A few months back, I was hanging out with an old friend who let her eight year old son have a coke.
“Don’t judge me,” she said with squinted eyes. “I know what you are thinking. It’s only one soda.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“Seriously, he never gets it and I told him he could have one,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied.
“One coke is not going to kill him,” she went on. “I know how you feel about it, but I already told him he could have it.”
“Absolutely, let him have it then,” I said trying to hide the smile on my face.
“Crap. Now you made me feel guilty. Now I can’t give him the (expletive) soda. You suck,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied.
It’s no secret to my close friends and family how I feel about kids and soda. Even though I don’t talk about it often, my kids will tell you they are not allowed to have it, unless it is a special occasion. It’s just not something I believe in, but I haven’t started a national campaign against it. I would love to say that I don’t judge you if I see you giving your kids soda, but I’d be lying.
That being said, I have a gaggle of friends who I think are fantastic parents that let their kids drink it…some by the liter. I don’t agree, but guess what…not my kids, not my dental bills. So I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself.
As moms, one of the things that rattle our cages the most is the feeling of being judged. Breast feeding, day care, c-sections, co-sleeping, organic, home school — the list of things that start the Mommy Wars goes on and on. I would go so far as to say it is the single pervasive issue that limits Girl Power.
But I do think there are two different types of judgment. First, there is the mom judgment that is self-inflicted, as illustrated above by the conversation with my friend. This is the type that is often proliferated through blog posts that say things like “Ten Reasons Why Co-Sleeping with Your Baby Makes Him Smarter.” It is that insecure feeling we get knowing that someone parents differently, and maybe that way is better.
And then there’s JUDGEment. I mean that of Judge Judy-like quality. Like when your kid pitches a fit at Target and the mom with four perfectly dressed, well-behaved children leans over and says, “Did someone miss his nap today?” Or like when another parent says, “Wow, your two-year old really knows how to use your phone. She must be on it a lot!” Or even when that stay at home mom says something in a group of women like: “I could never leave my kids with strangers all day.” And of course, the working mom in the group feels judged. Yep, I’ve seen all these things first hand.
One of the funniest truths about parenting is that we all feel we are “experts” yet at the same time we are all worried we are screwing our kids up (or if we don’t profess it, we certainly think it!) If you look at it from a macro perspective, being a “good” parent means providing for the child’s basic needs on both an emotional and physical level. For most of us, that involves developing a bond with our kids in a warm, nurturing environment.
While there are “bad” parents — those that are abusive, neglectful or choose to abandon their children altogether — most of us just want the best for our kids. So where is all the judgment coming from?
The details. The little things. Stuff that seems important to us in our every day life, but really are just a matter of personal preference. Bed times, breast-feeding, day care, co-sleeping, and yes, even allowing soda. It’s the choices we make for our own families because they are important to US, but may not be for others.
As moms, we are convinced that these little decisions will determine our children’s destinies, and if we don’t “help” others, they will live a lifetime of regret when their child is screwed up. Or, we feel so passionately about something that we believe we are actually “helping” someone by telling them that Twinkies will give their kid cancer.
But here’s the thing: at the end of the day, even an eight year old kid who is allowed to play his iPad until 10:30 p.m. while eating Cheetos and drinking a liter of Code Red Mountain Dew is probably going to turn out okay. That’s just the way the world works.
Unfortunately, as humans, we are programmed to judge others. Seriously, our brain is hard-wired for moral judgments. Add to this that parenting is the most personal and emotional task we can take on in our lives, and oftentimes linked to our self-esteem, and there really is no way we can completely eliminate the Mom judgment.
There are, however, a million different ways to respond to someone who is judging us. You can come back with a slew of retorts, you can ignore it, or you can confront it head on.
But the only way to stop judgment in its tracks is to simply not accept it. And we can do that by knowing our kids will be fine because we have done our job by loving them and making the best choices we can for our own families. Being confident in the decisions we make and keeping our eye on the big picture can allow that judgment to slide right off our backs.
Everything else we do for our kids — the breastfeeding (or not), the co-sleeping (or not), being a good role model by having a successful, fulfilling career or homeschooling — it’s all correct. Truth be told, we won’t know if we’ve screwed our kids up for another two decades anyway.
It’s also important to remember when you are feeling judged that it’s often not about you. When someone is projecting their issues onto someone else, it often speaks more to their own insecurities than it does to yours.
And what do we do if we’re the ones feeling all Judgey McJudgerson? Like when I saw that family at a nice restaurant all with their iPads out at the table or the kid who pitched a fit at the grocery store and his mom gave in by getting him a Snickers?
Well, when the judgment started coming out, I tried to change my thought process. Maybe that couple was just desperate to have a night out and their babysitter didn’t show up or maybe that Mom was just having a really bad day. Compassion can work wonders on judgment.
And I’m pretty sure those kids with their iPads and their snickers bar and even their soda, well, I’m pretty sure they will turn out just fine. Now if I can just stop screwing my own kids up.