Sunday, January 10, 2010

Judgment in the Mothering World: Good or Bad?

I think it's human nature to judge others, but I think it's beneficial to take a step back and not judge others harshly. I've noticed that as a new mom, it's easy to feel judged, and it is really, really tempting to judge others. I'm not sure that helps any of us, though.

One thing I've noticed is that moms tend to gravitate towards moms who parent similarly, because then you don't feel like your parenting choices (formula vs. breastfeeding, sleep training vs. cosleeping, etc.) will be judged. I'm a middle of the road mom. Although I lean heavily toward attachment parenting, the husband is soooooo not on board, and that's ok. We have found a good balance at this point (I think). I'm quite happy with my occasional cosleeping, constant babywearing, non-cloth diapering, breastfeeding lifestyle.

Anyway, my point is that I try not to judge other moms. Everyone's lives are so different. While I do not think sleep training would have worked for me, I have friends who do it, and for them, I think it was the right choice. They are working moms of several kids, and they simply could not have dealt with all of the night waking that I did (and still do). There's no one way to do things.

I also hope people don't judge my choices. I couldn't stand to hear my baby fuss for a second, and that's just the way I am. I don't think it means I'm a pansy whose kid walks all over her. I think we all have different personalities, different babies, different demands in our life, and we do our child-rearing accordingly. My next baby will probably fuss a little more as I teach her ('cause I know it's gonna be a girl, I already have her nursery colors picked out) to soothe herself. This first baby of mine sucks at that, and I pay the price every night as he wakes 4-5 times. Now, my sleep training friends look pretty smart. I don't regret how I did things though, because I followed my instincts and did what felt right. No sleep training book was going to persuade me otherwise. (Before you offer me sleep advice, I'm not asking for advice. We're good. I have it under control.)

Know where my judginess comes out? In my rss reader, which, for you computer neophytes, is a google service I have set up to send me headlines from all the blogs I like. I separate my blogs into categories: friends' blogs, mindless inanity, mom blogs, and crunchy moms. See? Even I feel the need to define mothers as just regular mothers or crunchy mothers. There are "molds" out there, and we look at those molds to see where a mom fits. Is she a cosleeping cloth-diaperer who quit her job to stay home with her baby? Is she a busy working mom whose baby is not the sole focus of her life? Those are the two molds I feel like I see in my area in CT. I think I am a little of both of those. And actually, so are my friends who sleep trained. They are very crunchy in some ways, and they are wonderful mothers. The problem with putting people in a mold is that they often don't fit. I think we miss out on friendships if we let our tendency to judge separate us.

Wait- I think there is one more mold in my area- the SAHM who can afford a nanny, private yoga instruction, tennis lessons, and salon visits. I don't see those moms much, because that's not the circle I run in, but I certainly don't begrudge those moms that lifestyle. Frankly, it sounds like my ideal life, although I'd do horsebackriding instead of yoga. And I'd probably take my kids along if they were good. We'd ride together. Also, they'd come with me to yoga, and the nanny would take care of them while I did yoga, or the kid could do yoga, too, if they were good. I think homeschooling is cool though, so maybe I'd do that as well. Or have my own school. Or send my kids to Montessori. Whatever. Anyway. Do you see how open-minded I am, that I could accept that lifestyle? Yup. No judgment here on that great backhand!

I guess my question to readers is, Do you judge other moms, and do you think it's a bad thing? Is judgment helpful or hurtful to you and the other moms in your life?

I'd bet that many people feel wrongly judged. I hear of moms who get criticized for cosleeping or breastfeeding past a year. What else do you get judged for?

One of my favorite bloggers, Annie at Phd in Parenting, has a post up that actually comes out in favor of judging others. While I agree with her premise- that parenting styles should be up for debate- I just don't see how I'd be able to keep my friends if I thought it was my business to judge their parenting. I feel like, as long as our different styles don't conflict with out ability to hang out, it's OK to be friends with people who do things differently. (I hope I have not wrongly summarized Annie's point- go read it, it's really nuanced and awesomely opinionated).


Natasha said...

Great post! Like you, I lean towards attachment parenting, but I certainly don't completely fit in. Also like you, I'm more than happy with the choices I've made. I breastfeed. I co-sleep. I'm a baby wearer. But, I use disposable diapers. And I had my son circumcised. I had a c-section and if I have another child, I will NOT opt for a VBAC. Older parents tend to judge me for the first few. They tell me I'm spoiling my son. "Crunchier" parents tend to judge me for the latter choices. But let me repeat, I don't apologize for my choices.

Last night, a friend asked if I was planning on teaching Butterball sign language. I guess my always expressive face told more than my non-committal verbal answer. I guess there was judgment in my answer.

I think a certain amount of internal judgment is okay. It's reassuring. Come on, when you're out and about and see a mom engaging in BAD parenting, it feels good to be able to recognize the wrongness of the parenting and know that you don't parent that way. I know as a new parent it makes me feel better.

It's when that judgment is vocalized that we get into trouble. We have acknowledge that what works for one won't work for another. As long as decisions are thoughtful and reasoned, we should be supporting each other.

Ok, I'll step down from my soap box.

patty said...

I've judged and felt judged many times over these past 10 years, but decided a good while back I was cool with my choices and not in charge of anyone else's. (However, that doesn't mean I've stopped judging... I can't help it!)

Regarding your next nursery: my second-born boy sitting next to me reminds me, don't dye those eggs pink before they hatch :)

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

Thank you for linking to my post. I just wanted to clarify my point. The key point I was trying to make is that opinions are not the same as judgement. I do have opinions about a lot of things and I may share those opinions on my blog, but it doesn't mean that I am judging people who don't share that opinion.

There are a few circumstances in which I do judge ( "I judge racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and I judge negative attitudes about the wholeness and value of children and their self-worth.") But most of the time when people are worried that I am judging them, I am actually not. I'm just disagreeing with them.

My key point was that when people say "don't judge me" what they usually mean is "don't disagree with me".

Erin Ely said...

Great post and I like the clarification from Annie too.

I am attachement parent, extended BF, VBAC, stay at home, home school, organic fanatic, local foodie, but... I did not use cloth diapers.

so where does that leave me, LOL

It's a good conversation to have, appreciate your thoughts on it.

coffeewithjulie said...

Good post on a never-ending issue!

People do judge people on issues such as breastfeeding and co-sleeping and although Annie says she expresses her opinion, not a judgement, I'd argue that her posts on these topics do come across as clear judgements. Which is fine, it is HER blog afterall! I often find the tone and language of her posts to be off-putting but I keep coming back anyhow because she is so damn brilliant in many ways.

But for me personally, I just can't see myself spending energy judging people on issues such as whether someone exclusively breastfeeds or not or whether someone co-sleeps or not .... I just don't care. But I will spend energy judging someone who mistreats a child emotionally or physically. Who strays over the line. As Penelope Trunk says, then it's time to throw the stones (her post on this is here: If there is neglect, then there should be judgement -- not like in the old days where my dad could hear the boy at the next farm being harshly beaten but everyone turned a blind eye.

Danielle said...

We have chatted about this before, but some days, I just have to take a step back and look at some of the comments some mothers say to others. I am often astonished and disgusted. The other day "The Feminist Breeder" wrote a great post about it, I believe it was called "Mean Girls Grow Up To Be Mean Women" and it was right on the money.

I can't say I have ever been judgmental on personal choices, but there are some areas that I have drawn lines at, like you saw the other day on twitter with the pot smoking mom.

Stephanie said...

I enjoyed your thoughts...and appreciated that Annie took the time to leave a clarification comment too.

I agree that we shouldn't "judge" others in the sense that we shouldn't be rude or overbearing or critical or pushy. But...I think it's okay to have opinions and to state them - gently, with love and humility. Opinions - especially when backed by critical thinking - are a good thing. I actually really love hearing strong opinions (it's one of the reasons that I love Annie @ PhD in Parenting so much), even if they are different from my own...

RE: "molds." While I think it is unfair and horrible to *exclude* people who make different choices, I can see why people generally congregate with crowds that make the same choices. It's not necessarily a bad thing. I just think people tend to be drawn toward other people with similar interests and in similar life stages. Thus, some people may be connected because they love "The Office". Some people may be connected because they like running. Some people may be connected because they breastfeed/cosleep. Etc. That's life and, as long as we are striving to be open and kind to others in our daily lives, I think that's not such a bad thing.

That's all for now. It's already past midnight and my thoughts are getting a little scrambled. ;)

Sorry for the extra-long comment!

P.S. I love that picture of you on the right sidebar with your baby in the ERGO. That is such a great carrier, isn't it? I use mine almost daily. :)

The H Family said...

I think my judgi-ness (which is never expressed to the actual person) towards other mothers is mostly when I feel like they're making excuses.

Like when moms say, "Oh gosh, I just can't get my kid to pay attention to what I say!" Well, you can't get him to pay attention because you've taught him that he doesn't have to.

Or "Oh, you're so lucky to be home. We could never afford to do that." Well, maybe not if you want to continue living the lifestyle you currently enjoy. But I'm not lucky. We made financial decisions both before and after kids that allow me to be home now.

Does that make sense? It's not that I necessarily care that your child-rearing decisions may be different from mine. I just don't want to hear about how your kid doesn't listen when you never give him consequences. Or listen to how you can't afford to stay home when you own a nice new car and all the latest electronics.

I don't feel like I'm expressing exactly what I want to say, but I've written this twice and can't think of how else to word it without seeming like even more of a judgmental a-hole!

Bethany said...

I agree with you whole heartedly. Not only am I guilty of judging other mothers and their parenting styles, but I carry the heavy weight of worry about whether other moms are judging me wherever I go. I even obsess over complete strangers judging me.... "Is that woman watching my 3 year old have a melt down right now? She must think my child is a monster. I'm sure she's watching me and wondering why I'm such a lousy parent." It's NUTS!!! And yet I continue to feed into it on a daily basis. When I decided to stay home full time and join a local Moms Club, I opened Pandora's Box to a litany of judging and feeling judged. So many wonderful opportunities for me to pick apart other mother's styles and feel the constant paranoia that they are doing the same to me. How wonderful.
But I truly think that this may just be a trait that we share as woman (some of us worse than us). Because if you think about it, we start judging each other from the minute we enter school. Who wears the best clothes, who has the most friends, who gets the best grades... we pick each other apart and search for each others weaknesses and go for the emotional jugular whenever we get the chance to pounce. It's a female thing.
However, I certainly embrace other woman who have the ability to raise above that behavior and channel it in other directions. Those woman are awesome.

One of my best friends said something to me many years ago that I still try to use as a daily mantra: "It's not good or bad, it's just DIFFERENT."

Elizabeth said...

This made me think of something that happened after baby #4 was born. I took my 3 month old to the grocery store, and left my others at home. I hadn't had a full night of sleep for 3 months, and was walking in a daze. There was another woman in the store with three kids who were yelling and running around. When I saw her, I was glad that I had left my bigger kids at home. I don't know how I looked, because I was just trying to remember what I wanted to buy and not fall asleep, but when she saw me, she thought I was judging her. She came right up to me and said "You don't know what it's like. I have three kids and you only have one." I just shrugged and walked away.

I think sometimes it is easy to assume that someone else is judging you when maybe they were just disagreeing, something came out wrong, or they are having a bad day.

The H Family said...

And I wonder--does the judgment only bother us if it's about something we're not totally happy with ourselves?

Working moms feel judged because part of them is unhappy they're store mom of three feels judged because she knows her kids shouldn't be running feels judged because part of her wishes her baby would just sleep through the night alone.

Because I think if you're completely comfortable with your decision--and totally believe in it--you don't care what people think. At all.