Years ago, the first time I dropped Finn off at 2-year-old preschool at the Y, he happily walked right in and turned his back on me, focusing on the trains and cars to play with. I stayed for a little while, keeping to myself because I didn't know any of the other moms, and then I got in my car and waited till I pulled out of the parking lot to cry. I didn't want to be "that mom." The one who cried when they dropped their child off at 2-year-old preschool (the preschool class that was only an hour and 15 minutes). I don't know why I was embarrassed about being emotional about dropping him off, but I was, and I was sure to keep it to myself.
This happened a few more times, but it became helped along more by other people too. Once, on vacation, Finn's great aunt was about to feed him a bunch of whole grapes. He had just turned 1, and I was pretty sure that whole grapes were a no-no for a child who was just learning how to eat real food. I spotted the grapes and beelined for the kitchen, trying very hard to not come across as an overprotective parent as I explained that I felt he was a little young for whole grapes, especially a whole bunch on a plate put in front of him. His great aunt acquiesced, somewhat reluctantly, and that afternoon I earned myself the "overprotective mom" label, even though I was pretty sure I was in the right. And even though I thought I was right, it still stung a little bit. It still sort of knocked my confidence as a parent just a little bit. Maybe I was too uptight? Maybe I should relax a little?
I think part of the trickiness with parenting is that there are so many different ways to parent, and every one is so different. There are cultural differences that come into play as well, how you were raised, where you were raised. It also comes down to knowledge, and experience. Let's face it, if you are a first time mom, chances are there are things you might not know yet that a mom of older kids might know. That's not a knock at new moms, that's just the truth. That being said, in our era of insta-knowledge and hyper awareness with parenting, a lot of parenting ideas and techniques can seem "outdated." Like Finn's great aunt. Guess what? She probably fed her kids whole grapes with no problems at all. And they also drove the kids around with no car seats. Were they "wrong"? No, not really. They were doing what they thought was best, and although we may "know better" now, that doesn't really make them wrong. So you've got that generational minefield to navigate as well.
When I was a new mom, there were so many things I didn't know. Which bottles to use, which breast pump was the best one, how to swaddle, when to start solids, so many things. And I constantly worried about stuff. Like whether Finn was too hot in his crib at night, I literally worried about that all the time. Like every night. Did I dress him warmly enough? Is he too warm? I was totally, 100 percent paranoid about SIDS. I would sneak in to check on him (even though we had a video monitor) to make sure he was breathing. It was just on my mind constantly. With Jack, however, we never even put the monitor up. Into his crib he went, and he now even sleeps with a little baby sized duvet in his crib. Something I would never have done with Finn. Which one is "right"? Both. Because I felt comfortable doing both at the time. So there.
Not too long ago, at a playground, I noticed myself doing something rather strange. Jack was happily playing on a rather low, toddler friendly piece of playground equipment, and I sat down and took my eyes off of him, just for a minute (maybe a few minutes) and I checked my email because I was expecting an important work email. And, the thing is, I want him to go explore, to be on his own, to not have me hovering over him, arms outstretched, in case he falls. If he falls, I want him to get back up, on his own, and try it again. Or not try it again. Maybe he will learn his lesson that way and won't do that particular move again. But I want him to make those little decisions. The strange thing was, I found myself getting up and walking over to him because I felt like that was what was expected of me. Here we were on the playground, and I was supposed to be monitoring him. That was the drill. Because I was afraid of other moms judging me. I was afraid they would be like "Look at this woman who is letting her toddler just run all over the place." Why did I think that? Because I had done that myself. I had thought those thoughts myself. I was that mom. The judgmental mom. I didn't want to be. In that instance though, I changed my mind. I walked way far away from Jack. I looked at my phone again (Yes I did and no, I don't feel bad about that). If other moms thought I was being neglectful, so be it. That's the way I parent. I'm a free-ranger (if you need a "label"). There, I said it.
So, why do some of us do this "comparative parenting"? In part, I think it's a way for us to justify our own choices ("Well she isn't breastfeeding either, so it's not just me"). Also, it's a way to make ourselves feel better about our choices, the judgment actually bolsters our own level of parenting. Maybe you see a mom feeding her kids fast food french fries (done that, tons of times) and you judge her. Maybe it makes you feel better that you don't give your kids french fries, you only feed them organic. That's great that you make your own choices, but maybe leave the judgment out? Maybe you have a friend that co-sleeps with all of her children and you think that is crazy and you happily put your own kids in separate beds in separate rooms. Whatever. It's all good.
Look at how our popular culture judges celebrity moms. Suri Cruise still drinks from a bottle! Brad Pitt's daughter still has a pacifier! (Ed note: I think they have both kicked those habits as of today.) Posh Spice had four C-sections! Holy moly! The real question is, why do we care? Why would it matter? Oh that's right, because we can feel self-righteous about our own parenting. "Well, Angelina was feeding her kids Cheetos, gross," says self-righteous mom as she hands over some Annie's organic cheddar bunnies to her own child.
To expound on that idea, I also don't care (read: DO. NOT. CARE.) what your thoughts are on my C-section (I had three!), what I feed my children (some of them had formula, yes they did), or where/how they sleep. It's none of your business. Don't want a C-section? Don't get one! Don't like formula? Don't feed it to your kids. But keep your judgment away from me and my children. It doesn't help anyone, it only serves to make other people feel insecure. We all have access to the information, and we all make our own decisions, so there is no need to "educate" people about any of these choices. There just isn't. (Also, the mom who told me I "didn't really experience childbirth" because I had C-sections? Screw you and your judgment). But on the other hand, you know what? If you're excited about something, like cloth diapering, or you are amped about how long you have managed to breastfeed? That's great! That is awesome! Go ahead and share that stuff, and other moms? Those things don't need to be a knock against you, even though they can feel that way. Just 'cause a mom wants to tell you about how much she loves making her own baby food, that really doesn't have anything to do with you or your choices. You feel me?
My suggestion is to switch the focus from other moms, and what other moms are doing, to your own kids. Are your kids happy and healthy being co-sleeping french fry eaters? Awesome! Do they seem well adjusted and content as bottle fed vegans? Fabulous. Be whatever mom you want to be, just don't be that mom who judges other moms to make themselves feel better. Cause you know what? It's okay if you post photos of your kids on Facebook, and it's okay if you don't because you think it's a privacy issue. It's totally fine if you want to scroll through your Instagram feed while your kid is on the playground, and it's also fine if you fully unplug during kiddo time. And before you claim to never be judgmental, just think about it for a minute. We all do it, on some scale, and I think everyone could use at least a few moments of contemplation on cutting back on the mommy judgment.
Also, I'm pretty over seeing those mommy blog posts designed to make us feel crappy. The most offensive lately being the one that chastises you for looking at your phone when you're around your kids because guess what? Your precious child could be doing something amazing right that second and you are on your phone you horrible mom. Screw that. How about the one that makes people feel like they are borderline stage parents for sharing photos of their kids on social media (hi, guilty of that here, obviously)? I don't need that. You know why I don't? I'm an adult. And I make my own choices about how I will parent. I am an empowered parent now, in fact. I'm going to do my thing and you do yours and I swear I will never, ever make any of you feel bad for any of your choices. If I do, please call me out on it.