So I’ve been trying to write this post about “SuperMom” for a couple of weeks now. I keep opening it and writing and editing it and then loosing my train of thought and saving the draft, never finishing it out. My (as ever, long-winded) point is that someone called me a “SuperMom” the other day (and though I’ll not pretend like it didn’t make me feel good to have a near-stranger acknowledge the total awesomeness that is me), it got me thinking about how that comment, though meant in most instances as a compliment, seems more like self-depreciating commentary on her own mothering by the person saying it; that somehow she’s not measuring up to the invisible yardstick that we all carry.
Mothers are competitive. Oh yes, we are – don’t try to deny it! For many of us, becoming a mother is the single most life-altering experience that we go through and it leaves us forever and profoundly changed. Not only in and of yourself, but also with the title of “Mom” comes the immense responsibility of creating a complete and functional person. We’ve all seen how our own parents have screwed up, and most of us are determined not to make the same mistakes. On some level, I think we all go into being a mom (at least mentally) just knowing that we’re going to be perfect parents. Then your babe is born, reality sets in and we all kinda realize that we are in NO WAY qualified to do this job. In the first few weeks, your life changes so much – you had no idea how different things would be. On the one hand, you’re thrilled with this opportunity. On the other, you’re second guessing yourself, wondering if you haven’t just bitten off significantly more than you can chew.
But somehow you get through. You wake up one day and realize that you’ve worked through the initial issues getting started and that you’re actually breastfeeding and it’s going well. You discover that cloth diapers are not as horrible as you always thought they’d be (in fact, you’re kinda enjoying them). The prospect of making your baby’s food instead of buying jarred sounds intriguing rather than crazy. You discover that you actually love having your baby in your bed. Your baby is happy and healthy and content and you start to fall into a routine – and the routine becomes your life. You gain confidence – after that first sleepless night where the baby cried ALL NIGHT LONG and you made it through; stick a feather in your cap. Then you’re hitting milestones and baby is starting to respond to you – smiling, reaching for toys, rolling over… and the competition starts. You start seeking other moms with babies that are close in age to yours and talking. You’re mentally comparing your baby to theirs – is she doing this? Is he doing that? It’s not intentional – but it happens. You even tell yourself that ‘every baby is different and they all develop at their own pace’ – but you still start to feel happy if your baby is a bit ahead, or worry if your babe is lagging behind. Still, you reassure yourself that you’re a good mom and that’s all that matters, right?
Then there are the different ways that parents have with their babes. Depending on which books they’ve read, or which ones you’ve read (or what websites, or what their friends do, or what their family has told them to do or not to do…), they might feed by breast or bottle, baby might sleep with them or in a crib, they might diaper in cloth or in disposables, they might vaccinate or not – there are so many options and so much information to process and such a short time frame in which to process it – how do you go about deciding what’s best?
Most of us make our choices and then in some form or another, pass judgement on parents who follow different paths. It’s normal and natural – not that I endorse doing so; I’m saying that it’s just how it is. Most of us try to overcome that tendency and keep an open mind when it comes to differences – but the truth is that we all do what we do with our kids because we believe that THIS is the RIGHT way to do it. Of course it is; otherwise, why would we do that? So deep down, we all individually believe that we’re a better parent than any other – for our own kids, at least. And we have to believe that or we would be paralyzed by indecision and constantly second guessing ourselves. Kids need a stable environment, and being a wishy-washy parent is not conducive to stability.
The problem comes in when we find moms who we observe doing things that we like that are in conflict with what we do or with a belief about child rearing that we have committed ourselves to – or worse, somehow, is when you get more information and realize that you’ve done something that you really wish you hadn’t (or didn’t do something you really wish you had). I think one of the single hardest things to do as a parent is to admit that we were wrong about something. When it comes to something ‘big’ like discovering that what we thought we knew is wrong, it’s even harder. And somehow, when we start talking to other moms and they’re doing (or not doing) something we wish we had (or hadn’t), we feel guilty and some of us go on the defensive.
There’s a saying, ‘When you know better, do better.” I first heard it when I was contemplating not having any more vaccines for my oldest. The statement was meant, I believe, to alleviate guilt that a mom feels when she makes a decision that was based on too little information, education or research. This is a hard thing for me – not for the decisions I made in ignorance (like circumcision – I wishwishwish I’d had more info on that ‘routine procedure’ before my kids were born), but in the crusade to help other moms avoid the same mistakes I made. I know how it feels to field unwanted advice, but I also know how it feels to wish someone had told me that what I was doing had an alternative. So where do you find the balance? Is there a balance?
I do think that teaching by example is a viable way to educate. The drawback there is that as my kids get older, I have less and less opportunity to talk about topics that relate to babies, which is when I think new moms need access to information and alternatives. There is so much that happens in that first year or two that can be irreparable (circ, vax, CIO) and can do such lasting damage, and there just isn’t that much information out there on the alteratives in the mainstream that isn’t negatively biased. Unless you stumble across Mothering magazine or a La Leche League meeting, or are lucky enough to have an API group or other ‘crunchy moms‘ group in your area, you’re probably not going to hear a lot about alternatives to the mainstream (which is c-section, bottle-feeding, crib-sleeping, sleep-training, cry-it-out, stroller pushing, fully vaxed on schedule, disposable diapering, starting Gerber at 6 months, etc.)
It doesn’t end there. As your babe gets older, it’s not just the babies that you’re watching – you start taking in what other moms are doing too and comparing yourself. But does that really do any good? Well, sure. You can always pick up tips and ideas from watching what other moms do. I learned about baby-wearing and slings (and how and why they’re different and better than baby carriers*) and about all kinds of stuff from watching and talking to other moms. I even have the few moms that I look up to – moms that I call “SuperMom” in my head – and yes, in comparing myself to them, I feel inferior. That’s what got me started on this thread… I know when I say “SuperMom”, it’s in a wishful way – I wish I had XYZ traits that I see in that mom.
I have my strengths. I’m an organized mom. I always have extra clothes, a first aid kit, snacks and something for my kids to do – and usually a book or handicraft for myself – in my bag. If it’s not in my bag, then it’s in the car. That’s just how I roll. The upside to this is that we can take on practically any task at any time. I am also a very schedule/routine-oriented person, internally. I try not to let that interfere with my kids, but I have an incredibly high need for order. It may not look like it from the outside, but it’s there. (Okay, I know it’s plainly visible from the outside – I’m not fooling anyone, lol). When I plan my day, I need to do the things I planned on doing at the right time in the right order. The downside to this (and yes, there is a downside) is that when my schedule is thrown off or I am caught unawares, it is almost catastrophic to my state of being. Not that I am not flexible on my own – I can make changes, either to accommodate the kids or due to a better plan presenting itself, and that’s fine. But for someone else to throw off my schedule is extremely vexing.
I have some mama-friends who are, like me, organized and prepared for practically anything. I also have several mama-friends who wouldn’t know how to deal with a schedule if it jumped up and smacked them in the face. I envy these women their sense of spontaneity. I envy them their ability to deal with hungry kids on the go, or not freaking out when the child gets muddy and has to ride home half-nakee and their creative solutions for things that happen in the course of the day. I envy them their calm and ‘just roll with the punches” attitude and their patience when things don’t go according to schedule. I’m sure that my rigid adherence to the plan, and pique at being thrown off of it is just as annoying to them as the fact that we’re late is to me… but somehow, we have overcome this major difference in personality and style and have forged amazingly strong and supportive friendships, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have these women in my life to lean on and learn from. In our own ways, we’re providing the optimal environment for our children to thrive in. We’re meeting their needs – as many of them as we can. That’s our job, and we’re all damn good at it in our own ways.
Innate as being ‘judgy-judgy’ is to moms, we need to make the effort to move past that when we feel it creeping up inside. We also need to move past going on the defensive when someone talks about doing things differently than we do. We each need to be secure in our beliefs and philosophy and parenting style that what we’re doing for our children is right for them, and to be open to making changes when we find a better path. We need to be able to listen to another’s explanation or thoughts and weigh whether or not they have any merit for us or can be adapted for use in our own family.
Back to the “SuperMom” comment… it seems to me that there are plenty of criticisms coming in from many different angles once you become a parent; why add to that with self-depreciating comments of your own? I think the main thing we need to ask when we start second guessing ourselves is, “What does my heart tell me to do?” The instincts of a mother are pre-programmed into her brain. Without them, our species would not have survived this long, so there must be some value in them. We need to help each other, as mothers, to rediscover and trust the inherent wisdom that comes with motherhood. As a mom, YOU are the authority on your children – you’re with them more than anyone else (ideally) and you have a unique biological connection to your child that no one else can replicate. No one is better qualified to be your child’s mother than YOU. So no matter what your style or philosophy or failings, the only one who really needs to think that you’re a SuperMom is your kiddo – and chances are, s/he already does.
This entry was posted on June 2, 2010 by HT. It was filed under Attachment Parenting, Baby Food, Babywearing, Breastfeeding, Circumcision, Cloth Diapering, Crunchy Mama, Cry it Out - CIO, Lessons Learned, Parenting, Rambling Thoughts and was tagged with attachment parenting, balance, empowerment, life-lessons, Parenting, SuperMom Complex.