Here’s something I didn’t know about being a mom before I became one: every mother is POSITIVE that you are judging her.
It’s everywhere, this complete certainty that some superior mom (or jerk) is looking at us and thinking, “What the hell are you doing, you FUCKING IDIOT?” Nearly every mom essay I read, every podcast I listen to, almost every substantial conversation I have with another mom includes at least one moment of anxiety over what other moms must think. Maybe we anticipate all this judgment because we’ve experienced it first-hand or because we catch our own selves making assumptions about moms behind their backs (or to their faces!) or because we’re just DEAD ASS TIRED and, as a result, in a constant state of sleep-deprived paranoia.
Wherever it comes from, I feel it too. And it is such a huge drag.
I re-read some of the blog posts I’ve written here, where I’m questioning myself left and right, struggling to write a declarative sentence, alternately proud and horrified by one thing after another (what my kid is eating, how long I’ve been breastfeeding). You out there could read these blog posts and think, “What a pile of tumbleweeds in the shape of a person! Get an opinion, grown human being!”
See now, here I go, anticipating your judgments! HUGE DRAG.
But it’s also another thing to beat ourselves up about, as moms and as women. And we don’t need more. There’s so much already!
So, the next time I hear myself start to wildly justify some choice I’ve made about my kid (like, that I’m still breastfeeding him or watching him get knocked over by a big kid on the playground or hovering too closely behind him when he’s climbing the steps at said playground or sending him to school three whole days a week in the fall) and then wonder what somebody thinks about me or is gonna hypothetically say to me, I’m not going to berate myself for giving a shit.
What’s the use of a judgment on top of judgment? I’d much rather, in my many moments of super self-awareness, stop for a second to be impressed by my (overwhelming) sensitivity to other people. Like, “Wow, I am really tuned in to what this person may or may not be thinking about me. It’s a lot. It’s probably causing me to seem like a deer in the headlights or a freaked out robot, but I am really feeling their frequency right now. And that is something cool that I can DO!”
When I was 18, I had an eating disorder, which basically involved me not eating enough. My therapist at the time gave me this book with a title I can’t remember that said the first step to getting to a healthier place was to stop berating yourself for not eating. In fact, the book encouraged you to do the opposite, to congratulate yourself on the focus and energy you put into your eating disorder. It sounds so condescending, like telling a toddler who just took apart his complicated sippy cup and poured all of its milky contents onto his own lap, “Look at you! You’re so driven! You’re so committed!” We want to think problems can be solved by calling them PROBLEMS and then shouting them away. But we are delicate creatures. At least I am. I didn’t need one more reason to not like myself.
And I don’t need one more now, as I parent in a jungle filled with other parents. And if caring about what other people think is my eating disorder, then my only hope of recovery, my only hope for a future of (somewhat) impervious parenting, is to care with pride.
Look, I’m constantly awestruck by irreverent moms with big, loud opinions on things of little or MASSIVE importance, moms who clearly love their kids and who don’t seem to care if you know it or not. But if there is space for these mega moms to bulldoze past all the pettiness and niceties, there’s definitely space for me to tiptoe without shame. The parent ecosystem probably depends on the existence of every kind of mom variation in order for us all to survive.
When I was pregnant, I really wanted my future baby to be a boy. I don’t have any brothers, but I always wanted one. And I thought it might be easier to be a boy than a girl. I know my son is not my brother and I also know it might not be easier to be a boy, that it’s hard to just be a person. But I know the hard parts of being a girl. I know the hard parts of being a woman in a world that is not easy on women.
I figured that if I gave birth to a boy, I wouldn’t have to worry about modeling the same kinds of great qualities I’d need to model if I had a daughter. Body-image and self-esteem issues don’t come up with boys, right?? I realize, now that I have an actual human being to care for and not just an idea of one, that nobody is immune to these issues! I also realize that I am the woman my son will know best for a long time. To him, I am WOMAN. And if I don’t figure out how to be a woman who is, above all things, kind to herself, he’ll spend a long time not knowing what a woman who is kind to herself looks like and acts like and sounds like. I want my son to see me as the complicated and flawed person that I am and I also want him to see that I can handle being that person. Maybe it’ll make a tiny impression on him, enough of an impression to remind him one day, when he is feeling shitty about something one of his friends said to him in gym class (OF COURSE IN GYM CLASS), to be kind to himself, to be kind to the women he meets (in gym class and elsewhere) and to accept their complexities, to accept his own, and to love me, not in spite of or for my flaws, but because by being easier on myself, I’ve maybe been easier on him.