moms are people too—we’re different and will experience motherhood differently. Whether you’ve wanted to be a mom since childhood or it was the biggest surprise of your life, becoming a mother requires some rearranging life. We can’t all do it the same way, we can’t all do it perfectly, but somehow we all find what works for us.
“We all make mistakes—mostly little ones, occasionally bigger ones—in raising our children... It’s not always possible to know what’s ‘right’ in a particular situation; what’s right for one mother and baby may in some cases be wrong for another.” (From What to Expect the First Year, page 551)
Aside from all the lessons I’m learning about being a mother, I’m also learning how to be a friend to other mothers. I’m trying my hardest to take those situations in which I feel judged and to use them to support other moms instead. Blogger Jill Smoler (scarymommy.com) wrote what she called her “Scary Mommy Manifesto” for the Huffington Post last month. It’s a perfect balance of accepting our own imperfections as mothers, realizing that motherhood is different for everyone, and finding ways to care for those other mothers around us.
After all, we’re all doing the same truly terrifying thing: We are raising human beings, small helpless babies who will grow into (we hope) honest, decent, self-functioning adults. No matter what we choose to do about time-outs and diapers, don’t we all deserve a little credit for that?
A Knowing Smile
One of my friends said it best: “I’m not sure I planned very well for motherhood – I don’t even know if planning for motherhood is possible. It has changed my view of other mothers 100 percent. I now feel like I completely understand what they are going through and how hard it is. It’s not easy to empathize with other mothers when you don’t have child, but after having a child it’s so different and much easier understand.”
So the next time you’re in Target and you spot the mom with the three unruly kids collapsed over her cart, just shoot her a knowing smile and move on without comments under your breath or even the judgment passing through your brain. Because we’ve all been there; and if you haven’t yet, don’t worry, you will be.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.