Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Motherhood: You're Doing it Wrong

I think that we can all agree that that are few things more irritating than someone telling us how to do our jobs- whatever those jobs may be- and especially when that person has no experience with said job. My husband, who owns his own construction/remodeling company, often says that the most annoying thing he has to deal with is a homeowner with no construction experience telling him how to do a project and trying to micromanage every detail. I'm not talking advice from a friend or boss, seasoned words of wisdom from somebody in the trenches- I am talking a flat-out "You're doing it wrong" from someone who has no clue.

My job happens to be full-time mothering. Long before we had children my husband and I decided that we would make whatever sacrifices necessary for me to stay home with whatever children we are blessed with. Eight years and three children later, I am happy in my chosen (and unpaid) profession. It annoys me to no end, though, to read comments or Facebook updates or blog posts (like this one!) where someone with no parenting experience deems herself an expert on parenting. You know what I mean- the updates that say, "When I have a kid, I will NEVER allow them to behave this way". The comments like, "That mom is obviously not doing her job." Blog posts that say, "Parenting is not hard."

It's this last one that has really gotten me riled up. A friend posted a link to a completely unrelated blog post about the breastfeeding cover of Time magazine (actually, you should check it out. It's a great perspective)- and boredom and curiosity led me down that slippery slope of clicking on links to other blog posts written by BlogHer contributors. Bad idea (especially before bed). I finally reached this post, provocatively titled "No Excuses: Parenting Isn't Hard," written with such a judgemental, snarky, MEAN tone that I couldn't help but get offended (by "offended" I mean "kept my husband up all night ranting and raving about how ridiculous this post was and how angry it made me. Ahem.). Add that to the writer's belief that anyone who speaks anything but love and sunshine to their child, anyone who ever slips into that dark place of frustration and anger that slips out in a sharp remark or even yelling- well, these people are child abusers. Of course, this highly seasoned expert has one child. An infant. An INFANT. THIS is what irritates me! This mom has no clue what real parenting is, and yet she attacks any mother who has ever felt anger or frustration at their child as being a bad, abusive mom. It's easy to feel like you've got a handle on parenting when your child sleeps half the day and can't speak yet. It's another to be faced with the reality of parenting a small human who, like it or not, is an individual and not an extension of yourself.

(side note: There is a BIG difference between discipline and abuse. There is a big difference between frustration and abuse. There is a big difference between helping your child become a useful, intelligent adult who make good decisions- and abuse. Just sayin'.)

Now... I don't typically post "rebuttals" to other people's blog posts. A blog post is a forum for opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own. That being said, this type of thinking is so prevalent among moms- and so dangerous- that I can't HELP but address it. So I will.

It's bad enough that we as moms put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect mother. Add that to the censure of other moms and then "expert" opinions of people who have no children... well, we are really fighting an uphill battle, aren't we? We will never be good enough. Our reactions will always be wrong, our parenting abusive, our children brats. Nothing we do is right. Your child throws a fit in a restaurant? BAD MOM. You become exasperated when your toddler dumps her drink all over the table- on purpose- for the third time? BAD MOM. You yelled at your precious darling children? BAD MOM. You let your kids watch tv so that you can get dinner made before 10pm? BAD MOM. No matter how you discipline, you are a bad mom. No matter how many small triumphs you have during the day- a child who makes it to the bathroom on time, a picky eater who FINALLY eats what is on their plate, a toddler who willingly gives his toy to another toddler, the fact that everybody made it to the end of the day alive and relatively in one piece- we can't celebrate the way we deserve because we are too mired down in guilt over each and every failure. BAD MOM. BAD MOM. BAD MOM.

So, some advice. First of all, to those of you who have no kids or only a baby, but yet consider yourself to be an expert in the field of mothering- until you have experienced:
-walking into a room to find that your child has been fingerpainting with their own feces
-waking up to your children fighting and knowing that it will be going on all day
-a toddler who runs away from you in the library right when you get to the check-out desk and unload your books- and while you have two other children in tow
-holding down an austic child who is stronger than you and out of control
-Standing on your front porch while your child has managed to lock you out and is taunting you from the window
-Sitting on the floor praying while your special-needs child is out of control and actually breaking windows or kicking holes in walls- and knowing that you have to wait for both of you to calm down before what you say can actually make sense
-A preschooler deciding that she has had enough of sitting in a restaurant, or at a wedding, or in the car, or WHEREVER- and pitching a huge fit because she doesn't have the vocabulary to say, "I'm bored and frustrated."
-Walking into a room and finding that your two-year-old has covered the carpet with toothpaste and your couch with expensive mineral make-up in the amount of time it took you to use the bathroom
-A picky child who refuses to eat anything green. Or brown. Or orange. Or red. Or white.
-Realizing that your child has left a huge Sharpie-drawn masterpiece all over your freshly-painted walls (especially since you can never find that darn Sharpie when you need it).
-Saying, "Don't jump on the furniture. Don't jump OFF the furniture." Repeatedly. Every single day.
-Cleaning up vomit from the car. Or carpet. Or bed.
-Sitting up, waiting for your teenager to come home after curfew
-Hearing your precious bundle of joy tell you, "I hate you."
-living with the fear that your child might not be normal, or healthy, or developing correctly, or avoiding a career path of crime

Until you have experienced any of these things... shut up. JUST SHUT UP. You have no idea what it is like to be in the trenches of motherhood every single day, dealing with things that you could never have even THOUGHT of- and doing it while everyone looking on is judging you. Would you go to your doctor and say, "I have never been to medical school and I have no experience in this... but you are doing that wrong"?No. Having opinions does not make you an expert. Having an infant does not make you an expert. Serving on the frontlines of child-rearing, dealing with a hundred tiny emergencies a day while running on very little sleep and a few cups of coffee- that is where experts are made. Furthermore, much of the behavior you see these bratty children exhibiting is the age-appropriate result of a child who does not have the logic, vocabulary, or reasoning skills of an adult acting like what he or she actually is- an individual who is unable to be controlled at all times. Until you have one of these... well, your opinions mean nothing. Keep them to yourself. Your time is coming.

To moms, looking at other moms and forming opinions... every single time you are feeling that urge to look down on another mom, remember what it feels like to have people look at you with censure. Remember what it feels like to want to explain to others that this is NOT normal behavior- that your child is tired, or hungry, or sick. Feeling shame and that out-of-control feeling when your tiny human does something to mortify you in public. REMEMBER what that feels like- you should have more grace and mercy for other moms than anyone else! You don't ever know what their day or week or year has felt like for that mom, what they are dealing with, what diagnosis that child has just received. Quit judging. Start loving. We are all doing the best we can. I don't know about you, but I missed that magical exit door at the hospital that, when you are pushed through in a wheelchair with your precious new bundle of joy in your arms, you suddenly come a perfect pillar of righteousness, patience, and right decisions in the form of a woman, incapable of raising your voice or feeling frustration at any of life's provocations. (I should speak to my nurse about that... I wonder if I got billed for it anyways?)

And to moms, judging themselves. Stop. STOP. You have permission to give yourself the grace to be imperfect! I have heard that you should give at least two positives for every negative that comes out of your mouth. What about the ones that pop into your head? How many positives are you coming up with to offset all of the negatives that you think about yourself? "I yelled at my kids... but I also snuggled with each of them today and made sure that they ate nutritious meals. I totally lost my cool- but not an hour has gone by today that I haven't told them I love them, and I read at least 10 books to them. Some of them I read 3 times." If you are anything like me, I bet you have a really hard time coming up with any positives at all. We can all agree that there are parenting issues that are never ok- like disciplining while angry, beating your children, belittling them, allowing them to tan in a tanning bed (ahem). But I think that we can also agree that there are a LOT of areas that serve as little more than guilt-inducers rather than make-or-break parenting hurdles.

A personal testimony: My first two children were easy-peasy. They slept well, they smiled when they were awake, rarely cried, were fun to take out in public, used manner words from an early age, were good eaters. By the time I got pregnant with my third, I was pretty confident that I had this mothering thing down to an art form (and everyone else was failing). Then my third came- and he pretty much screamed his entire first year. Never slept. Started running at 10 months and has never stopped. He's completely independent-minded, has no qualms about vocalizing (loudly) his displeasure, hates to share, still gets out of bed a million times a night (he's four), rarely eats dinner, and is pretty much hell on wheels most of the time. I remember holding my baby after he had been crying for hours, when he had FINALLY gone to sleep, and slowly trying to lay him down- and then he would wake up and we would start the process over again (this was a daily event). I remember finally breaking down and saying, "Shut up. Please just shut up." It was the first time I ever really struggled with being a mom- and the guilt that comes with not measuring up- but it was also the first time I ever understood what it was to BE a mom. How much I could love my child even while not liking him a whole lot. How I couldn't picture life without him, despite the chaos he brought with him. Even now I joke that I like to take all three kids out so that other people will be able to see the first two before forming an opinion about my parenting from my third. ;) All of those difficulties are made easier by celebrating the small triumphs with him each day. He is really sweet and snuggly (when he can sit still). He is actually really good about using manner words. He is REALLY cute. The nights when he eats dinner or stays in bed are nights of celebration for our family. What I don't allow myself to do anymore is indulge in feelings of shame or guilt about my parenting decisions. Some days are better than others. Some days are stay-in-pajamas-and-hide days. Some days are reading-and-flashcards-and-enriching-activity days. Some days are watch tv days. Some days are "let's go somewhere fun" days. Some days are, "Well, that sucked!" days, and others are, "Wow! I am really figuring this mom thing out!" days. Some days I tuck my kids into bed, basking in the glow of a job well done. Other days I am asking my children for forgiveness. Sometimes I yell- but I always tell my kids how much I love them numerous times a day. Sometimes I'd rather hide in my closet with the door locked than hear, "Is it snack time?" one more time- but I always make sure that my kids experience a lot of physical affection and words of affirmation. My kids watch tv- but they also play outside and read a LOT and play with toys and make up games. Sometimes I feed my kids hot dogs for dinner- but I always make sure they have veggies and whole-grain buns with those hot dogs. No matter what decisions I make that I feel bad about, I know that I make a lot of good decisions on their behalf daily- especially the decision to make it clear that I am not perfect, that I don't expect them to be perfect, and that they are unconditionally loved. If even my mother tells me that I am a great mom (her exact words are, "You are one of the best moms I have ever seen")... well, I know that I am doing something right. A lot of things wrong... but a lot of things right. My kids are happy, healthy, intelligent, and know without a doubt that they are loved and cared for. THAT is what matters most.

I know a lot of good moms. I know quite a few great moms. I know several moms who really make me want to do better to achieve their level of patience and love (which I know would make those moms laugh, because I doubt they see themselves that way!). I know a lot of moms- but I don't know any perfect moms. None. There are none.There are no perfect moms- just a bunch of moms who, for the most part, are doing the best they can. Let's support that in each other. Let's reach out to that mom in the store with the tantrum-throwing kid and say, "I've been there." Let's hear another mom's struggle without immediately judging her parenting style. Let's give ourselves- and each other- grace. In the end, it will make ALL of us better moms.

Other posts you may be interested in:
We Are More
Excellence or Perfection
Facebook Mommy Wars: Reality vs. Perfection


Erin said...

Here! Here! You go, girl. I raised 6 kids. Each of them different, with different surprises, frustrations, challenges and gifts! Nobody is the perfect mom and everyone makes mistakes. To judge other moms for not doing things their way is ridiculous. I'm glad you got your rant out!! I think you just posted how we all feel. :0)

ReviewsSheROTE Pamela R said...

All I can say is (in my loudest voice EVER) AMEN!!!!

marlece said...

I hear you too! I have four and every single one has been a different story in my book. And, I have learned that when I go the 'judgemental' route? It is always bound to bite me in the behind because low and behold my kid did just that thing I was critisicing. So, I have learned even thru my own judgmental ways that this is not the route to go for soon I will be pointing the finger right back and MY SELF!

Barbara Mascareno-Shaw said...

What an awesome post...I really had to read it a couple of times to really absorb your great message - there is no perfect parent - only the ones that want the very best for their children. Although some may see this as a non-traditional job, motherhood is a never ending learning career. And in the end, there's only one being that can judge me whether I did a good or not so good job - God. Funny, but I was just reading 1 Corinthians 11:1 "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." Such a true message that parenting without the light of God is like a candle that needs to be lit up constantly; to reminder us of the word of God.

Becky Jane said...

Love this! My sister would drive me nuts with all her advice and judgmental comments. Now she has 8 kids and she has learned a few things!

Rebecca Palmer said...

Just today I was asking myself, "How do people DO this day in and day out??" There was poop everywhere, I managed to make both of them cry multiple times, nobody was happy. I fail each and every day. At least you have routines and measurable amounts of respect from your children. I have tons of patience and then I SNAP. You are a great mom - you should write a how-to-mom blog.