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Category: mommy guilt

Mommy Olympics

I’ve been wondering lately what it is about being a mom that makes people feel the need to judge and ultimately belittle other moms. It is almost inevitable that if you put a group of moms together they will start judging and criticizing any other mom within viewing distance, including the ones on TV, in magazines, and in movies. There is a never ending tirade of can’t win for trying-isms, I could do it better-isms, and what was she thinking-isms. The victims of this assault may be famous (Kate Gosslin or Octomom, which in itself is a horrendous name) or personal (your crazy cousin or the neighbor down the street who has the audacity to let her kids ride their big wheels helmet free). It doesn’t matter what the offense is – it could be something as benign as not pureeing organically homegrown veggies rather than buying Gerber. Has the mentality of becoming “mother of the year” erased our reason? Shouldn’t we be supporting one another rather than tearing each other down? In the process of preparing for my group for new moms, I’m reading a great book – The Mommy Myth by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels. This book focuses on how the media skews our views of motherhood and creates a “new momism” that is harmful to both stay at home moms and working moms and that probably keeps us from being our best selves in either locale. This excerpt from the from the introduction sums up motherhood as a competitive sport:

“Intensive mothering is the ultimate female Olympics: We are all in powerful competition with each other, in constant danger of being trumped by the mom down the street, or in the magazine we’re reading. The competition isn’t just over who’s a good mother – it’s over who’s the best. We compete with each other; we compete with ourselves. the best mothers always put their kids’ needs before their own, period. The best moehters are the main caregivers. For the best mothers, their kids are the center of the universe. The mothers always smile. They always understand. They are never tired. They never lose their temper. They never say, “Go to the neighbor’s house and play while Mommy has a beer.” Their love for their children is boundless, unflagging, flawless, total. Mothers today cannot just respond to their kids’ needs, they must predict them – and with the telepathic accuracy of Houdini. They must memorize verbatim the books of all the child-care experts and know which approaches are developmentally appropriate at different ages. They are supposed to treat their two-year-olds with “respect.” If mothers screw up and fail to do this on any given day, they should apologize to their kids, because any misstep leads to permanent psychological and/or physical damage. Anyone who questions whether this is *the* necessary way to raise kids is an insensitive, ignorant brute. This is just common sense, right?”

If you find yourself nodding your head in agreement rather than picking up on the sarcasm, you’re missing the point. The point being, that the Olympic scale competition between moms keeps us from connecting to the best support we have – each other. Husbands try to understand (sometimes), our own moms have experienced similar things (to some degree), and our non-parent friends can sympathize (but not empathize). The Judgment Games keep moms from connecting with other moms in a meaningful way because they know what will happen if they show weakness – the other mom will win. Unfortunately, there are no medals for parenthood. We can’t measure the greatness of a mom based on her ability to prepare a perfectly balanced, home cooked meal in 5 minutes or less. We can only look at her children and love they show her as they share fish sticks and mac & cheese out of a blue box, with no vegetable in sight. Moms aren’t meant to be perfect; they’re meant to be moms. As the Olympics wind up this year, maybe it’s time to have closing ceremonies for the Mommy Olympics as well. Maybe we could actually enjoy our children if that happened.

Motherland

In honor of the start of my new group for new moms. I wanted to take the next couple of weeks to talk about some issues that are central to the moms in our lives. The purpose of this new therapy group is to give moms a place to gather where they can talk about the adjustments they are having to make to being a new mom. Motherhood has so many meanings in our culture that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where you fit in. What do you want your place as a mother to look like? As the mom of an amazing three year old, I can tell you that there have been times with my other mom friends and myself have all questioned out mothering abilities. Does the fact that my daughter refuses to wear her coat to go to the car make me a bad mom? Does the fact that my friend’s son fell off the swing at the park while she was talking to another mom mean Child Protective Services is on the way? Of course not, but all of these small “failures” of mothering add up over time to one huge case of Mommy Guilt.

No mother ever believes that she is good enough for her child. Some children are easier to deal with than others and make some moms look better in public than others. But I can guarantee that every mother on the planet knows the feeling of shame associated with the first time you actually raise your voice above that high-pitched twinkle we usually use with our children. And why? Is it because parents should never raise their voices towards their children? That’s just not realistic. Is yelling the best way to deal with children? No, but sometimes it just happens. No matter how many imperfect moms grace our television sets (Rosanne, Marge, Kate) the ideal of Donna Reid still exists. There is some part of most moms that feels guilty for leaving their child at daycare while mom works or, heaven forbid, doesn’t have to work and can do other things with her time, like clean the house, do the laundry, cook the dinners, and run the never ending list of errands that go into being a stay at home mom. This myth of the perfect mom who always has the right snacks hot out of the oven when the whole neighborhood of children arrives at her doorstep is perpetuated by every commercial, television show, and most movies.

Why can’t we as mother’s cut ourselves a break? Maybe it should start with our own judgments of the parenting skills of others. That’s right – I’m talking to you. We all do it. We see the 5 year old walking through the mall with a paci and think, “What kind of a mom . . .” Recently there was a news story featured on Yahoo where a mother of 6 planned her meals for an entire year. Were the comments at the end of the story impressed by her planning skills? No. Each and every comment made some sort of dig at either the food she had chosen to serve her family or the fact that she carried her child during the interview. Now, could her menu have been more healthy – absolutely. Was she serving anything to her family that I haven’t fed to mine – nope. It’s time to let go of our own guilt at not being the perfect mom, so that we can let other women be the best moms they can be. Perpetuating the myth that there is some magical right way to be a mom by putting other mothers down, comparing ourselves to the make believe moms in Walmart commercials, and denigrating our own skills is not only harmful to us, but harmful to our daughters who may one day grow up to be moms themselves. The next time someone tells you what a great mom you are – listen and then say thank you. You’re a mom, you’ve earned a little credit.

Further reading: The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels

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