Over the years, I’d often heard the saying “comparison is the thief of joy”, but never had that concept been so harshly internalized until I became a Mother. Whether it was how I had birthed, whether I was breastfeeding (and how it was “going”), developmental milestones my kids were hitting (or not), how much they were talking, how they were sleeping, their potty habits, their dispositions, their fears and phobias, and even how I was “bouncing back” as their mother—everything served as grounds for comparison.
Whether it was voiced in a casual coffee meetup, in text messages, observed via social media, or even just made up in my own mind. Everyone had their own style, and everyone seemed to believe their style was best. When my kids had developmental delays, injuries, or strange habits. When I stopped breastfeeding three months in, three times. When I didn’t co-sleep, or when I had childcare. When I didn’t gain “enough weight” during my pregnancies, according to the Peanut Gallery…
All of it stole my joy. It stole it Big Time.
While it has calmed slightly in recent years (nothing like a Global Pandemic to encourage people to tend their own gardens instead of twisting their panties over yours), parent-shaming was REALLY rampant when I first became a Mom in 2014. Instagram was in full swing, and there was so much judgment about people’s choices that could be typed out in gutting haste with one hand—and dropped like a bomb into another person’s lap. Or, rather, onto their nice digital square.
When I was a first-time mom, people’s comments or judgments about my Mothering would keep me up at night. I felt the instinct to share my truth (I did it often, and publicly on my blog), but mixed in with the comments of relief and camaraderie from moms who could relate, were other more biting jabs. Did I make mistakes as a new mom at times? Absolutely. Was I trying my best every day to be the best possible mom to my sweet and magical daughter? Absolutely. Despite the opportunity some people took to kick me right in the guts during moments of vulnerability, I kept sharing and spilling. I always believed, and I still do, that no matter how vulnerable living and expressing your truth can be, there are people who NEED to hear it. The only way that more ways of parenting can be normalized, is by acknowledging that there are more ways of parenting! But, boy were the early years of “Mom Blogging” rough.
Little by little, comparison and parent-shaming stopped stealing my joy. I realized that leaning into my instincts about MY kids, was the thing that kept the harmony in my particular household. I started trusting myself and setting boundaries in my parenting space that were really important for me and my own personal healing and growth.
In the last seven years, I’ve developed a deeply rooted belief that all parents definitely want the best for their children, and they’re definitely doing what they can to achieve that. A parent’s love for their child should never be questioned. But, “the best” looks different for different families, and for different children. My kids did great sleeping in their cribs, and sleep training at 3 months. Other kids do great co-sleeping, or breastfeeding ten times longer than mine did. Parenting myself made me realize how foolish I had ever been to judge parents in the past, because parenting humbled me every single day. It brought me to my knees in blinding love and complete exhaustion. It tested the limits of what I believed about myself, and about the world. It improved my relationships with some, and ruined them with others.
Parenthood is the hands-down most earth-shattering experience there is. And I don’t mean earth-shattering in a purely destructive way (though I’m sure any parent would say that there are certainly aspects of your identity pre-kids that are obliterated), but earth-shattering in a revolutionary way.
Earth shattered, and then: Rebuilt. Reborn. New.
I grew up as a people pleaser. As a firstborn, Type A, with my biological dad in and out of my life, I had major abandonment issues and the kind of stamina that developed into full-blown perfectionism. It’s only recently that I will try something new before I know for a fact that I will “succeed” at it.
It took me many years to undo those instincts to make others comfortable at my own expense, and Motherhood became a huge catalyst in that. It made me face my insecurities head-on, and to find a way to trust myself and my instincts despite my mistakes. Maybe it was navigating a public divorce, or maybe it was many years of good therapy plus the self-reliance that being a small business owner has bred. Either way, I’ve learned over the years not to give too much of a Flying F what people I don’t know very well think about my choices. I’ve even learned more and more over the years how to quiet the soul crush that happens when people I DO know well don’t like my choices. LOL. I’ve also learned over the years how to keep myself from contributing to this type of parent-shaming judgment and toxicity.
Yes, hello, you do it too. We all do, to varying degrees. And why?
Because when we’re feeling exhausted, and unsure, and vulnerable as parents to these children who we love so desperately that we feel as though we might explode—that is when we subconsciously have a desperate need to affirm our choices. To feel as though we are doing something right, and good, and appropriate for our kids. We need to feel good about what we are doing, and so we create a layer of protection that tells us that anybody doing “other” is doing it wrong. If I am right, then they are wrong. Right?
I get it, I do it sometimes, and it’s ok. We’ve all been there. But the only way that we can be sure other people will start respecting our role as parents with our own kids is to start really, truly, deeply respecting other parents and THEIR choices. So here’s a place to start, because it really does start with each of us, individually, taking accountability.
Take a moment, now, to pause and think of five ways you judge other parents. You’re not going to write it down, or share it so be brutally honest with yourself:
How does it feel to think about these judgments? Did you enact them internally or externally? There are no right answers here, just a consideration of your own actions and thoughts.
Now, think about five times you felt judged harshly when it really affected you.
Were those judgments fair or unfair? What didn’t people know about you or the situation when they judged you? How would those people have acted in an ideal situation? Is there something they could have said or demonstrated that would have helped you or uplifted you at that moment instead of making you feel terrible?
That’s it. Exercise over.
Did you realize anything about how you’d like to respond in situations moving forward? Again, no need to share or even write these things down. Just creating space in your own mind for these thoughts is enough.
I do this little exercise now when I’m feeling like I’m harboring criticisms over people’s parenting styles or how they manifest is behaviors of kids or parents. It really helps to ground me and remind me that we are all on our own journeys, and that kids and parents are so different from one another. As somebody who has felt all sides of judgment, both privately and publicly—and also done a lot of work in my private life to trust myself and my choices, I can say with a lot of compassion that it is all a work in progress. I hope that we, as parents, can do this kind of deep work and think critically about our behaviors, so that we may ALL raise kids who can manage these concepts differently. I hope by the time our children are grown up, there is a lot more acceptance, tolerance, and support available.
I’d love to hear whatever thoughts you have on parent-shaming! Please share in the comments below.
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Photographs by Julia Dags | Copyright © 2021 Happily Eva After, Inc. All Rights Reserved.