As I write this, my 21 month old daughter is watching Daniel Tiger. Sheâ€™s asked to nurse a couple times and Iâ€™ve told her â€śno, we have to wait for Mommy to make more milk because you already drank it all in bed this morning.â€ť Sheâ€™s tall enough now that we bump her head on the door frame every time we go to put her in her car seat and so weâ€™ve decided to turn her seat around a couple of months earlier than we had planned. Last night I was feeding our two new orphaned kittens a bottle and she needed something from me. I told her gently that she would have to wait until the kittens were done eating. When she threw herself to the floor crying I talked about patience and how hard it can be but I didnâ€™t stop what I was doing and go to her.
Some of these things would never happen in your house. One or two of them might be completely opposite of the way in which youâ€™ve chosen to raise your child or children. Youâ€™re an awesome mom. Iâ€™m happy to learn the things I learn from you – reading you on the Internet, in the groups, and talking to you in playgroups, on the park. I take from our talks, and from the books and articles, what feels right for my family and my daughter. I leave behind what doesnâ€™t fit.
But Iâ€™m an awesome mom, too.
Our birth story starts with being induced. Thereâ€™s an epidural in the middle somewhere. Eventually a c-section. After a discussion with my midwife and operating doctor, I took pain killers while I recovered from surgery â€“ even though I was breastfeeding my daughter. I went back to work part time when she was six months old because being a stay at home mom was simply not for me. I pumped as I was able and, when I wasnâ€™t producing enough milk despite all my attempts, I supplemented with local goats milk (pasteurized at home) when I needed to.
I know a woman who gave birth under the cherry tree in her back yard, alone except for the company of her two year old. I know women who have given birth at home with just a midwife, women who refused intervention and medication and anything deemed unnatural. I have respect for them. Theyâ€™re all awesome moms.
But Iâ€™m an awesome mom, too.
Thereâ€™s this undercurrent of subtext on the Internet about what makes a good mom. It reads like there is a spectrum of parenting, with one end labeled Amazing and the other Awful, and the particulars of your parenting choices drop you somewhere on this Parenting Spectrum. Practicing non-violent parenting and spend an hour reading to your children every day? Thatâ€™s pretty good. Babywear for 18 hours per day and never use any sort of baby gadget that holds, rocks, or soothes your baby in your place? Amazing! Making all of your infantâ€™s pureed baby food from scratch, using organic produce? Thatâ€™s pretty good. Good job. Exclusively breastfeeding until eight months and then beginning baby led weaning? Amazing!
Somehow it seems that gentle parenting has created a niche that only the best of the best can survive. A culture of high end baby wraps that cost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars, organic food and clothing, Montessori style toy shelves, and a million other little things. There are points given for things like baby led weaning, bed sharing, nursing on demand until your child weans him/herself, avoiding gender specifics, being prepared to tandem nurse, and so on and so on. Points taken away for things like feeding purees, sleep training, encouraging girls to like pink, and so on.
The problem with this Parenting Spectrum is that it puts you ahead of someâ€¦ and behind some others. If you look at parenting as a spectrum of plusses and minuses there will always be people that you are doing better thanâ€¦ and people who are doing better than you. It is a breeding ground for judgment and guilt; an environment in which judgment is used as the antidote for guilt. I have to judge you because I have to be doing better than you because there is only better or worse using this method of checklists and spectrums and if Iâ€™m not doing better that means I am doing worse.
This unspoken system of determining how awesome or awful a parent is leaves no room for the â€śsame but differentâ€ť reality. The reality of parenting in which one person might give in and offer their six month old pureed food in the hopes that it really will help him sleep better, and another parent will take a deep breath and wade through a few more sleepless nights bouncing and rocking their child with the hope that sleep is just around the corner. There is no better or worse in these situations. There is only different. Different responses, different methods, different solutions, different tools for everyone.
Look at your daughter. Call her name and smile when she turns to look at you. What do you see reflected in her eyes? Adoration? Affection? The glint of impishness that means sheâ€™s ready to have some fun and youâ€™re the one she wants to have it with?
Think about your son. Does your heart swell with joy at the very thought? Beneath all the struggles and trials you might be living, do you know you would do anything to protect him? Can you feel that surge of love for him?
Search within yourself. Intuition is the greatest judge of parenting. Does your heart tell you that the choices you have made are the right ones? Have you chosen your path out of love and not ego? When you shut out all the other voices that tell you what you should be doing and should never do, does the majority of the mama guilt go away?
Congratulations, youâ€™re an awesome mom.