Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Judgmental Moms

I didn't think I would have to write this post so early on in my pregnancy, but alas, here I am, writing about: JUDGMENTAL MOMS.

This isn't meant to offend anyone, but if it does offend you, then maybe you need to rethink your mindset.

I was talking to a friend today about a baby registry. I am guessing I will have to make one of these things, even though I hate attention/showers/blahblahblah. You know how I am. But I am asking all of the people I know who have recently had children for their advice on which registries are best, which items I NEED, and which items the interwebz tell you to get but you will never end up using.

Over the course of this conversation, the talk turned to how I am feeling and how I think I will feel after having the baby. The truth is that I am terrified, but I think everyone is terrified of having a baby, whether they want to admit it or not. I have no clue what to expect. I can take care of a baby five days a week for a year and still never know what it is like to be the one up at all hours of the night, running on empty for a month straight.

Or, I could know what that's like, but my child could be COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Which brought up a situation my friend was in shortly after having her child. She was at a birthday party for one of her friend's children, and while there, she was asked directly by the other moms if she was breastfeeding. She explained that she had tried it for a few months but had now switched to formula. The other moms then proceeded to SHAME HER FOR HER CHOICE, asking her if she had tried this and that, if she knew the benefits of breastfeeding, if she consulted certain people, etc. etc. My friend left the party feeling different emotions: 1. Slight guilt, even though she KNEW she was doing what was best in her situation, and 2. Anger that other moms (who she had JUST MET, by the way) would publicly and directly criticize her decision without knowing a single thing about her, her child, or her situation.

While I have only just shared my pregnancy with the world, I have already been asked how I am planning to raise my child. Will I have a natural birth? Will I breastfeed? Will I vaccinate? Where will the baby sleep? Will I let Nym near the baby? So many other questions... and I see comments and mommy message boards online, where mothers rip each other apart over their opinions on these matters.

I know these questions all come from a place of love, but people, I am 14 weeks pregnant! How can I know the answers to some of these questions? And honestly, how can I ever know the answer to these questions? I am not mad at anyone for asking. It just has got me thinking...

The truth is that I can plan for certain situations all I want, but until I am in the moment, I have no clue what will happen. I am not saying I don't do my research. Please. I am not stupid. I have been researching the pros and cons of these parenting decisions for the past ten years. That's what happens when you are a psychology major with a double minor in women's studies and anthropology, have a masters degree in counseling, and go on to work with children. This doesn't make me better prepared than any other parent-to-be... but I am willing to bet I have a slightly more unbiased, research-based view than a lot of people in my situation. I am well-informed about my decisions, and now, I am combining my knowledge with my personal feelings on parenting, based on my own childhood and my observations of different parenting styles. And let us not forget, there is another parent-to-be involved here. Eric does have a say in how he gets to raise his child, you know. It's not just about me. We need to be a team in agreement about these decisions.

Over the past ten years, I have also learned that my own mental health is important. That includes not putting excessive pressure on myself to live up to some sort of ideal. That includes doing what is best for ME, because I am 100% positive that if I feel horrible, bad about myself, or like I am losing my mind, it will NOT be what is healthiest for my baby, or my marriage. And if Eric and I aren't happy... well, how is that good for raising a child? It's not.

I can say I hope to have a natural birth, but no one can predict an emergency. And I certainly can't predict how I will cope with the pain, no matter how much I try to mentally prepare myself. You can list the benefits of breastfeeding all day to me, and it will not be worth it if, for some reason, it doesn't work out for me and I am beating myself up over the situation. Or if my child has digestive issues and health problems that make it necessary to formula feed. You can also list the benefits of formula feeding to me, but that doesn't mean I will give up on breastfeeding if it is going well for us. My child might not want to sleep through the night no matter what sleep method I try, and it will NOT be my fault. Some babies are colicky. Some don't adjust to sleeping for months, or ever, if he's like me. ;)

I guess what I am saying is that we are open-minded about everything, but we already know that someone out there, friend or not, will look down on us for our parenting decisions. And that makes us sad.

I know so many GOOD moms who love their children and would do anything for them, who tried so hard to live up to a certain expectation and ideal and felt absolutely terrible when they couldn't. They couldn't have the natural birth they wanted (literally couldn't), so they beat themselves up. They couldn't breastfeed and felt like failures. They felt ashamed for having postpartum depression and wouldn't ask for help. They have been judged for vaccinating their children. They have been told their child doesn't sleep well because they are "doing it wrong." "You should be putting him in the crib," "You should be putting him in your bed," "You should just let him cry it out," and, my personal favorite, "You need to relax." Really?!

To all of you who think you know what is best for someone else's child: You will never know what is best for someone else, because you are not in their situation. You can offer advice, but please keep in mind that there is a difference between offering WANTED advice and being pushy about your views. Trust me, I need all the help I can get. I welcome your input. But when help crosses over in to judging others for their choices-- or implying that they are ill-informed, haven't looked in to options, and are "parenting wrong"-- YOU are the one who is wrong.

Tell others what worked well for you, but understand that what works for them might be different, and that is OKAY.

Every child, parent, and family situation is different. If people are doing something differently than you, that does not mean they are WRONG. They are just doing it DIFFERENTLY. And please don't give me, "What if they are doing drugs around their kid, or abusing their kid, or neglecting him? What if they aren't plugging their outlets or leave suffocation risks in the crib? THAT IS WRONG!"... Obviously. We're all smart adults here. Do not nitpick the point I am trying to make.

And to go off on a slight tangent that is connected to this issue: Please, do not ask when someone is going to have a child. I hated it when people would ask when I am going to change my mind and have a kid. When I found out I was pregnant, I was pretty hesitant to tell ANYONE, because I didn't feel like hearing "TOLD YA SO!" Now, I am hearing "When is baby number two coming? Wink wink..." I can take the joke, but at some point, it will transition in to being a serious question. I'm not the type of person who is easily offended, and I think society gets way too easily offended these days. But having a child... It's such a personal choice. Let people do what they want. The more you pressure someone, the more it makes them want to say, "Fuck you. I'm never having a kid." On top of it, I do have reproductive issues, which I wasn't prepared to share with every person who ever asked when I was going to get pregnant. What was I supposed to say? "Well, my cervix is fucked up, so maybe never, even if I decide I want to." Talk about a downer... You have no idea if someone is going through a fertility struggle, or has had miscarriages. Maybe they have one child and wanted another, but it didn't work out. Maybe they have health problems. Maybe they just don't want more than one kid, or any kids at all. MAYBE THEY WANT TO BE A COOL AUNT FOREVER, OKAY?! They aren't heartless. They just don't think parenthood is right for them, now or ever.

Bottom line: Parents are just trying to do the best they can. I'm not even a parent yet, and I already know it's the hardest job in the world. That is why it took Eric and I so long to come around to the idea of being parents. Let's not make it even more difficult for each other, mmkay? Be supportive. That's the best thing you can do for a new parent. Or, you know, for another human being in general.

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