With it being Mother's Day and all this past weekend, and finding out that my friend in Key West is pregnant with their first, I've had lots of time and reason to reflect on motherhood recently.
I've come to a startling observation. Why, at least for me, does it mean more to hear one of my female friends, especially those who are moms of kids older than mine, tell me I'm a good mom, than to hear it from my own mom or husband? I love them all. Their opinion matters, especially Gak's, because, well, to put it bluntly, he's got just as much say in how our son is raised as I do. (More so in some ways because he gets to spend more time with Boo.)
So, why does it mean more to hear Kat or Joan, or a friend from my crochet board or a female coworker tell me I'm a good mom? Even if it's with a silly/sweet/sentimental chain email. Maybe it's because I expect to hear these things from my husband and my own mother. I know, that sounds a little weird, but I've always known that my mom believes in me and my abilities. I don't have to "prove" myself to her. I know there are lots of women out there who would just fall over if they ever got a positive word from either their husband or mother. I know I left my mother-in-law off this list of people. That can be such a tricky subject. Don't get me wrong, I think I have a pretty good relationship with Gak's mom, but I guess I just don't feel like I have to "prove" myself to her either. Maybe it's be just being too strong-willed and independent for my own good, who knows.
Maybe getting recognition as being a "good mom" from someone who barely knows me (obviously not Kat or Joan who sometimes know me better than I know myself...) means more because they don't see the whole picture, they don't know all my secrets or anything, but only see my parenting through this blog, through things I post on other boards or just seeing me and my family for a brief bit of time at a store or when we go out to eat.
Of course, this brings me to a whole new question, of why is it so important that we feel validated by others in our parenting styles? Why is it that we seek approval of others for our decisions in this matter? Does it go back to some deep rooted holdover from our ancient history as hunter/gatherers and tribal living? Somehow, I think that's a bit of a romantic idea. Is it because being a mother is the most important job I have right now and that, like with any job or task, there is a need to know you're doing it well? Is it because we want to know that we're not horribly messing up our child or children's future(s)? I'm sure there is someone out there who will say that it's our "need" as women to be affirmed and our inherently low self-esteem. Yeah, OK. I don't believe that. As much as I value my husband's opinion, I do not need the approval of any man (well, maybe my father's) to feel complete and competent. Maybe it's because I've always had my dad's approval and support from day one, but I'm just not seeing that.
Motherhood is such a different journey for every woman on the path. Even just getting onto that path is different for every woman. Some are thrust there unwillingly or unwittingly. Some have the struggle of a lifetime just to find the path, let alone stay on it no matter how much they want to. For others finding the path and getting on it is no big challenge. There are many twists and turns and forks on this path, and as parents we can only choose the path that we think is right for us and our family. I know in our case, Gak plays a vital role in the decision making of the path we go down whether he realizes it or not, and I know I don't tell him that often enough. In our case, that's the right way, the way it needs to be. Not every parent has a partner to help find the path, due to many, many factors. Those are the parents I feel for. Having someone even just to listen to my hair-brained ideas and point out why they would or would not work, is invaluable. There are so many choices to make, big and small. Breastfeeding, formula feeding or a combination? Co-sleeping, bassinet, crib or something else? Vaccinate or not? Public school, home school or private school? Big day care or nanny or small center or one parent stay at home? Blue socks or red? Apples or bananas? In the end, we can only do what we can do.
In the end, it really shouldn't matter what our friends, family or especially strangers think about our parenting. In the end what matters is if your child or children are happy, healthy and getting the most out of life? And even that's a pretty subjective thing.
Which, I guess brings me to another thought. Why is there so much guilt in parenting? In the past I steered away from parenting boards and the like. I remember when pregnant ranting about a few of them from time to time. I have since found one that, for the most part, I enjoy reading and posting on. I skip the threads where it seems like they only exist to stir up trouble or force ideas down peoples throats. I try and be supportive where I can and quiet or polite or informative where I can't. (Trust me, there have been many, many replies to things that have been typed and promptly deleted...) So, why should I feel guilty that I have to work outside the house? Why should I feel guilty that I took time to pump at work so my son could continue to get the breast milk I strongly believe that was the best option for him? (That comes from many directions.) Why should I feel guilty that my son is in a small day care center, not somewhere like Goddard with it's uber educational program or a sitter who's only watching a few kids? Why should I feel guilty that I don't force my son to eat things and fight that fight every meal of every day? Or that I turned him front facing at 15 months when he was well over the 1 year and 20 lb minimum required by law? Why should I get grief that I vaccinate my son on the pediatricians schedule instead of some slower schedule or not at all? These are all decisions I made, more often than not with the input, advice and support of my husband and father of our son. In each case we've made the decisions that have seemed best for our family. Would I do things differently? In some cases, possibly, hind-sight being what it is.
I think we should just be able to support each other on this long hard road that we're all traveling. Parenthood is not easy. Everyone does the best they can with the information they have at the time. That's all we can ask.
Anyhow, I just wanted to say that... although, I'm not sure I made any real sense or just made it all the more muddy. I wish all the parents on this child-raising journey much luck, much love and happy kids. And yes, I spent most of my time talking about mothers, not because fathers don't have to deal with these issues, but because well, I'm a mom so I see that a little more intimately than what dad's go through and well... our society treats dads different in general. (That's a whole other topic and one I don't really have time to get into right now, and am not so sure I should at the moment anyhow...)
Peace to you all, parents and not, and the next time you see a mom or a dad having "a day", smile at them and tell them they're doing a fine job. It may just make their week.