The year after my daughter came into the world was one of the loneliest years of my life. Not only did I feel isolated from my normal activities, but I was shrouded in postpartum depression and anxiety that I didn’t realize was abnormal. Crying in the shower daily is just what one does after having a baby, yes? This was also the year my husband contemplated disconnecting the internet to save me from myself. I was absolutely terrified of doing the wrong thing. Was she on the wrong nap schedule? Did I introduce the wrong solid food first? How much tummy time was too much?! Where is the answer key??!!
But what scared me most was the judgment from the outside world. Without any confidence in my mothering abilities, I honed in on every unsolicited suggestion, every raised eyebrow at my choices or roll of the eye at my daughter’s public scream-a-thons. I found myself avoiding public places or gatherings with others because I didn’t want people to know how little I knew what I was doing.
What I Wish I’d Known
I so badly needed caffeine, a hug, and someone to tell me that most people are just guessing as they go along. But what I needed to hear the most, is that judgment of mothers never really goes away. It just doesn’t. We are humans and we are all guilty of it, and most of us have been on the receiving end of it.
It was somewhere after the birth of my second child that I started to recognize I didn’t need to look for approval. I also slowly began to accept there are more supportive allies out there than there are antagonists; we just need to know where to look and who to tune out. Easier said than done, but not impossible. And quite recently, I was reminded there are plenty of mothers out there who allow us to fully be ourselves, to unravel when we need to and understand that most of us at any given time are just doing our best. It also reminded me of the mother I want to be, not just for my children, but for other moms.
Comparison Is the Thief of Joy
My daughter, Zoe, was invited to a small, intimate spa-themed birthday party by a new friend. Only having met the mother a handful of times, I’m on my way to pick her up and am already feeling intimidated. When I dropped my daughter off, she was greeted with a new robe customized with her name on it. The coolest thing I ever did for her birthday was hide M&Ms in her cake for an unexpected surprise to spill out when she cut into it. And I thought that warranted some sort of motherhood medal. But a spa party with teeny, tiny sandwiches and pedicures? That’s out of my wheelhouse.
At pick up time, my daughter and the other two girls had yet to finish their foot soaks, so I’m busy making small talk with new moms and revealing my most awkward self. My four-year-old son is with me and has made himself quite at home with their Legos, and after a few minutes, I’m feeling more at ease. Everyone has their specialties, the things they care about, and this mom just happens to be really awesome at throwing elaborate parties during a particularly trying year. I’m drinking tea, relaxing, and feeling that maybe my mother-of-the-year medal doesn’t need to be taken away just yet. That was a pretty awesome cake.
And then it happens.
When It Hits The Fan
My son, Ben, wanders in the room looking confused and embarrassed, and my eyes finally make my way down to his legs that are covered in green diarrhea. Not a little bit. Covered. And behind him is a trail; a Hansel and Gretelesque poop trail revealing his wayward path through the house. I am simultaneously mortified, worried about my son, and frozen in a bizarre state of panic.
And with absolute calm, understanding, and zero judgment or condescension, the moms that I’ve known for mere minutes orchestrate a plan to tackle operation green poop. They show me to the bath, bring clothes for Ben, and mop the house. When I attempt to apologize, they wave me off and regale me with poop stories of their own children.
This is my nightmare and I am still beyond embarrassed, but it’s made tolerable by moms didn’t make me feel ashamed. And this right here? This is what I want to be for other moms. I strive to be a support system that launches into action and uses humor and empathy. My new bar for support is to make a mom laugh and not feel like a burden when their child empties the entire contents of their bowels onto my new rug.
Look for the Helpers
When we’re in the trenches, it is easiest to hear the criticisms, spot the judgment, and only see the parents who are making it look so easy. But these aren’t the things worthy of our attention. We can’t always tune out the mom shaming; but we can, in the words of the great Mr. Rogers, look for the helpers. They’re there. It’s the mom who meets your eye and gives you the knowing head nod when your child is having a meltdown. It’s the flight attendant who tells you that babies cry on planes and that everyone can suck it up and put on their headphones. It’s the friend who lets you rehash your sleep training methods over and over when you used to have way more interesting things to say. They’re there. And most importantly, we can be that for someone else, because we could all use a soft place to land.