This picture continuously shows up in my Facebook news feed. Every time I see it, I feel depressed, and then relieved I had my kids before Facebook was the norm.
I never truly experienced the mom shaming that is so prevalent in today’s culture when I had my kids nearly eleven years ago. After facing infertility for three years, and then experiencing a challenging pregnancy that resulted in twins born five weeks early, most people in my circle rejoiced in the mere fact my babies were healthy. When I had my third daughter sixteen months later, people were more interested in how we survived through a day as opposed to the specifics of my parenting regimen.
This is not the case for new moms today, however. Now, most people highlight the ways in which they choose to parent, wearing it like a badge of honor. To me, sometimes it is like wearing your gang colors on social media. Some moms post pictures of baby wearing and breastfeeding in the hopes to “normalize” these parenting choices; other parents post pictures of their messy houses or children sleeping on top of a laundry machine in a car seat to show others that they are not alone facing the challenges of raising kids.
I believe that everyone who posts these types of commentary do it with the best of intentions, but sometimes it backfires. When it turns into mom shaming, like in the photo above, we all lose.
A funny thing happened the other night when I went out to dinner with a group of moms, all of whom had children in elementary school or older. We talked proudly of our kids’ accomplishments, but also shared some of our fears.
When one mom confided that her son was having difficulty making friends, no one asked if she let him cry-it-out as an infant or if she responded on-demand. Instead, we nodded our heads ,because it was a fear we all shared at one time.
Another mom described how her daughter continues being a picky eater. No one pummeled her with accusations on whether she was bottle or breastfed as each of us had felt frustration with our kids’ eating habits.
When I shared that my nine-year old, once my best sleeper, was now waking up several times a night, not one single mother asked if I co-slept with her or put her in a crib as an infant. In fact, many of the parents went through a similar stage with their children.
I suspect the six of us moms all chose different parenting paths in the beginning. Somehow, despite our different starts, we all ended up in the same place, facing the same problems.
I was a combination of the above photo, breastfeeding and formula feeding all three, and baby-wearing my third, but my first two were always contained in a double stroller when ever we went anywhere. Letting one of my twins cry it out was the best parenting decision I ever made, and co-sleeping would have been a disaster in my house; yet I have friends who loved the experience.
These first decisions we make as moms are important. It sets the tone for the type of parent you will be and gives you an opportunity to provide your child with the best start possible —whatever that may be in your eyes.
But it is also important to remember that these decisions — these personal choices — are all okay.
What I learned that evening, is that as parents we’re all headed to the same destination, but we take different vehicles to get there. And no matter what we drive, we’re all going to face the same parenting pot holes.
I doubt that picture will stop making the rounds on Facebook, and I’m sure there will be a meme retaliation from the rival “gangs”.
For me, I am no longer interested if you bottle or breast feed; carry your infant in a sack made from a tribe in Africa or use the latest in car seat technology; or, if you respond to your child’s every whimper or let them cry it out. I know that any of these decisions can turn out a great kid.
I am interested in those delicious, naked newborn photos that show the most adorable little butt cheeks. I am giddy when seeing chubby thighs and round bellies that only babies can pull off so well. And you will make me ugly cry when I see that first picture of you holding your new son or daughter.
I hope we learn to rejoice again each time a new baby is born into this world, instead of grilling the mom on every parenting decision. Our choices should be viewed just as that — choices — and certainly not used as weapons to shame new mothers.
There is a reason why raising a child is often called a journey, not a race. No matter what you drive, we all need some help in getting there.