I have something I really need to get off my chest, and this seems as good a forum as any, since it is, after all, meant to be my voice in the world. I know my opinion may not be the popular one, but I’m ok with that, and I make no apology for what is about to follow. I hope it doesn’t offend anyone, but if it does, maybe those folks need to take a step back and think about things for just a moment. So, what has me writing this potentially offensive post today? Well, it’s what I’ve taken to calling The Mommy Olympics.
In the last couple of years, I’ve begun to notice a trend on Facebook, Twitter and on other social forums where women who are Moms or about to become Moms try to one-up each other. Now, that’s really nothing new, I know, but the one-upmanship is so ridiculous these days as to make me very grateful that my own children have now reached adulthood, and I don’t feel the need to compete in what I see happening these days. I’m not really sure what purpose all of this posturing serves, unless it’s meant to make oneself feel superior to others, or if it’s just a blind leading the blind phenomenon, but it really bothers me because I think it sets a lot of young and/or new mothers up for failure.
You know what I’m talking about because I know I can’t be the only one who’s seen it – the new Mom, or soon-to-be Mom who swears that she will do nothing but breast feed her baby for the first six months of it’s life, then gradually start adding in foods, one at a time while still breastfeeding for as long as her baby will take the breast. She also swears to use only cloth diapers, make her own baby foods when the time comes, dress her child only in organic cotton, blah blah blah, on and on, ad nauseum. All of this while she holds down a full time job and works on her Master’s degree.
Give. Me. A. Break.
Maybe I’m cynical – no, I KNOW I’m cynical – but does anyone really believe that they are going to be able to do all that and still sleep at night? Sure, when a baby first arrives, it spends a great deal of time asleep, but that doesn’t last long. Before you know it, that kid is mobile, either by crawling, which doesn’t last long, or walking – which quickly turns into running, and lasts forever. Or you have another baby sooner than you anticipated and time slips away like sands through the hour glass.
I mean, it’s fine to have plans about all the cool, green, eco-friendly, good for baby things you want to do, but then to beat yourself up because you can’t do them? That is just masochism, folks. And I don’t get it. I recently witnessed this exchange on a forum board where I post – and no, it isn’t a parenting forum!
New Mom 1: I was up until 3 am making food for the baby last night; I am absolutely exhausted, but I really need to get this stack of diapers made!
New Mom 2: Oh, I know what you mean! I didn’t sleep much over the weekend, because I was working on my Master’s thesis in between taking care of the twins, baking cookies for the daycare bake sale, and cleaning the house for my parent’s 35th anniversary party! Fortunately, I make my baby food on the first weekend of the month, so I have everything planned out to the letter for that already.
New Mom 1: Well, I remember when I was working on my Master’s thesis … it was horrible! I was on bedrest but I really needed to get to the library to do my research, so I talked my husband into driving me down there and spending a few hours with me while I read. He rubbed my feet and made lists of all the things we still needed to do before the baby arrived. I was so happy to get my thesis submitted about mid-way through my labor, because we spent the next six weeks in Neo-Natal. I split my time between the hospital, pumping, and painting the baby’s room since he arrived eight weeks early! I also had to insist that the nurses dress him in my cloth diapers and organic cotton because they said it was against hospital policy. I mean, really, the NERVE! He’s MY baby! They can’t decide what he’s going to wear!
New Mom 3: Oh, girls, girls … just wait till you have three or four babies! I have every single moment of our lives planned out, or so it seems. If one of the kids doesn’t go down for a nap with the rest of them, I cannot get any of the clothes made for them for next season! And I’m up for a promotion at work!
Don’t get me wrong … I’m not saying you shouldn’t do the best you can for your kids. But organic cotton and nothing else?? Back when my kids were born, the biggest event in the Mommy Olympics was whether or not one should breastfeed. Nowadays, every single detail of Baby’s life is a major decision, one on which new Moms are judged, sometimes harshly, by other Moms or Moms to be.
Why are these women being so hard on themselves? Don’t they realize that there is absolutely no shame in taking advantage of some of the easier ways to raise a child? And why are they so hard on each other when a new Mom doesn’t follow this completely insane way of raising a baby?!
Where is the empathy??
In the past, the big issues weren’t whether or not to make your own baby’s food, or to use cloth diapers – it was whether to return to work after the baby was born, or to breastfeed. But this new round of Mommy Olympics makes it clear – at least to me – that women are still competing with each to be the best mommy ever. Again, I ask, WHY??
In a world where most families require two incomes, where did this idea come from that a new baby must wear organic cotton, or hand-made diapers? Why all the focus on whether or not to use diaper rash medication? Don’t women have enough pressures with trying to balance career, husband and baby without worrying whether or not there’s enough baby food in the freezer for tomorrow?
Ladies, just stop it.
Stop bowing to the pressure of being the perfect mother. Stop bowing to the pressures of trying to do everything, because here’s a news flash for you – you can’t do everything. You may not figure that out until the second or third baby comes along, but eventually, you will figure it out. I remember the best advice I ever got from an experienced mom when I was pregnant with my first. She said, “The first baby, you spend all your time trying to keep them clean. Every time you notice a spot on their face, you grab a washrag and clean them right up. The second baby, you figure that washing their face and hands before and after they eat is good enough. But by the third kid, you figure a good dunk in the tub every night will do the trick!” I never reached baby number three, but I know where she was coming from … the more kids you have, the more tired you are, and the less likely you are to obsess over every little detail. Having raised three kids (the first one was my stepson from my first marriage, who was three when we married, and 13 when we split), I agree with her, and I also agree with the mother who told me when I found I couldn’t breastfeed, “Don’t beat yourself up; there are far worse things in life than not being able to breastfeed … like having a baby who has a serious medical condition and a limited amount of time on this earth.”
She was so right.
I get it – I understand why women are going to such lengths for their babies. I also know that at some point, they will break down and buy the disposable diapers. Or they will crack open a jar of Gerber baby food. They’ll give their kid a bottle. Or let their toddler watch tv because Mommy needs a break. And when that happens, I will say to them, “Welcome to true Motherhood. You finally understand what it means to be a Mommy.” Because let me tell you, being a mom isn’t about doing the right thing every single time. Being a mom is about loving your kids enough to do your best, even when your best is frozen chicken nuggets and mac and cheese for dinner because you’re too damn tired to do anything else, or even better, because you’d rather spend that time playing with your kids than trying to be the perfect mom.
Your kids won’t remember the cloth diapers you used to save the environment, or the hours you spent making homemade baby food. What they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives is when you got down on the floor with them and acted goofy and made them laugh. When they ran around the house screaming with laughter while you played with them. The best memories I have of my children are the times I cuddled with them, when we watched movies on the couch together while munching on cookies (oh, the horror!), when we sat around the camp fire eating s’mores, and when we cracked up laughing over stupid stuff. Those are the things that childhood memories are made of, not whether or not Mom was perfect.
Enjoy your kids – they grow up so very fast. Stop trying to compete with other moms and start making memories with your kids, and to hell with what anyone else thinks about it. Have fun and make each other laugh!
Oh, and stop trying to make each other feel inferior … women need to learn to lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Build a support system and learn to lean on each other when the shit hits the fan. Stop being so hard on each other and yourselves.