“Parenting was so much easier when I raised my non-existent children hypothetically.”
Oh how true is this? It’s so easy to sit on the calm, quiet, clean, tidy, well-rested, well-fed side of the fence and pass judgement on all the ways you will and won’t parent your child. It’s so easy to see a screaming baby and (because you haven’t been listening that to noise solidly for the past seven months) know exactly how to soothe it. It’s so easy to see a filthy toddler rubbing snot into their hair and (because you haven’t had to wipe that same stream of snot from their nose every day for the past two years) know exactly how much that child needs a bath. It’s so easy to see a child throwing food on the floor and (because you have spotlessly clean kitchen floors) know that that child simply needs to be ‘strongly disciplined’. It’s so easy to see two children fighting over a toy and know (because you haven’t ever had anyone walk into your house and run roughshod over all your possessions) that all children must, and can, be taught to share.
The Whole Story
We judge parents, especially mothers, every day. We see a child doing something we disagree with and we know straight away how we would handle it. But, we only know how we would handle it in this one instance, on this one day, for this one particular situation. We don’t know – or realise, or remember – that that child has probably being kicking or biting or snatching or shouting for days, weeks, months before. We forget that two, three and four year olds are dealing with an overwhelming tumult of emotion and change every single day and that disciplining them and teaching them about social behaviour is a process that can sometimes takes months or years. Parenting is not a race, it’s not even a marathon, it’s for life. And so, when in one quick moment we make a judgement about what a mother supposedly has or hasn’t bothered to teach her child, we compact all the expectations of society into one short crystallised moment. We judge without any understanding or concept of the bigger picture. In short, we misjudge.
It’s even worse when mothers do this to each other. One of the best, most magical things about motherhood is the automatic sisterhood to which you also become a member – a warm, fuzzy circle of women who just ‘get it’. Who know how bloody hard it all is, how tired you are, how uncertain you are, how much of a mind-fucking rollercoaster you are on. Motherhood is made possible by this village, it is a circle of supportive warmth and uplifting positivity that literally – and figuratively – keeps us all going.
And yet. Despite all this, despite all we know about how lost we’d be without the other mothers in our lives, still, sometimes, we judge. We see something that we don’t like, and so we make assumptions, we criticise, we raise our eyebrows, we snark and bitch and compare. But, know this. When you judge a mother, know that you are judging someone who is already second-guessing themselves a hundred times a day. And that your judgement sends her into a tailspin of self-doubt. When you question her child’s behaviour, you are shining a spotlight on all the ways she already thinks she’s failed. When you point out a misdemeanour, you highlight a problem or an issue that she has been dealing with, talking about, fighting with her partner about for months. When you question her choices, you are asking questions she has already asked herself over and over and over again. When you make judgements about her child’s personality you make a judgement about the most precious thing in her whole world. And, when you criticise or judge or compare or disapprove, you are doing it to someone who is already battling the many anxieties and worries that come with parenthood. And you are adding to them.
So, also, know this. When you compliment a mother, you literally lift her up. When you tell her she is amazing, her heart swells. When you tell her she is doing well, she really starts to believe it. When you acknowledge all the little or big things she is doing she believes in herself that little bit more, she tries that little bit harder, she keeps going that little bit longer. It costs virtually nothing to say something nice, to encourage someone, to flatter them, to reassure them – but it is worth everything.
Little big things
As a mother in the midst of the challenges of raising a three year old and nine week old twins, I know that this support, these little kindnesses from friends, the time taken to make me feel good about myself have made all the difference. From the friend who got in touch during labour to tell me I was amazing and the friend who called me a ‘superstar’ after the boys were born, to the countless people who have celebrated every stage of my breastfeeding journey so far and my hypnobirthing group, who go out of their way to support and encourage each other, despite all of our many different and varied parenting experiences – these are the things that set us apart, that encourage us to keep going on dark, lonely nights, that make us feel better when we feel sad, or hopeless or confused or frightened. This is what the sisterhood is, and what the village means, and why we absolutely must stick together. There is a time and a place for judgement and criticism – motherhood is not it.