Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Why do we compare ourselves?
I don't think we can help it. Moms compare themselves and their parenting techniques all the time. Sometimes I think we even do it without realizing it. I know I hold my head high when I announce that I'm still breastfeeding my son even though he's nearly two, but I just kind of nod and say that I wish I could afford that or had known back then when another mom says her kid never plays with plastic toys or never used a baby bottle with BPA in it.
So, since I'm going to be trying for another baby soon, I've been visiting some forums written by lactating women who are also trying to conceive. The post that really made me feel selfish was from a woman who still hasn't gotten a regular period back even though her daughter is 2 1/2. So, to improve her chances of getting pregnant, she's cutting her daughter back on nursing. Instead of letting her nurse every two hours around the clock, she's night weaning her so that her last nurse is when she falls asleep and then she can nurse again after the sun comes up. Around the clock? No, I night-weaned my son at about a year old. I just couldn't take 8 nursings a night. I was exhausted. So, to think someone else just put up with this for about two and a half years makes me feel a bit self-centered. I love my baby, but I just had to sleep. It was affecting everything I did.
And that's what I know other moms nod their heads and judge you on. It's those little excuses. It was just too hard. I didn't have time. I needed more "me" time. I love my baby but I just couldn't handle it anymore. He/she wasn't responsive to it. I hate that we're so judgmental and I really hate that I'm a part of that judgmental culture within mommydom. I want to just hug and understand why another mom chose to go a different way than I did, but I just can't help thinking about the sacrifices I made for my baby and how I know that it's worth it to give up x, y, and z to make sure my baby is happier, healthier, more well-adjusted, more attached to his parents, etc. I think we as mothers want affirmation for our sacrifices. We want to know that it's worth it, even though there are no guarantees. And since we can't possibly know for sure that little Johnny won't have allergies because he was breastfed until two, or that Emily will be more independent because she coslept with her parents and left the family bed when she felt ready, we want other moms to sacrifice with us, or at least acknowledge that what we've done is worth trying. A dismissive shrug and an excuse makes us feel like we've been judged silly or masochistic for putting forth any effort.
What's worse is that, even with everything we try to do to make our kids' childhoods the best we can, we still beat ourselves up for everything we can't seem to do or get right. I know I feel bad whenever someone tells me that their kid uses sign language, which I desperately tried to get my son to pick up. My infant son actually rolled his eyes at me once when I signed at him and tried to get his hands to make the same motion. I think I remember crying that day. It was awful. I didn't officially give up, but I just signed less and less until I finally stopped doing it at all. I tried, I really did...but I know that if I had succeeded I wouldn't have understood when another mom told me she just couldn't get her kid to respond to it. Why do we as moms do this to each other? We know how hard it is, and we know how badly we want to be perfect and do what's best for our kids, and yet we beat up on each other and then ourselves afterwards. It's almost like we see what other moms are doing wrong, and we know we're better that that, but then when we see another mother who is doing something better than we have, we just can't bring ourselves to look at the big picture and take into account those things that she has let slide or doesn't consider important. We just wonder why we can't add that one thing to our parenting repertoire, even though our plates are full.
For anyone who watches 18 Kids and Counting (formerly 17 Kids and Counting) on TLC and Discovery Health Channel, the Duggar mom brings about these feelings in spades. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's probably damaging for moms to watch this show (but I'm addicted, so I'll continue anyway.) She never raises her voice or loses her temper, and she is definitely of the opinion that there is no such thing as too many kids. The Duggars belong to the Quiverful movement, which is a Christian movement that believes that God should control the size of your family. On the Montel Williams Show, she actually said, "I think saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers." All her children are homeschooled, given violin and piano lessons from the time they can speak, and are raised without TV or video games. Most importantly, she never seems to let the pressure of parenting get to her. All on its own, she looks like supermom and makes the rest of feel miserably inferior and like pathetic examples of motherhood in comparison. I would love to add these elements to my own parenting methods. But I would never want to segregate my children from society with a super fundamentalist Christian homeschool curriculum. Her children are never allowed to watch TV or movies unless they are specifically approved by fundy mommy and daddy. The only music they can listen to is gospel or other Christian music, but even Christian rock is too risque for the Duggars. Oh, and no dancing either. That might make the men in the room think of sex, which is a big no-no. They rarely venture out into the real world, and when they do, they do it in packs to help keep each other thinking of Godly ways. They actually have a code word ("nike") to yell out to the boys if a nearby woman is showing too much skin (as in no sleeves or a skirt above the knees.) When they hear "nike," all the Duggar boys look at the ground, averting their eyes until they hear the "all clear." Abstinence only education is just the beginning here. No, they are expected to save their first kiss for their wedding day. They don't even date. A sort of weird, Christian arranged-marriage system is in place. They call it courtship, but becoming engaged to someone before you even hug or hold hands sounds like an arranged marriage to me. The oldest Duggar boy just got married on the show, and it was the lamest wedding I think I've ever hear of. No music, no dancing, no booze. You have to have at least one of those. I mean, come on! And, to top it all off, Michelle Duggar, the great matriarch, doesn't even really raise her kids anymore. Oh, she raised the first six or so. But now she assigns the new baby to one of his or her older siblings after he or she is weaned and then the sibling takes over raising them, for the most part. The older kids do most of the house cleaning, teach the younger kids a lot of their lessons, feed them, clean them and just generally keep them out of their parents' hair. Seriously, it's like Michelle gave birth to a group of nannies first, and then kids second.
Anyway, taking everything into account and looking at the big picture, I think I'm a better mom than Michelle Duggar. My kids will enter the real world with open eyes. If my kid was gay, I think he/she would know that they could tell their parents and be fully accepted without reserve. My kids are taught that the joys in life have nothing to do with an invisible man in the sky, and that sex is not a dirty or shameful thing. I will have a personal relationship with each and every one of my kids, and we will have enough resources to send them to college or help them on their way to the best life we can. Yeah, I yell and lose my temper. I may not be able to homeschool as I would prefer, and my kids will probably fall into the category of children who watched a little too much TV growing up, but they will not be cloistered in Jesus-dreamland and brought up to not understand why the rest of the world can't be just like them. I just hope I can raise them to be less judgmental than their mom.