Motherhood, Do We Have An Image Problem?

How do we stop ourselves from participating in the full contact sport of Mother Judgment?
Publish date:
November 18, 2011
parenting, bad moms, bad choices

In case you were unaware, it’s open season on Bad Parenting.

These days our headlines are filled with pop-culture-identified Bad Mothers who seemingly make “bad choices” -- choices that don’t line up with or reflect our image/idea of a Good Mother.

Maybe more insidious is the legion of Other Mothers who, in all likelihood, have faults of their own but see an opportunity to zoom in on a collective round of Mother-Shaming toward Mothers who don’t Mother the same way they do.

Full Disclosure: I’m sometimes guilty of it, and so are you. Don’t front.

These are the Good Mothers, they of the holistic, natural, non-vaccinating, attachment-parenting, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, anti-formula feeding, moon-cake baking variety. The guilt and fear that is dispensed from this camp is palpable. The implication is that not only “should” you be doing what “nature” intended, you’re seriously failing your child and every Mother on the planet if you don’t. Full Disclosure: I’m sometimes THAT mom, too, well, minus the moon-cake baking and placenta-eating.

But despite the temptation to engage in a little self-righteous judgment, I know that much like the metaphorical snowflake, no two experiences of Motherhood are alike. And when it comes to Motherhood, there is no such thing as acceptable judgment. Here's why:

Motherhood is hard work.

If you’ve been led to believe that having a child is all about one-sided, unconditional love -- i.e., that the little cherub you’ve brought into the world is going to provide you with instant gratifying buckets of devotional worship -- think again. Having children is an intensely emotional reciprocal relationship with you, the parent, putting in the lion’s share of the “work.”

Most of the major work begins at the onset of their little lives, with the critical period taking place from 0 to 6. In Montessori-speak they call this stage the Absorbent Mind; this literally means that all of the positive and negative messages and energies required to encourage the development of your offspring take root at this time.

It goes without saying that the rewards of Motherhood are indescribable, however, because the goal is to raise productive, intelligent and caring individuals who will one day give back to their community and society, the pressure for Mothers is great. Which brings me to:

Moms are doing the best they can.

No Mother on the planet willingly endangers the life of her child. There may be extenuating circumstances beyond her control that leads a Mother to do the things I am too horrified to imagine, however most, if not all Mothers, are simply doing the best they can. It’s like the saying goes, “When we know better, we do better.” This, if nothing else, has to be the credo that we apply to Motherhood.

When Mothers take the time to administer a little self-care they too are able to become much more effective, responsive and intuitive care-givers. By ensuring that a Mother’s emotional health and well-being is nourished and protected so too will be the emotional health and well being of her offspring and hopefully those around her.

There is no perfect mother.

The culture of Mother Judgment suggests that there is, in fact, an Ideal Mother. The “I Don’t Know How She Does It” woman is a fraudulent freak-show held up for Moms and women everywhere to falsely measure themselves against, and to criticize mercilessly and relentlessly. It should be noted that if we, the Mothers amongst us, held ourselves up to this Ideal Mother standard, NONE of us would be having babies.

It’s not enough to suggest that Moms are simply not doing “enough,” but to imply that there are women who are doing MORE than what is humanly possible we’re intentionally creating negative spaces between Mothers where none actually exist. It is also likely that women who are “doing more” have the resources to do so, and that too is fine.

Mothers should at all cost resist the inclination to succumb to mommy peer pressure, and while doing so reject the unreal stock caricatures of Motherhood. These archetypes serve nothing more than to create the fodder that manifests into real life Moms who not only internalize the perennial fear of not being able to sufficiently measure up, but who end up projecting these insecurities onto Mothers whom we perceive to be less like us.

This unachievable ideal makes acceptable the notion that it is OK to tell women who are non-white, fat, disabled, mentally or psychologically-challenged, low-income, gay and old that they are not “worthy” candidates for Motherhood.

So how do we stop ourselves from participating in the full contact sport of Mother Judgment? How do we quit Mother-Shaming women whom we perceive to be committing acts of unlawful motherhood while secretly indulging in the pastime ourselves?

Well, first I think that we have to recognize that we’re all in this together, damn it! No child exists in a vacuum, and no Mother can sufficiently Mother without the help of other Mothers either directly or indirectly.

We have to let our snark down long enough to realize that the Mother and child we pass judgment on will at some point intersect with our lives.

We have to acknowledge that if we’re bashing Moms, we’re not providing solutions; we’re actually creating greater problems.