Confession: I have been a judgmental mother, standing in silent condemnation of the choices other women make regarding their children. I didn’t set out to be this way and could certainly never claim a self-righteous superiority that would allow me this position. There is no pedestal of perfection on which I sit. But still, I judged.
“That’s a lot of junk food in that shopping cart.”
“Her kids get sick too much.”
“She’s not going back to work? Her child is not going to be as well-adjusted as a kid who goes to daycare.”
As I write these, all of which have crossed my mind at one point or another, I recognize how snitty, shallow and self-serving they sound.
The truth is, I don’t know if I am doing this whole mom thing “right”. I have nagging doubts about myself and the life I am providing the two people I am responsible for raising. Who I am as a mother feels much more the product of circumstances than the result of deliberate choices, and my response has been to deflect my uncertainty by scrutinizing others instead of myself. I feel angry. I feel powerless. Instead of acknowledging my feelings and dealing with them, I have justified my existence by critiquing the situation of others and trying to position my circumstances as superior.
“It’s great that I have to work; I’m setting a great example for my kids. Moms who stay home aren’t.”
“Daycare is fantastic for social development. Kids who don’t go to daycare are missing out.”
“Organic, homemade food is so much better and my kids are healthier.”
In an attempt to talk myself into my own life, I needed to dismantle the world around me. I thought I could somehow appreciate my situation if I convinced myself it was better than other alternatives. And my means of a pep talk was to paint my world as better. Except that the world is not this black and white. I know no mother who deliberately makes bad choices for her child. We all want to do right by our children and we are doing our best under our own very unique circumstances.
One day, I felt what it was like to sit in the seat of undeserved condemnation. A coworker made a judgmental comment on a decision I made for one of my children. I was stung, but more than that, I wanted to justify myself. I swallowed the knee-jerk decision to say, “You don’t know what my life is like. If you were in my shoes, you’d do the same thing.”
It’s never a fun moment to realize your ugliness. To stand before yourself and not like what you see reflecting back. I found myself in this position. Stressed out and unhappy; no matter how many judgments I passed, I couldn’t understand why I still felt so lost.
But there it was. The moment I realized that no one is doing it best; that we’re all just trying to do our best. My parenting decisions are the result of my complex life and all the mothers I felt the need to judge were simply living out the complexity of their lives. We cannot walk a mile in another shoes. But we can learn to appreciate that those shoes are likely as heavy as our own.
Motherhood is hard. I think all mothers understand that. We all understand the crushing frustration that goes with a role that doesn’t have one formula for success. There is trial and error. There is a lot of making the best out of a bad situation. There are humbling mistakes. And judgment makes nothing better, to that I can testify.
Now, when I catch myself reverting to passing judgment on a situation I know nothing about, I try to instead ask myself “I wonder what she’s going through?” Because we’re all going through something. What we all deserve as mothers is to receive validation that we’re doing the best we can and our best is all we can do. And it’s enough.