Saturday, May 28, 2011

Talking without Judgement

I think I've figured out why moms spend so much time being offended by each other. See, you only have to get a couple of moms together for about five minutes before someone has made a comment about the way they raise their kids and why they think it's right. And, of course, someone else in the room feels the exact opposite about that particular item of interest and immediately feels slighted. Maligned. Offended. It happens without fail, and I have found the root of the matter.

See, there's a lot of gray in parenting. Sure, some things are very black and white. You must feed the kid, that's non-negotiable. Sleep is probably a given. Beatings, bad. Hugs, good. These things are very basic stuff and pretty well agreed upon, which is why we have a bunch of laws around them. Go figure.

But the gray area is enormous. TV - yes or no? How much? What can they watch? At which age can they watch it? Video games - same stuff. Rough-housing - how much do you let them get away with it? Do the kids settle their own fights or do you step in? Time outs? Vaccinations? Food? There's a lot of stuff that's wide open to interpretation. So when you get moms together you will, inevitably, find points in the gray zone where people differ and its totally OK. Let me repeat that... it's OKAY to do things your own way. Only a total nut-job would tell you that you are abusive if you breast feed for only the first month, or not at all. Only a total whacko would accuse you of being a bad parent for giving your kid soda. They might disagree about it, but they would have to admit that no one should be taking your kid away and putting them in foster care for such things.

Yet, when we all get together and talk about being moms, we assume that's what dissent means. WTF moms? Why are we tearing each other apart over differences??

Because it's important, and it's personal. Raising our kids is damned important, and we spend every day of our mommy lives feeling a gnawing anxiety about whether we are doing it "right". Every mom is scared, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she's screwing something up. Maybe not all the time, but we all have moments where we wonder. We wonder if the pacifier is messing up her teeth. We wonder if he'll be overweight. We wonder if he'll be a bully (since he feels the need to tackle everyone he meets) and we are scared she'll get picked on, since she's so quiet and shy. We're afraid we passed on genetic land mines that will pop up in high school to make life miserable. Most of all, we wonder about how our parenting style and our decisions will impact our kids for life (picking a school makes me break out in hives.) We're scared, and we should be, because we know how big a deal this is. But we're moms, so we feel like we have to know everything. Shoot, if we admit how lost we are then why should we be allowed to keep these kids, right? Moms are supposed to KNOW what to do. KNOW what's right and wrong. KNOW how to raise these kids up to be straight A sports stars who don't date until 20 and go to college and become sensitive CEOs who donate their money and volunteer their time and love their families. We're the ones who are supposed to make this happen, and we're supposed to just instinctively know how. No wonder we're stressed about out parenting style!

And at the same time, it's deeply personal. Our kids are a reflection of us. They become our successes, our failures. Most moms have a healthy attitude about this, but you can see it taken too far. Think of Botox mom... you wanna tell me her obsession with her daughter being perfect has nothing to do with her own personal appearance? Our identity gets wrapped up in our kids, and any perceived judgement of our parenting becomes a judgement of ourselves.

Ladies, when do we get to cut the crap? Can we all just make a deal? Let's agree on a few things.

1 - Our kids are not a reflection of us. See, if they were, that would imply they have no personality of their own. Bull. They are little people, with personalities all their own. That doesn't mean we throw our hands up and let whatever will be, be. But it does mean that I can take my own issues out of the equation.

2 - Let's all admit to the gray area. There's no single "right way" to raise a kid. There's no magic formula of the prefect amount of TV time and the perfect amount of soda and candy and discipline and hugs... there's a million ways to raise a kid without screwing him or her up.

3 - Our decisions are equally valid and made from the same place. We're all just doing the best we can out of love for our kids. And if that's what you're doing, then you're "doing it right." End of story.

I love conversations with other moms where we all just kvetch and cry and share and whine and laugh and then maybe even learn a bit from each other. Maybe we rib each other for being that "earthy hippy mom" or "the uptight mom" or "the chillaxed mom." And then we all walk away not feeling offended or angry or hurt or - worst of all - judged. Perhaps we can all walk away feeling like we're in good company, even if not in the company of clones.

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