The other day at the park I overheard two moms talking about another mom they both knew. They were talking about that mother’s decision to try the “cry-it-out method” to help her child sleep: “She’s crazy.” “I would never do that to my baby.” “It just seems too awful.” Even though the mother-on-trial wasn’t there, I felt a pang of empathy for her. Her friends’ judgments were anything but supportive. I imagined a mother at the end of her rope, exhausted from lack of sleep, maybe at odds with her partner due to the nighttime stress. She probably feels pretty alone and frazzled and scared she is making the wrong decision. She has probably fretted and worried and changed her mind about how to parent her little one and finally committed to a certain method. A method that at least two of her friends disagree with.
I wondered where that left her. Where does that leave any of us?
As parents we enter into a world that no one can really prepare us for. Even though millions have forged the road ahead of us, we still feel as if we are inventing the wheel, each step can feel new and awkward, scary and difficult. We constantly question ourselves. Are we doing it right? Are we messing everything up? We are our own worst critic. We judge ourselves constantly.
And who do we turn to for solace, refuge, support? Our friends. Other moms who share our common experience. Others who are where we are or who have been where we are now. Women. Mothers. Sisters. Friends. They should be our closest allies. We should be able to wrap ourselves in the warmth of our commonality and feel comforted knowing we are not alone. We should be able to tell our “sisters” all of our worries, all the things we fear we are doing wrong, all the things we judge ourselves so harshly for.
But, we don’t. Why? We fear judgment from them.
And, sadly, I wonder if our fears are often justified.
I know it’s an amazingly blatant generalization, but I have to say it anyway. Women seem to be almost as judgmental of other women as we are of ourselves. Maybe it makes us feel better, more competent in our own parenting to be able to judge others. Maybe it’s just habit. Maybe our judgments are really just reflections of our own worries.
Whatever it is, one thing is for sure. It keeps lots of us from really giving or receiving the support we need from our “sisters.” And during this amazing stage of life called mothering, we may need our sisters more than ever.
So what can we do about it? How can we change our Mama Circles from being a Jury of Our Peers to a Sisterhood of Support? I propose that a few new truths can make all the difference:
1) There is no “Right Way” to parent. Parenting strategies have to work for the child, the parent and the family. If they don’t, the strategy just won’t be effective. We have to be true to our own dynamics first rather than blindly following a theory or advice.
2) All kids are different, all parents are different, all families are different.
3) Parents are the only ones who can be an expert on their family.
4) As parents, we all have things we will do “right” and things we will do “wrong.” In that way, all sisters are equal.
5) Parenting is like a Monet painting. It’s the accumulation of a million decision points parents make over the years that create the painting. One individual dot probably won’t make or break us. We agonize over the dots instead of working toward the bigger picture. Sisters can help bring us back to the bigger picture rather than adding critique to the dot.
6) And maybe the most universal and important truth. If you’re a mother, no matter what pain, fear, anxiety or regret is being expressed by your “sister,” you have probably been there. If not, then you will be soon. Listen with empathy.
As women, let’s ban together. Let’s commit to loving each other, supporting each other and helping each other thrive as mothers. Let’s adopt the mantra “I’m with ya, Sister!” and really mean it. Let’s let go of the judgments and give each other what we really want in return: Pure, unadulterated support with no strings attached from the only people who can really understand how we feel. Our sisters.