Friday, August 29, 2014

Why wont you listen? My response to "stopping the mommy wars" campaign.

Will you not listen? Why won't you listen?
God has spoken peace to us Why will you not listen?  
                                                                                              - Michael Card

A few months ago this article went full fledged viral. The message being "let us stop judging one another and our parenting choices. As long as we are raising happy, healthy children - all the little stuff doesn't matter. So stop the judging already!

I found I had a very funny reaction to the article and have been mulling it over ever since, trying to figure out how to put it into words. While on the outside, I can see the benefit, and the message seemed to be a positive one that has really resonated with many moms that have felt judged for their decisions in the past - but something felt wrong about it to me. (Am I alone here?) I have given it a lot of thought, trying to figure out what - and I think I am finally starting to see why.

 Many many years ago, I was a part of a moms group. A young mom myself, I was trying to figure out how I fit into the world of moms; making choices for my children, my growing family, my husband - all while growing up myself and learning who I was and what I wanted to be. I was eager to offer input wherever I could in mom conversations. I believe at the time I had a toddler and a newborn. So for at least some of the mommy-ness of life, I felt I had a little bit of experience under my belt. 

Now, I'll admit I have something of a character flaw. I make assumptions about people sometimes. For example, I will often assume that if something was wonderful and life-changing for me - that it could be for other people as well, and I sometimes get very excited and want to share it with everyone around me - regardless of their interest in the matter. I try to take the hint, but sometimes I will admit that miss it.

On the flip (and probably more damaging) side; I also will often expect, that if something is/was not a problem/big deal to me, that it won't be for others as either.  For example, I don't really care if my socks match, so the idea that someone would care very, very much that their socks match, and be emotionally distraught if I were to point out that they don't (even as just as casual observer) doesn't really occur to me. I would not be upset if someone pointed out my non-matching socks. So I have trouble anticipating a potentially devastating emotional response in someone that would.

Is this making sense to anyone?  I know my examples are a little odd, but it is the basic experience I am going for here.

Please hear me, neither of these personal flaws of mine are malicious, or even intentional in any way. Most of the time I am not even aware when these assumptions come into play. As I have grown older, I have tried very hard to be aware when these short-comings pop up, but it is an area where I am constantly growing. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

Now - back to the subject at hand, this moms meeting was my first introduction to "mommy-wars" and forever changed how I would relate to other moms.

As we were sitting and enjoying coffee together, one of the moms on the leadership team stated that she needed to talk to everyone. She wanted to make sure we were all aware of how we treated one another and how sensitive we were being to one anothers' feelings. She told a story of how several years ago, when she had small ones, she hated being home and trapped in the house. She would get out as often as she could and because of that, her kids did not have any kind of regular schedule during the day. They napped when they needed, they ate when they were hungry etc. She shared how one morning she was talking to a fellow mom, and this friend was telling her the importance of a schedule. The friend spoke of how she had her toddler napping at regular intervals, and shared openly of the work that she had put into keeping that schedule sacred. She talked in depth of how she strongly believed that keeping things organized created a sense of security and the constancy it created led to confident kids.

The first mom then shared with our group how she spent the next few weeks in tears, feeling completely inadequate as a mom because she hated being at home and therefore, her children were not going to become confident adults due to their lack of schedule. She felt judged by her friend, belittled because of her choice to spend lots of time with her kids outside the home. She eventually found a good happy medium that seemed to appease her own self-doubt. But apparently this conversation had marked her as a parent, while the friend had remained completely oblivious to the pain she had caused. 

I cannot remember what had come before this "talk." But do I remember it hitting me like a block. I was keenly aware that part of the reason for this "talk" was because of me. Whether this was true or not I am not sure. But her reason for telling this story was "be careful what you say to other moms, because you might be offending them accidentally, and making them feel judged by you."

I was shocked, hurt, frustrated. The thought that my stories, my experience, my views and personal choices on motherhood could be taken as a judgement by someone else was ludicrous to me - especially since I was so new at it all. I had never taken someone else's stories as a judgement on the choices I made, therefore I assumed nobody else did either. We are just moms, offering a listening ear, a helpful word of encouragement or a "been there, done that" story both of success or dismal and eventually hilarious failure.

From then on I didn't offer advice anymore within that group.  I never shared my stories of success or failure.  I smiled, I played the stupid games, I answered the bibles questions honestly, I listened to the speakers and not too long after, I stopped attending the group.  I was terrified someone would think I was judging them - and for the first time ever, I wondered if someone was judging me.  A problem I had never even considered before. I became hyper aware of comments other moms made - especially since I had a baby that cried for hours and hours a day, had to be held CONSTANTLY and woke every 1.5 hours at night until she was almost 1, no matter what "method" I used. Before this "talk" I had viewed other moms advice as helpful - now every "Well, you know what I did, and all my children were sleeping through the night by the time they were ________" became scornful and felt like a physical blow.

It took me several years to be able to look beyond that, to realize that these moms really WERE trying to be helpful and offer advice, and even if they weren't, who cares? Some of what they said was still useful - or at least showed me clearly a direction I didn't want to go. And no matter what, I always had the freedom to smile, nod, and do whatever the hell I wanted.    

When the article above came out I felt thrown back into that moms group.  It felt like a clamp was being fitted over my face, arms and body.  Don't speak, don't look, don't make any sign that you may be judging, or you will offend someone accidentally!  And the frustration I felt years ago came back along with the knee-jerk reaction to scream "This is not helping!"

Please, don't misunderstand me.  I do see the benefit of the "don't judge" attitude and I do think it is important. But I honestly think that we as moms have been taught to see judgment in places where it really isn't.  While I do not deny that there is a problem here, I am suggesting that perhaps the problem goes slightly deeper. For instance, one of the signs reads "I felt amazing after having my baby" while another mom writes "I had postpartum anxiety and depression." If I am being careful not to ever appear to be judging, that means the biggest thing I am going to change is talking - sharing my stories and ideas.  I don't talk, I don't share, I don't offer advice/experience because I don't want anyone to think I am judging. The result of this is not a lack of judgement, the result is that we feel like we are doing this mom thing alone.

If I share "I felt depressed after my first child, it was truly hard for me" and the result is silence? That is devastating. But if the answer is "I did ok after my child was born, I made sure and got out of the house and get some exercise everyday and that really helped" What will be the result?  Well, I have been conditioned to believe that those around me are judging me. So I will immediately be offended that the person offering me advice thinks I don't exercise enough, I feel judged and walk away fuming, feeling just as alone, just as depressed. There is no winning.

But wait, what if she really, honestly just wanted to offer some helpful advice, no judgement - just helpful experience? What happens if we dig deeper? Perhaps I could ask if she would walk with me once a week? Perhaps if it doesn't work I can go back to this friend, tell her I tried, and she can encourage in other ways, even watch my child (because she is doing ok after all) while I have an hour alone, a date with my husband or a chance to go talk to someone that can truly help.  Perhaps she is not judging, perhaps she is just being my village - but we have learned to fear the village. So we do it alone, we get it wrong and we wonder why we are so lonely.

We fear judgement, we fear someone perceiving judgment from us, so we keep the helpful advice to ourselves, we don't listen, we don't speak. We walk in crowds, alone.

I am a brain-stormer by default.  I know I have mentioned this before. I do it to myself, to strangers, to my kids, to friends. It is how I deal with problems. So if a mom comes to me, for instance with a child that doesn't sleep well, I am likely to offer 12 different kinds of advice, experience, stories, etc. in a matter of 12 minutes.  Some of the things I offer will be jokes, horror stories, things I have read that failed miserably for me, but I have heard others have found useful - some of the things I will offer will be things that worked for one child of mine but maybe not the other, or perhaps tips and tricks, parent-hacks that I wish I had known years ago.  At the root of it all, I always understand that all kids are different, all moms are different. And just because something works for one mom/baby never means it will work for another, or even that it will work again for the same mom/baby a second time! This is how I am the village to those struggling around me, and I love it when people can do it for me too. 

Imagine for a moment, if mom-judgement was not even a factor - because regardless of whether or not moms were judging, we didn't care because we understood that everyone is different - and I do get that the article above is asking for exactly this - bear with me. But I still think they are going about it in the wrong way. We need to hear the advice, the stories, and take from them what is useful and happily throw away the rest.

I am calling to end the mommy wars from the inside-out.  Stop feeling Judged. Take away the victim mentality. Because honestly?  The others moms are probably so focused on not feeling judged themselves, that they probably weren't even thinking so far ahead as to judge you.  And even if they are, who cares? That doesn't affect your parenting at all, and who knows - swathed in judgement as it may be, their advice could have useful nuggets inside. Do you know how we learn as parents? We listen. Listen to the big, the bad, the ugly, the useful, the insightful, the experienced, the wise.


Listen to the mom that worked through her depression, to the one that is struggling in the midst of it. Listen to the mom that never dealt with PPD, never struggled to breastfeed, had the kids the slept through the night right away or potty-trained at 18months. Maybe she knows something you don't. Listen to those that have been there/done that.  Listen to grandma's, to babysitters, to teachers, to big sisters, to neighbors, friends, those that are different from you and those that are the same.  Listen to the hippies, to the attachment parents. Listen to anti-helicopter parents, to the strict, to the very involved parent. Listen to the parent that values independence. Listen to moms of special needs kids, listen to foster parents, to those that struggled to have kids, listen to moms that have experienced the grief of losing a child. Listen to the moms that have dealt with extreme teenage rebellion, listen to moms that never did. Listen to those with empty nests, hear their stories. Listen to the brand new mom in the thick of it. Listen to those that say over and over again "this too shall pass." Listen to the mom that remembers how tiny her babies used to be while looking up at them instead of down.  Listen to those that don't have kids, sometimes their perspective can be priceless. Listen to what parents are not saying, sometimes that can speak the loudest - usually they need us to listen the most.

Listen. Listen. Listen.  

And as you listen you will hear VERY different thoughts on all matters.  And that is ok, that is how it is supposed to be.  Work very hard not to feel judged, own your own opinions and ideas, sift through it all to find the gold and throw away everything else. And then, when you meet the other moms that are struggling too? Talk, tell stories, offer advice, laugh, cry - do your very best to make sure that those around you know that they are not doing this alone.  If you need to, assure them that you understand not everything works for everyone - but share, hug, do someone's dishes, hold the baby while they eat a meal. Do life together. and LISTEN.

'Stop the Judgment' alone will not end the Mommy Wars, but truly listening to one another? Living life together? Being there in the thick of it, holding one another up, and offering advice - both helpful and not so much.  That, that is what we need. That is the village I am proud to be a part of.

After all - I am always learning. You are always learning - we are all of us, always learning to do life together.  So let us do life, TOGETHER.

“I don't know how to thank you.'

Then I will tell you. There is only one way I care for. Do better, and grow better, and be better."
                                                                             ― George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie