This morning, I pulled myself out of bed 35 minutes after my alarm went off, exhausted, because my son is learning to share so this week and he decided to share his cold with me. I took a two minute and 30 second shower, passed the cute skirt and cardigan outfit I had laid out for myself and put on a pair of pants I hate because I didn’t have time to shave my legs (for the third day in a row). I rubbed some cancer causing baby powder in my unwashed hair, dug through a make-up bag of disappointing products I bought on sale at the drugstore after studying one or more of the Kardashian-Jenners’ Instagram feeds, and pulled out a tube of mascara and swept it across my lashes. I got my 2 year old out of bed, dressed, and off to daycare. My morning routine took 27 minutes from start to finish. It helps that my husband makes the kid breakfast before he leaves for the day. My breakfast comes in the form of fruit and a 100 calorie yogurt I enjoy at my desk, still believing that I might someday drop this pesky 35 pounds of baby weight I’ve been carrying around since March of 2014, when I entered the Cult of Motherhood.
I’m lucky because my husband is engaged and involved and does what he can to help. But it’s different for women. I asked my husband what the hardest thing about being a father is. He basically said worrying about not being an adequate provider, which is admirable and really appreciated by me. But the hardest thing about being a mother, for me, is worrying that everything I do is wrong. Breastfeeding, formula, cosleeping, sleep training, cry it out, pacifier, all natural foods, babywearing, baby led weaning, screen time, tummy time, reading enough, reading too much, exercise, stay at home with your kids, day care is good for socialization, comfort your baby, don’t spoil your baby. We are told, at one point or another, by friends, family, random mothers in the line at Babies R Us, and women on the internet that all of these things can make or break your child’s life. But also that we can’t get too stressed out about anything and we have to remember to take care of ourselves because your baby can sense that you’re stressed and stress can have a negative impact on him, too.
“For so many of us, it’s the fear that the Instagram filter you put on your life will be shattered and the world will see the stretchmarks and the dark circles”
There are certainly ways to be a bad parent – making your child sleep in the yard in December to teach him a lesson, for example, would be bad parenting. But all this other stuff? It’s the minutia that gets us. It’s easier to break up raising a child into these parts than face the fact that you are now in charge of making sure a human is kind and healthy and well-adjusted and a productive member of society and shows up on the news because he won the gold medal, not because he was caught fleeing the scene of the crime. So we focus on those parts. And we so badly want to believe that our way is right that we question others who do it differently.
I set out to write this piece on the “Mommy Wars” – this phenomena where women guilt and shame other women for not trying hard enough to parent their way. A simple google search of “things mothers judge each other for” generated 63,200,000 results. Most of them were of the “we need to stop judging each other and love each other” variety. But then you come across the comment sections: the Pinterest-perfect woman that, despite spending all morning cleaning their house, shuttling their 3 month old to music class and their 18 month old to competitive swim lessons and their 4 year old to drama camp and baking gluten, nut, soy, and dairy free vegan cupcakes for their first grader’s non-denominational holiday bazaar, all while sporting a perfect messy bun, yet still found the time to shame a woman who happened to make a mistake. I’m not talking about the bad mom who beats her kids. I’m talking about the bad mom who has a spirited toddler that happened to run away in a busy place. Or the woman who made the critical mistake of allowing her kid to fall on the playground because she allowed her mind to briefly wander for 30 seconds back to a time where she felt the freedom of having no one rely on her. I’ve been those bad moms. So I try not to judge them. But fear of being judged? That made me do some unhealthy things. I endured a labor that I’ll never recover from because the women on the internet told me that a C-Section would ruin my life and lead to lifelong health problems for my baby, whose needs supersede mine in every way from here on out. I breastfed with tears streaming down my face because breast is best and natural and what you are MADE to do and if you don’t care enough to do that, then why the hell did you even have kids in the first place anyway? For so many of us, it’s the fear that the Instagram filter you put on your life will be shattered and the world will see the stretchmarks and the dark circles, the antique wig effect of the baby powder you didn’t rub in enough, the moment that you lose your cool for a second because your two year old is being two and you’ve had it. There are always the moms there, lurking, to remind you that your kid is just being a kid and they can’t help being two. As an aside, if you call them my tiger stripes that I earned like a badge of honor, I will cut you.
You’re somehow left in this place where, even if your child is fed and happy, you feel like an inadequate mother if you haven’t made them a bento box meal with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich shaped like their favorite character from the educational, French immersion program you let them watch with their 30 minute allotment of screen time each week. And by peanut butter and jelly, I of course mean the all-natural almond spread and raspberry preserves that you made last weekend at midnight after a day of berry picking with your happy family and thinking about how you’ve been judging those women who start using Meth to be able to get things done a little too harshly all along.
Suddenly, we live in a world where if your life isn’t Pinterest ready at all times, it’s not a life worth living. And the thing is, Pinterest is what it is – this bully inside your phone that mocks you if your child’s parties aren’t these amazing EVENTS trimmed with gingham and chevron and chalkboard and mason jars and (if you’re honest with yourself) not even about your child. We go to work and feel bad for leaving so we compensate by turning our living room into the Island of Sodor to prove how much we love our kids. Or trying to do that, but failing, so then we drink a bottle of merlot to quiet the voice in our heads that say your child will probably grow up to be a degenerate because when they turned three you used the wrong font on their party invitation.
All of this is in jest, of course. I don’t actually believe that my son will become a degenerate because his party isn’t perfect. Many people would say that the fact that I drink that merlot in front of him might. Or the potentially negative impacts of me relating to women who use meth because it gives them a mommy edge.
But what about the fact that I go to work every day? Back before I grew to rely on a stranger for mothering advice and support, before I knew our child care provider as a friend and a confidante and someone I trust completely, I struggled with leaving my eight week old infant to be raised by another woman. For our family, my selfish desires to rise to the highest ranks of local public health had little to do with our decision to put Logan in child care. It was more my desire to eat and be clothed. The world that we live in is not kind to mothers. I have soapbox speeches about lack of maternity leave ready to go, but in this age of leaning in, where women are lagging in the work force for having the audacity to have kids and a career; where mothers, regardless of job, education, hours worked, or experience earn less than fathers, I now have to worry about whether other mothers think I’m doing it right. As if I wasn’t worried about that all along.
Millions of articles on the internet about how we should be kind to each other and one judgmental comment makes me question every decision I’ve ever made. I’ve been told that I was too old to have kids in the first place, that an ounce of formula would ruin my son’s immune system for the rest of his life, that I shouldn’t be upset or concerned when I was still having post-partum pain at 18 months post-partum, that it’s my fault he won’t sleep through the night because I didn’t let him cry it out, that breastfeeding was weird, that I wasn’t trying hard enough to lose the baby weight, that I wasn’t putting enough of myself into my work, that eight weeks was more than enough maternity leave and I shouldn’t complain, that he should be out of his crib already (despite the cage-like features it provides me). And that’s just the stuff I was told directly, either to may face or via online “supportive” mom groups that I made the mistake of asking questions on. From reading medical studies on the internet, I know that my son will have ADHD because I exposed him to some screen time early on, that he will probably need glasses because I read to him, that he will probably drown from secondary drowning if he inhales a little water next time I take him to the pool, that he is probably on the spectrum because he’s sensitive to loud noises, and that he will have attachment issues because one night, when my husband was on a long road trip, I let him cry for a little bit because I needed to, that my marriage is bad because we put our kid first a lot of the time.
“Suddenly, we live in a world where if your life isn’t Pinterest ready at all times, it’s not a life worth living. And the thing is, Pinterest is what it is – this bully inside your phone”
This morning, when I went into my son’s room to get him up, mind racing with all of the things left to do and how we were supposed to be out of the house in coordinating GAP outfits 5 minutes ago, I opened the door and he was “reading” his train book. Somehow a book ended up in his crib and he was sitting up, flipping the pages and making up a story. And then he looked at me and smiled. And I paused and smiled, and enjoyed that minute of him being a kid, and thinking I’m the best mom there is because he doesn’t even know what Pinterest is yet.