Christmas of 2017: gone was my child-free, 30-something, free and easy lifestyle that came with its own nonchalant and devil-may-care attitude towards most things in life. Many of my friends and family members had already ventured down the path of parenthood, leaving me in the dust to try to navigate parenthood as clueless as a camel which has inexplicably found itself at the North Pole or as that guy that kept pointing the TV remote at the microwave. ‘I don’t know’ was the constant term of the algebraic expression of my life.
As humbling as the experience of becoming a parent for the first time may seem, it also gave me the sense of being mom-shamed for the first time. I was mentally preparing to feel that way, that maybe I wasn’t cut out to provide for this tiny human I just brought into the world. And all this probably starts sooner than that epidural takes to run down. Many moms are made to undergo prejudices that real mothers don’t opt for pain relief or choose C-section for delivery. What’s a ‘fake mother’ after all? They feel like a failure. They feel defeated. When the nurse tells that you need to see a lactation consultant because the mom “wasn’t quite getting it,” self-doubt runs rampant. I never wanted to be the reason another woman felt that way. Now that I’ve been on the other side of a toddler meltdown, I understand the pressure a mom feels to pull it together.
It’s probably because of my personal nature or nurture, I don’t take this kind of manhandling very graciously and have time and again resisted it openly. Even to the level of being impolite and audacious sometimes. Believe it, I’m pretty uncompromising in such situations. But I understand that at times, many new or experienced mothers feel stuck up in situations where absorbing it all is the only option. As if dealing with your own post-partum body, raising a new life that is dependent on you continually isn’t enough, one has to deal with the eyes burning holes in your back, watching, waiting for you to fail. Now that I’ve had to endure an inconsolable infant’s wails, I know how much it hurts someone’s heart when a bystander throws up their hands in disgust and says, “Can someone do something here?”
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says about your parenting choices. Whether it is disciplinary style, food choices, sleep methods, or school decisions every parent is entitled to make their own choices and stick to them. Your responsibility is only to your children. You don’t owe anyone else anything, much less justification. The problem is that it’s subjective. Someone else may find my methods easygoing, and I may find theirs harsh. You need to be watchful to your children’s cues and stick to what works for them and you. On any given day, you’re required to show up and bring the best you’ve got that day. Some days it won’t feel like enough. You may feel let down by your own body or emotions, the mom-shamers will be there to prey on those feelings. Don’t let them.
“A baby is a God’s opinion that life should go on.”- Carl Sandburg
We all have our opinions, and that’s what keeps the world interesting and progressive. But when it comes to parenting, we all need more community. When we can’t support each other, let’s try to understand why. When we don’t have anything nice to say, let’s keep our mouths shut. Don’t tell a mother that she looks terrible or tired or ask her how much weight has she gained/lost after childbirth. Just tell her how wonderful she is at taking care of her child. For every negative or passive-aggressive comment made, there are probably hundreds more living in the minds of others that will go unsaid. Unless you’ve been in the trenches, it can be hard to appreciate how damn hard this job is. Our own misunderstanding and lack of experience should not make us wring on other’s positions or insecurities. Maybe this roots back to our own insecurities and latent seeking of validation for the parenting choices we or our parents made. Let’s just stop. Let’s check our ego at the door.
No matter the reason, there’s a better alternative to mom-shaming. It is kindness, empathy, and acceptance.