When I first started blogging, over 3 1/2 years ago now, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of Mommy Judgment I encountered. When you put something out there, some people think it’s perfectly acceptable to lash out and judge it, sometimes very harshly. I’ve been told I’m a terrible mother, my kids should be taken away, I don’t love them, and lots more — all over silly things like what I ought to be feeding them or what medical decisions I ought to make.
It was really hurtful at first. I wanted to argue, yell, justify myself, explain to people how I felt and why I made the choices I did. I sought their approval!
Anyone who’s ever participated in any online discussion has experienced this. Everyone has felt judged and angry and engaged in a fight with strangers over the “right” parenting choice. It’s silly — but I understand why it happens.
Parenting is Stressful
Although I love being a mother and wouldn’t trade it for anything, I admit it can be very stressful.
Parenting is the only job that is 24/7, with no vacation days, no sick days, no regular breaks, and the inability to quit. Once you have children, that’s it. Any other job, no matter how stressful when you’re “on” allows you time away, breaks, vacations, and you can choose to quit if it isn’t for you.
When we are under a lot of stress, we sometimes say and do things we never imagined. As parents, we may do or say things by accident or by design (if faced with circumstances we never imagined) that seem unbelievable, that in a perfect world would never occur. And these things might be as innocent as choosing to share a bed with your baby when you always considered yourself an “I need my space” person, or it could be as dark as screaming or hurting your child. Everyone faces something unexpected.
Parenting also brings up our feelings about our own childhood. We think we ought to be “over” it sometimes. We think we can be as good as our parents. We think a lot of things — that may not necessarily play out as we’d imagined.
Really, in many ways, we feel deeply insecure about parenting. We really don’t know the “right” answer in many cases. We hope we’re doing a good enough job and not screwing up too much. We have constantly conflicting feelings about if we’re really on the right path, or if another way might be better. After all, parenting is also the most important job. You only get one shot at it, and the effects will literally make someone else’s life.
Then, you put a bunch of overwhelmed, tired, stressed-out parents in a virtual room together, where they cannot see anyone else and it feels like words on a screen. And it all breaks loose.
Nathan at 11 weeks. Irrelevant, but adorable!
We’re programmed to seek approval. We want people to like us and agree with us. We want validation that we’re doing this mothering thing pretty well, even if we’re not perfect. We want understanding.
And so, someone “puts it out there” with a question or a thought about mothering. This discussion quickly evokes strong feelings in others, especially if it’s on a controversial topic (breast vs. formula, homeschooling vs. public school, vaccines, etc.), but sometimes even if it seems innocuous. I’ve seen people fight viciously over whether or not it’s okay for a toddler to eat a lollipop!
It’s easy to read someone’s words online, not being able to tell “tone” or mood, and misinterpret them. Everybody reads comments and articles through their own lense of experience. Things that maybe weren’t intended to be upsetting, are. And if there’s something that you’re personally struggling with, that you might already be uncertain of, or feel guilty about, it’s easy to feel judged even if that was not the intention.
When someone feels judged, they lash out. They judge others. They’re trying to justify their own choices in many cases to make themselves feel better. They may be conflicted: “Did I make the right choice? Was there something I didn’t know, something else I should have tried?” They may even feel guilty that they can’t “do it all,” even though that is impossible. It’s made worse by the fog of sleep deprivation, stress, and so on too.
When we feel judged, it’s hard to think “To each his own.” Even if we believe that, we don’t feel very charitable when others don’t seem to reciprocate that belief. I once got myself in big trouble a few years ago for saying “If anything, it’s parents who do vaccinate that are abusing their kids.” I didn’t and don’t believe any such thing! But I was feeling very, very hurt that someone suggested that I was abusing my kids because I had made a different choice than they had.
Living in a Fish Bowl
More than ever before, we parent in a fish bowl, so to speak. Where before public parenting only occurred in public places, it now occurs on the internet.
We blog about parenting (like I am right now). We share pictures and Facebook updates. We participate in message boards. We are all, to some extent, in the spotlight.
The best and worst part about it is putting our best moments out there. We might inspire someone else, or give someone joy to see our happiness. Family and friends who don’t live close can watch our families grow!
On the other hand, we get a skewed perspective. We don’t see the bad parts, the tense moments. Nobody says “I screamed at my kids all morning and threatened to take all their clothes and toys away if they don’t keep them off my floors because I didn’t get any sleep last night” even if that’s what happened. We can be left feeling isolated, like *we* are the only mom struggling.
It’s even worse because I’ve noted that sometimes if a mom does post something negative about her kids/parenting, some think social media isn’t the place for that, and judge her for having done it. She’s more likely to put on a “happy face” and only post positive updates in the future, even if she’s struggling, for fear of being judged again.
Who’s to say what the right answer is? Our children will be the first to grow up with such a heavy social media presence. There are no guidelines here. We don’t know how it will affect them. Likely it will depend on the individual.
It’s Not You, It’s Them
Every person out there is a messy, complicated individual, with a messy, complicated family life. Everyone has their own experiences and set of strong beliefs. Everyone has bad days, hypocritical moments, and harsh thoughts.
Put millions of complicated people all together, and you get The Mommy Wars.
But truly, it’s not you, it’s them. If someone judges you, especially if they are harsh or rude, it’s not about you. It’s about their own complicated feelings. You don’t have to answer. You don’t have to justify yourself. You don’t need their approval!
It’s hard to be judged. It’s hurtful. But next time it happens, don’t snap back. Don’t say something in anger you’ll later regret. Don’t seek approval from those who don’t really matter. Walk away, take a deep breath, and remember this:
I am a good mom. I am a unique person and so are my kids. No one else has quite the same situation. No one else can fully understand. I do the best job and make the best choices I can. I love my kids and they love me. This is what matters; others’ opinions do not.
Go be a great mom.
And don’t forget about the Natural Mothering Bundle. There are just three days left to buy!
What do you think about the Mommy Judgment? Have you ever felt judged…or dished it out?
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