Judging other moms wasn’t on my list of to-dos when I set out on my path to motherhood, but it definitely happened.
When my daughter was first born, incredible amounts of panic accompanied the abundant joy I experienced. Was my baby sleeping enough? What were these weird noises she was making? Is all of this spit-up normal or does my baby have reflux? Help!
Eventually I learned the ins and outs of baby care, and grew confident in my abilities. While I never thought I had it all figured out, I did feel that I knew what I was doing. As I moved through the world with my new-found knowledge, I was determined to help other moms benefit from all I had learned. I thought if they followed my lead they would have an easier time parenting, and that both they and their children would benefit.
So I talked. I shared. A lot. I dominated conversations, and interrupted people. I spent large amounts of time and energy explaining to other moms how to fix their problems. I thought I was helping. I was judging of those who didn’t listen or didn’t seem to care as ungrateful or too overwhelmed to take in my words of wisdom. I pitied both because they wouldn’t benefit from all of my great ideas. If I saw them later and heard they were having the same problems I often felt smug and thought, “Well, if they had followed my advice they wouldn’t still have that problem.”
Sometime later, I was at a birthday party. Not a kid’s party, but a real, grown up adults-only backyard celebration. There was wine and beer, cocktail music, appetizers held together with sharp toothpicks, and not a cartoon character or gift bag in sight. During the party I chatted with a bunch of women, one of which was a new mom struggling with how to find a balance in caring for a her baby.
As we talked and offered encouragement, there was one woman who kept interrupting everyone. Any time someone else, including the new mom, tried to speak more than a few sentences, this mom would interrupt and continue her rants. Watching this mom turn what had been a friendly and supportive exchange into an power-struggle made me feel irritated and frustrated. It was as if I were trapped as a spectator in what was supposed to be a conversation. Looking around the circle of women, I could read on their faces that their feelings echoed my own. No one was encouraging this judging mom, yet she carried on and on, oblivious to the way she was alienating everyone.
I also saw how the other women reacted to her. The situation started to feel familiar, and then it hit me: I had been doing the same thing! Despite my best intentions, I had pushed my parenting opinions on others as the end-all be-all. It didn’t matter that I was trying to help. The fact was no one had asked for my advice; I had forced it on them. The woman at the party and I had both broken one of the most important parts of the mom code: listen more than you speak, be a support, not a know-it-all. I felt dismayed as I realized how judging and critical I had been of the moms who hadn’t taken my advice. I certainly wasn’t an expert, and yet I was walking around thinking I had the answers to everyone’s parenting problems.
That night I left the birthday party humbled. I wanted the support and friendship of other moms, and I would never have that as long as I spent my time bulldozing the weight of my opinions over them.
Releasing myself from the responsibility of fixing other people’s problems, and not judging them when they chose a different path was uncomfortable at first, but has ultimately been liberating. Since giving up my old ways I’ve felt happier, made more friends, and have learned much by listening. No one has all of the parenting answers. We are all doing the best we can with our own unique combination of skills, weaknesses and circumstances. Perfection is overrated; acceptance, friendship and love are not.