I recently had lunch with a few mom friends. We are all about the same age, yet our kids range in age from newborn to college bound. Our conversation inevitably circled back to kids and parenting, as it often does. One of the group recently became a new mom. She sat with us, her tiny baby nestled in her arms, and shared how happy she was to be with supportive moms – moms who got it, who listened and understood. She was, as are all new parents, tired. More than that, her exhaustion was exacerbating her feeling of isolation.
She needed camaraderie, a good hug, and maybe even a good cry. What she didn’t need was more advice. She was already getting plenty of that. She just needed to know she wasn’t messing up her kid beyond repair. My friend didn’t actually say all of this. But, I knew how she felt, because I felt that once, too. I just needed kindness and support. Too often, what I found was judgment.
In the years since I first became a mom, I’ve witnessed a slew of parenting styles, and philosophies gain and lose popularity: attachment, free-range, helicopter, REI, tiger moms, and French-style, to name a few. The categories seem endless. When we become parents, the enormity of the job we are taking on is overwhelming. If you’re like me, you spent hours and a fortune buying books, and reading all about how to be a good parent, so you could… well, do it right.
Having a “style” helps new moms feel a little less untethered in their new role. It helps give us a sense, however untrue it may be, that we know what we’re doing. Problems arise when we begin to cling to these styles, convinced our way is the only way. Then, we go about sharing parenting advice like experts. A friend tells us they are sleep training, or weaning, or taking their baby on a transatlantic flight and we feel the need to step in and share our point of view or experience.
While you may think that you are helping, all you’re really doing is making yourself feel significant. You’re probably saying to yourself, “I’m just trying to help!”
Okay, sure. But, is what you’re saying actually helpful? And is it coming from a place of true concern? If you imply that a friend’s parenting decisions are wrong in any way – no matter how gently you do so – they’re not going to leave that conversation feeling good. Nor are they likely to come to you for advice in the future. You may even damage the friendship – and good friends are hard to come by.
Ask yourself, which is stronger: your desire to instruct and be significant, or your desire to support?
We’ve all been on the receiving end of judgment. One would think this makes it easier for us to notice when we’re doing it, but it doesn’t, because we think we’re helping under the banner of concern. Research professor, Brené Brown, has this to say about judgment:
“…research tells us that we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other, because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency.”
What Brown means is that when we place a judgment on another it is because they have a quality we recognize within ourselves – that person, like a mirror, can reveal something that we are unable, or perhaps unwilling to see. When we bring that awareness to our judgments, we see that what we are actually doing is trying to repair something within ourselves.
Parenting is one of the most humbling endeavors. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you find that you don’t. Instead of saying something judgmental under the guise of “meaning well,” I’d like to invite you to say something kind and supportive. Try telling a new mom, “You’re doing great,” “I understand how you feel,” or “It gets easier.” That’s truly all most moms need – some kind words to let us know we’re not alone and we’re doing fine.
There are more parenting labels than I possibly have time to investigate and I’m okay with that. Our approach to parenting can (and should!) be as unique as the tiny humans we are raising.
Bottom line: we love our children with a love so fierce it cannot be measured. Our desire to give them everything they need to be successful is endless. How we go about doing that varies, because how we do everything varies. We are different people.
The truth is, none of us knows what we’re doing.
We’re all figuring it out as we go. And we are doing our best. As long as we’re loving, nurturing, supporting, and caring for our children, we are doing it right.