Years ago, when I had babies and toddlers and went to MOPS twice a month, there was a story in the news about a mom who ran out to a neighboring store to pick up some milk or something and left her baby home sleeping in the crib. She also left a pot of something boiling on the stove. And I don’t remember the whole story, but I think there was a lot of steam or maybe a teeny-tiny fire and a neighbor called the fire department. The fire fighters arrived to find the mom rushing home to snatch her sleeping infant from the crib.
I remember discussing this story at MOPS. All of us understood why a mom might want to not disturb a baby who had finally FINALLY fallen asleep. Especially if she only needed to run next door to get some milk or a package of diapers or whatever it was she bought.
But all of us agreed we would never EVER leave a baby home alone, no matter the inconvenience. And we all agreed that this mom definitely looked bad in the media. She looked foolish and negligent. And then one mom said something like, It’s my goal to never do anything as a mom that is going to make me look like a fool in the news.
We all knew what she meant. I think of it as The Evening News Standard. If, God forbid, some horrible tragedy happened to our families – a fire, a kidnapping, an awful accident – we wanted the news to reflect that it occurred in spite of an attentive, loving, careful mother doing everything in her power to prevent said tragedy.
So for the past eight or ten years, I’ve thought of that news story and conversation often. Because, you see, at my very core this is what I wrestle with. I want to look like a good mother. I want people to see me and think I am an excellent momma, the very best. When something bad happens – when my child makes a bad grade or gets in trouble on the bus or hangs with the wrong crowd or sneakily texts boys she’s not supposed to or gets hurt — I want observers to note that it was no fault of mine. That those things happened even though my child has a vigilant, involved, loving mother.
But the thing is there is no way to win the approval of everyone. When I homeschooled, there were people who thought I was overprotecting and over-shielding my children. When I put them in public school, there were people who thought I had sold out and was putting my children at risk of all sorts of evil. Some people think I should give my daughters privacy and not read their texts and check up on their Facebook conversations. Other people think I shouldn’t even let them have cell phones and Facebook. Some people think I shouldn’t let my boys play unsupervised outside in the neighborhood, and others think I keep too close an eye on them as it is. And let’s not even get started on the varying opinions on whether or not I should let my 14-year-old daughter “date”!
I can’t really make all my parenting decisions based on whether or not the general public would approve if I were written about in the newspaper or mentioned on the evening news.
And honestly, I think some people get all judge-y about another mother’s choices because a different parenting style seems like a statement against her parenting style. One mother was extremely hateful and ugly about my decision to homeschool because she assumed my choice to homeschool meant I thought she was sinful and less-than because she sent her children to public school. Her judgmental attitude toward me was actually a defense mechanism.
One mother I know who bottle-fed her babies is quite outspoken in her disgust of public breastfeeding. Actually, she appears to be pretty anti-breastfeeding altogether. But I think this stems from her perception that so many breastfeeding moms deemed her less-than because she bottle-fed. Again, defense mechanism.
The general public doesn’t know my children and our specific circumstances. Heck, my circle of friends and family doesn’t even know my children as well as my husband and I do. And, honestly, we’re not accountable to the opinions of the neighbors or our extended family or that person who sometimes make those unhelpful, self-righteous comments about why she doesn’t do things the way we do.
And so we prayerfully, thoughtfully make a hundred decisions each day based on what we believe is best for our kids. And often, we make good choices. And sometimes, we blow it. We mess up and re-evaluate and apologize and try again and pray we haven’t ruined them for life. So much of mothering is praying we haven’t done more harm than good.
I can’t make all my decisions in the hopes of earning the approval of onlooking, judgmental people. I used to try. And it was futile and frustrating and exhausting.
Mommas, let’s give each other some grace. We’re not all going to parent the same way. We won’t all make identical decisions. I promise I won’t view your decisions as a judgment of mine, and I won’t become defensive and judgmental of your choices. Will you please promise the same for other moms?
And if something bad happens to my kids and you read about in the news or hear about in whispered gossip, please don’t be too harsh, assume it happened in spite of my doing the best job I can. And I’ll do the same for you.