Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just Say No To Mommy Guilt

I ran across this really funny cartoon in Sunday's Parade Magazine:

I know I am reprinting this cartoon without permission. Sorry, David Sipress. Sorry Parade magazine. If I ever make once cent off this blog I'll be sure to cut you a royalties check.

Anyway, I laughed out loud when I saw it. It was kind-of a sad little laugh, one that says, "Ah, so funny. But also so true."

To all the moms out there, how many times have you been accosted with unsolicited advice from know-it-all strangers about your mothering techniques? Me - too many times to count. I can still remember the first time it happened. I was at church with my 7-month old daughter. My first child. It was MAY. And, being the abusive type that I am, I decided to let her come to church without any socks or shoes. Well, you'd think I had brought her out in 30 degree temperatures in nothing but a diaper. All the ladies at church were all, "Oh my goodness! Where are her socks and shoes? She's going to get so cold! Babies should always wear socks and shoes!" Then they'd grab her tiny feet and rub them against their hands, like they were trying to warm them up. FOR GOD'S SAKE PEOPLE. IT WAS LIKE 85 DEGREES OUTSIDE!!! Not to mention that I had her in a pumpkin carrier with a blanket.

So, actually, that probably wasn't the very first time I got unwanted advice about how to be a better mother. I know my mom talked to me about giving Peppermint Patty formula, when all the "How To Be a Good Mother" books insist that I give her only breastmilk. The nurse at the hospital gave my baby a pacifier, much to my horrification, without asking me first. Because, you know, all the La Leche League people tell you that this will cause the baby to have nipple confusion.

Do I really need to go on? Anyone who is a mother knows that every new decision about parenting is agonizing. Once we've been down the path a few times and know what kind of terrain to expect, it's a bit easier. But the first time we have to make a decision about our kids, one that we're SURE will impact them forever, it's simply heart-wrenching.

This is why I get so very Very EXTREMELY frustrated with advertisers. Advertising, at its very core, is designed to manipulate consumers into believing that their product is the best. Or the best value. Or the most advanced in its class. Whatever. And, as an intelligent adult, I would say that I do a pretty good job deciding for myself if *I* really need the most high-tech dishwasher or the very best instant potatoes in its class. But, when it comes to making purchase decisions for our children, my brain just goes to mush.

I mean, is it even possible to put a price on how good is "good enough" for our children? Ultimately, don't we all want the absolute best products for our children? And, who decides what is the absolute best? I'd say that advertisers have a really good position in the market to convince mothers what they need to buy for their children in order to be the very best mommies.

I'm not going to say that all mothers are that insecure, that they need to be TOLD they're a good mother in order for them to believe it's true. But, honestly? How many mothers can really say that they get full satisfaction by being spit up on and by comforting a screaming child for 6 hours a day? Add to that a kid who hates every meal you make (unless it's toasting a Pop-Tart) and turns up his nose at the new shoes you just bought him. If Junior can't say, "Mom, you rock at this mothering gig!" then maybe the company who tells us, "You are providing the absolute best product for your child" will convince us that we should be up for mother of the year.

Oh, and by the way, the product that guarantees us a spot as "Mother of the Year" has a price. And it ain't cheap.

I have never felt like it was a competition with my fellow mothers around me. Well, maybe at the beginning I felt that way. But over time, I could care less if other mommies said that their kids were perfectly smart or mannerly or gifted. Usually they were just puffed up anyway. But I (still) can never get past the competition I have with myself. Am I doing a good enough job? Am I doing all I can to give my kids the very best? Could I be doing more? If I choose to do less, is that the most selfish choice of all, even if it means a mentally healthier me?

And, the strangest thing about all of this is that I can think of no other group of people that are more fierce than moms. Got a problem with the 2nd grade teacher at school? Did you get bad service at a store in town? Did a doctor keep you in the waiting room for too long? Trust me, you don't want to cross them (us). It only takes a few phone calls to start the grapevine buzzing, and before you know it, you are dancing a jig just to keep us happy.

But, tell us that our child could be killed in a car accident because we're driving a vehicle that DOES NOT have side-curtain airbags, and suddenly we're lying in bed awake at night, just waiting for the impending doom of the following day. Okay, maybe I'm the only one lying in bed awake at night, but you get my point. Do I love my child a little less because I don't hand-grind the baby food, instead opting to buy Gerber in the jars? It is an indication of my lack of concern for their well-being that my children get sugared cereal more often than getting plain Cheerios? And, speaking of sugar, every time I go to the dentist I think that *I* am more nervous than they are about how many cavities they get. It's like a little report card on "How well has your mommy been making you brush your teeth?"

Perfect example: last year my son Charlie Brown got a dental checkup, when he was 7 years old. The dentist told us that we should probably consult an orthodontist. "For what?" I asked. He told us, "For braces for his baby teeth." I was floored. I asked the dentist if that would guarantee he wouldn't need braces on his adult teeth. The dentist said, no, but he would probably need them for less time. I wrestled with that decision for weeks. YES it would probably be BEST for him to get braces in 2nd grade, if it meant better teeth in the future. Was it NECESSARY? No. Could we AFFORD it? Probably, but it would be tough. Could I TRUST what this dentist was saying? I didn't know. He didn't actually tell us to get the braces, but he told us to consult an orthodontist. Now, how many doctors are actually going to turn away a patient? I mean, putting braces on a kid's teeth means money earned for themselves, right? But I felt so weak. I felt at the mercy of people who claimed to know more than me. I thought that if I didn't follow the suggestions of "smarter" people, it would be tantamount to abuse or neglect.

I think we (mommies) should RISE UP! And QUIT FEELING GUILTY! AND QUIT ALLOWING OTHER PEOPLE TO MAKE US FEEL GUILTY! AND QUIT MAKING EACH OTHER FEEL GUILTY! So what if your carseat is Britax and mine is Graco? So what if your child eats organic and my child eats McDonalds? So what if your child wears Ralph Lauren and my child wears Garanimals?

I'm okay. You're okay. We're all just fine. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go buy some extra pillows and duct tape so I can make some minor adjustments to the interior sides of my minivan. It's the only way I'll get any sleep tonight.


Wendy said...

Oh. My. Gosh. The ladies at church rubbing your baby's feet? And the cartoon? Those sum up the last eight years of my experience with my MIL since having children. It's like having a super loud GNAT that just will NOT go away. Or at least just simmer down enough to actually enjoy your own grandchildren. Who are doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.

StaceyC4 said...

Oh, but it doesn't END when your child grows...you go through it all again when they are teens and then everyone AND their mother wants to tell you how badly you are parenting your teen!! Some people just need to learn to shut it once in a while and focus on their own darn parenting!

Buggys said...

Very well said and absolutely on point. Great post.

Gigi said...

Everyone seems to know how to parent your child; except you. We've all been on the receiving end of their "well-meaning" advice. I've learned to just blow them off.

Jennifer said...

I'm pretty good at blowing off what other people say. Mostly because I don't give a flying youknowwhat about their opinion. But kind of like you... oh I battle myself. Every day. Is this the right pre-k? Do they need a longer or shorter nap? Or these the best diapers? Oh no the baby slept in pee and I didn't even know? I make myself feel bad all the time. I question myself every day. But you know what makes me feel better, when Baby Girl wraps her little arms around my neck and tells me that I'm the best momma in the whole world and when I pick the Bud up in the morning and he pats me on the back to show me he loves me. THAT is when I know that I'm not doing that bad of a job.

Michelle said...

I'm saying no!

McVal said...

My MIL was a ministers wife and everyone at church gave her their 2 cents on how she should raise her children. She was and is such a Yes man that she did everything they said so she wouldn't hurt their feelings. My husband was just a small pale kid but at their request gave him liver shakes! YUCK! He remembers that to this day. They said he wasn't getting enough iron. hmmm.. My son looked EXACTLY like him at that age. I think it's genetic.

Vicki said...

Everyone is such a wonderful parent before they become one aren't they? So full of advice, and they know exactly how it should be done? Right. kiss it is what I have to say to them.

Foursons said...

When I was pregnant I was very sternly told that I was doing harm to my baby for drinking Diet orange soda. I got so mad. I went home and told my husband that there were women out there smoking crack while pregnant and that I didn't think my Diet orange soda was poison. Ugh- it still makes me mad.

And my kids don't even get the name brand food. They get the store brand of Cheerios, Doritos, and peanut butter.

Karen said...

You are so right that we need to let this unwanted advice go in one ear and out the other. I cannot think of when it would be necessary to give unwanted advice unless a child was in danger.

Just a question. I went up to a couple in a fast food restaurant and asked them if that was their car out there in the parking lot. I pointed and they said yes. I said, well, your dog is awfully hot with the windows rolled up. Just thought I'd let you know.

Should I have kept my mouth shut? They gave me such evil looks. It was in the 80's.

Karen said...

I mean the temperature was over eighty degrees. Not that I did this in 1980.

Cookie Crums said...

I think you nailed it when you said moms should support other moms. No one else knows what a mom endures except another mom. Support and build each other up not tear each other down.

I've always been totally confident in my decisions for my son. The whole "more expensive product is better" never was a big concern for me. The only thing I insisted on being "top of the line" was car seats....and that was only if it had 5 star ratings.

I'm having "mommy guilt" now regarding my son going to preschool. He just turned 2 and it is not going well. He cries most of the time. We're trying different things but man oh man...it's killing me knowing he is so unhappy!!

Lora said...

Very well spoken...I'm not a mom (and don't give unsolicited advice to moms around me!) but I have friends who have dealt with this frustration!

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

Hey Karen
I can't reply to you in email and I can't find your profile on Blogger, so here goes my response:

No, I think the dog comment was okay.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a resale shop with a kids' toy area, and I was in the very next department, about 10 feet away. About every 2 minutes (literally) I would check on my daughter - 23 months - to make sure she was still THERE and still PLAYING. A guy came up to me and told me that I was making him nervous leaving her unwatched like that and could i please stop it because anyone could walk off with her.

Maybe he didn't know I was checking on her. Maybe he's lost a child in the past. Maybe he's just a busy-body. But when he said it, I wanted to say, "Well, okay, why don't YOU watch my daughter and I can have some time alone? Hmm? That would make me DELIGHTED and make you feel better, K?" It pissed me off. Then I thought, "He's just concerned, I shouldn't be so defensive."

My initial reaction was to get pissy because someone was telling me what I was doing was wrong. Then my secondary reaction was to just relax. Maybe that's how your dog people felt? If they got stuck at pissy, then I hope their dog is still okay!

Emily said...

I totally hear you. Unsolicited advice is a HUGE problem. And I have commented numerous times before that I could never be in sales...there are too few products (if any) that I actually believe in enough to try and sell them to others

askcherlock said...

Wonderful thoughts! I wish I had heard them when I was raising my kids. Here I thought "guilt" was built into the mommy job description. Well, my kids lead me to believe that, anyway. Spoiled rotten, they are, but very lovable.

Anonymous said...

I am so with you on this! And I can relate to the ortho suggestion. Our pediatric dentist (at the time) recommended that my daughter get braces at a very early age (9 yrs. old) "so she could avoid having them during those awkward teen years" was his response. I talked with MY dentist about that and she laughed. She said that getting them that young is practically a guarantee that she'll need them again in her twenties. Needless to say, we switched to another pediatric dentist.

Trooper Thorn said...

I've always found it odd that moms are the defacto experts on all things related to children and especially babies. Whatever health and safety standards the mom establishes (no matter how unreasonable), those become the rule.

Anna See said...

Love, love, love this! Moms rock!

Cracked up about the dentist part. When neither kid had cavities, I was thinking it was all about me. If they had gotten cavities, it would have been about what bad brushers they are. :)

jen said...

thank you so much for posting this. We all know our silly internal competition with ourselves is well, just plain silly. We cannot seem to give ourselves a break, though. One thing I have learned is to avoid the "oh just wait until..." moms. The ones who are always telling you, for example, 2 year old tantrums are nothing. Just wait until they are 3. At 3 they tell you to wait until they are 4 and etc., etc., etc. That aggravates me. Oh and the socks or coat thing on the baby. I'm sorry, my little one was born at the end of July here in Tejas...if I could get away with going barefoot during those months, I would! LOL

Karen said...

Thanks for your answer to my question. I can still see the guys face in response to me telling him about his dog. If looks could've killed I'd be six feet under! LOL


Unknown Mami said...

That Mommy guilt is hard to shake. I try, but it sticks.

Love the cartoon. It's perfect.

Living It, Loving It said...

You have said it all!

misssrobin said...

I'm feelin' ya on this post. Been there, done that.

Why does it take so much experience before we have any confidence? Before we can tell the difference between the little things and the big things? Before we know what's important and what's not?

Maybe that's why all the little old ladies tell you everything you're doing wrong. They didn't really get it figured out until their kids were grown so they have to feel like they are getting to use the knowledge somehow. Might as well dump it on you.

I don't know much about you, but I do know this. You are doing a good job! You are a good mom! How do I know? Because you care enough to ask if you are. Because you keep trying.