|Image c/o Vallery|
It's too common that new mothers become isolated. Every avenue to connection with other mom's seems lined with countless eggshells. Parenting has become such a personal ordeal, such a catalyst for further segregation (as if we need any more of that in our world). It's cliché to say "why can't we all get along?" but really, that's a yearning that I think is pretty universal out there right now. Over the first couple months, though I did notice that lack of a community, I attributed it to my own exhaustion, to the fact that I was now a stay-at-home mom, even to may age since it seems like the majority of this generation is waiting longer and longer to have babies... but something didn't fit. There was more to this new social dynamic of motherhood than just my own standoffishness.
The problem? Well, we live in the information age and with so many options out there in parenting styles (with barely any ways to objectively measure the outcomes of each method) it's hard enough to make a decision in the first place, then to stick to it... So when we run into someone who does it different our natural reaction is defensiveness, or even offensiveness for some. I feel that it's partly due to the fact that in the back of our minds we can't help but wonder now and then if we're choosing the best path out of the sea of good options, and being confronted with other people's choices puts an uncomfortable spotlight on our own. I am guilty of this. Assuming that the simple statement of another is an intended put down, a slight against me. I often have to remind myself to make the choice to not be offended, to not assume. I also tend to feel awkward about discussing the parenting methods my husband and I have chosen for fear of offending others. I see that look in the eyes of other parents, ones who went straight to formula, when I tell them the ridiculous extremes I went to in my breastfeeding attempts... that glimmer of defensiveness... and oftentimes they don't have to say anything at all, they are perfectly accepting and gracious, but I recognized that moment of self doubt in their eyes and I felt their pain. I've felt that overwhelming sense of responsibility bearing down on me too... I've run into parents who seem to have it all together and felt small and insignificant in their shadow, so even the possibility of someone feeling like that because of something I said is terrifying. So terrifying that I would rather not talk about it at all.
But is not sharing really the only answer to this discomfort? I think that maybe, just maybe, the problem itself, the rapidly growing isolation of mothers from one another the loss of the concept of a community raising a child, stemmed from too many individuals choosing that path over time. The path of least resistance. Choosing to hold it all in and keep their parenting practices private instead of risking the discomfort it would take to break through those initial barriers and truly connect. Like I said before, I am one of those parents. But I don't want to be any more.
So where do we go from here? How do we as individuals start a movement, and create some real change in this realm of our existence? I am no expert, believe me... but I do have a few ideas that may be worth trying. At the very least they aren't likely to make things worse:
- Know why we believe what we believe in terms of parenting. It's easy to get offensive or defensive (depending on our own personality) when confronted with someone who does it different if we're not sure of our own choices. So be sure, or as sure as you can be. And remind yourself often that being the perfect parent is impossible and you are doing the absolute best that you know how to do with the resources you have available to you.
- Choose not to be offended. This one is hard.... really, really hard. But honestly it's a skill that's built over time, like a muscle when flexed regularly. Don't believe me? Give it a try! You may not be able to control your initial reaction but you can decide to think positive when you notice you are milking an emotional wound. Over time you will notice you get offended less and less, opting to give people the benefit of the doubt more and more.
- Don't brag. This one sounds obvious but most of us don't realize when we're doing it... and don't intend to for that matter. Bragging, or story-topping, makes people uncomfortable and does not encourage further sharing on their part, unless it's to one-up you... a cycle which, once started can only snowball downhill, and fast.
- Let others be wrong. Unsolicited advice is never well received. If you feel something they are doing is a unhealthy or simply not the best choice the best way to help is to be a living example. An accepting, approving, and appreciating example. Obviously the exception to this rule is if they are endangering or abusing their child.
- Ask for help and advice when needed. If there is some area of parenting that we feel we are weak in it is best to surround ourselves with other parents who have success in that area and follow their lead. Watch, listen and learn their thought processes behind their decision making.
- Keep in mind the bigger picture. Any given parenting practice can be labeled as absolutely right or absolutely wrong when looking at that individual component of the whole, but it's the whole that matters and when interacting with other parents it's rare to know all the outside factors that went into any given decision. Assume the best of people.
I have had to make many decisions in the first few months of parenting that I didn't want to make, choose the good path over the great path in specific areas because sometimes taking the best path on one issue means sacrificing the best path in the bigger picture of your life, and the lives of your children. It's easier to make decisions when you compartmentalize... cloth diapers vs. disposable, breast vs. bottle, but we often don't realize when we approach decisions this way that one compartment affects the other and each piece affects the whole. Just as we often judge other people on their actions and judge ourselves based on our intentions, we also tend to judge other people, other mothers, based on the compartments. Based on the pros and cons of that specific issue.
It is my personal belief that if we as mothers get out of our comfort zones and push passed these human idiosyncrasies of ours we can greatly impact the next generation and how they view relationships. We can compensate for each others weaknesses. We can lead more fulfilling lives ourselves and by doing so set a better example for our children. How will they learn to connect with others if we put up walls around ourselves?
This is me reaching out, well a first step anyway... So to all you other moms out there: Hi, I'm Cat, a new mom to a nearly 6 month old baby boy and I would like to be your friend!