Katya has a reward chart at school, and she was very proud of herself the other day. “I have more stars than Caroline!” she said to me. The little secret, though, is that she and Caroline are the only ones in the class that need a reward chart to keep them on track. Katya especially needs to “be rewarded often” according to her teacher; all that positive reinforcement makes her feel good.
That’s kinda how I feel about mothering these days. Everyone’s out for the most stars, to keep their parenting insecurities at bay and make them feel good about themselves…and better than the “other moms.”
There’s a lot of talk in the media lately about the “Mommy Wars.” Headlines that scream “Are You Mom Enough?” like the recent Time article that shows a mother breastfeeding her 3 year old only add fuel to the fire. But the truth is that I see this constantly, moms in a race with each other to be Supermom. A Mompetition, if you will. ( I’m sure I’m the first person to come up with this term!) We wear all of our a-momplishments like gold stars (sorry, I’ll stop), so everyone knows WE are doing it right. And this, I fear, is doing us all in.
I think we all have fallen victim to moms around us that make us feel badly about our choices. It’s quite possible we’ve all at one point or another been one of those moms too. Mothering is one of the most personal journeys that is on the most public of displays.
It starts with breastfeeding. Everyone and their mother has an opinion on how, when, where, and what to do with your boobs. This is how I see the reward chart: the stars you earn for breastfeeding fall on a bell curve. At the top of the curve where you get the most stars is breastfeeding exclusively for I’d say about a year, year and a half tops. But once you surpass that point, you start losing stars, because you can’t keep the kid on the boob for too long, or you start looking like a crazy hippie has-been child star. (Alicia Silverstone and Blossom come to mind…)
Unfortunately I didn’t get any stars in this category. I couldn’t breast feed Noah because I just didn’t produce any milk. But here’s the thing – my hope is that when I explain this to people, which I find myself doing often, I get at least some ‘effort’ stars. Because I did try, really hard. And ever since, I’ve been trying really hard to prove my momhood by explaining how I wasn’t one of those moms that CHOSE not to breastfeed.
Women make a point of asking, by the way. Just about everyone is in on this game. I have often been asked, in playgroups, library storytime, etc (gold star for me for going to organized events!!) when I break out the bottle, “Oh, so you’re not breastfeeding?” Um…does this look like a boob? Obviously. Actual conversations have started this way. “No. I just couldn’t make it happen,” I respond. “Yeah, breastfeeding takes a lot of work.” No shit. We all know what the implication is here. I guess you just didn’t want to make the sacrifice of your body to your child. But it was worth it to me!
So then I find myself explaining intimate details to strangers about the inner workings of my breasts over the past twenty years; the complete boob development timeline all the way up until Noah was starving to death 3 days after birth because every lactation consultant I talked to couldn’t figure out why my teats didn’t work and I equated formula with poison from all the “advice” I’d been getting so I never even thought it an option. I set the alarm to pump every two hours night and day the first 4 weeks of his life! I took herbs, tea, beer!! I squeezed out every last drop I could to see if I could make this happen! I got about 12 ounces total for all of my effort!! That gets some stars, right? (see, I’m still doing it.)
Why do I give a crap what this person thinks? I haven’t figured that out yet. Why don’t I assume they’re just a nosey, rude dumbass and not care? The fact is, there could be a lot of reasons why a person doesn’t breastfeed (breast cancer, for one) and it is rude for someone to assume they know anything about it. We make judgements based on assumptions when so many things affect each parenting decision a mom makes. And, in fact, it’s often none of our business.
I got ahead of myself though. I skipped too far when where I wanted to start the Mompetition was at childbirth. I DO actually earn some stars here! This is where it really begins, although the distribution of stars can get pretty tricky. Natural childbirth gets the most stars, I would presume, and doing it at home, even more. The most you can get probably is by doing a waterbirth, which, alas, I did not do. Although my naturopathic chiropractor actually gave birth to her three children at home without a midwife, just she and her husband. That tips a little too far on the crazy scale to me for getting any more stars, but there I am judging!
Birthcenter is next, still keeping it au natural, folks. Then the hospital. But wait! If you had an extra long labor, or your vajay jay tore big time, you still get extra stars. Any horror story – which we moms are oh so willing to share to anyone who will listen – gets extra stars. However, if you had an elected c-section that wasn’t medically necessary, well, heh, NO POINTS FOR YOU!
I will give myself some credit, because it is my blog and I’m allowed to, that I never did just go around pointedly asking people how they gave birth just so I could tell them MY story. And women have done that to me. In fact, most of my closest friends didn’t know I was going to do a home birth until after the fact. But believe you me, when I got asked, I wore my stars proudly! Score for Val.
We get stars in so many other ways too. We earn them if we haven’t put on makeup since pregnancy or changed our pants in 3 days. We earn them by turning in our True Religions for Mom jeans, getting Mom bobs instead of our former luxurious coifs, and in place of our designer purses, picking up diaper bags that look sewn together from girl’s Hello Kitty sheets. Stars for all those things, girls.
One of the mom books I read talked about how you should have No Makeup Allowed playgroups, so moms can feel welcome without the pressure to look pulled together. Which, I see the point, but isn’t that being judgmental to women who want to bear some sort of resemblance to their former, albeit distant, pulled together selves? Is it really healthy to fully lose ourselves in Babyland? But in some circles apparently, the more slovenly you look the more stars you get for willingly walking your used-to-be cute self down the plank of self-sacrifice all for your precious offspring. I’m not going to pretend I’m any less a perpetrator here. Or victim. Just read some of my blog posts and you’ll see all the stars I believe I’ve earned on that front.
Where else can we earn some?
Did you stay home or go back to work? How soon did you go back to work? Did you continue to haul your pump around in its “gorgeous and discreet” carrying case so you could empty your boobs in a bathroom stall? Well, ok then.
Do you make your own babyfood, or do you buy that horrible store bought crap? Do you use all organic fruits and veggies? Are the animals locally farm-raised and grazing on pesticide-free grass? Ok good. At a playgroup one mom said to another one within earshot of me after eyeing one of those squeezy fruit things I pulled out, “Oh, I never feed Junior any purchased baby food, it just looks so disgusting I would hate for him to eat it!” I looked at NDB happily squeezing away and thought, well…stars that its organic?
And we all know now that you have to take your kids to some classes, but do too many and you start being labeled a helicopter parent. Activities also fall on the bell curve, you see. Babies and toddlers need some sort of stimulation – are you doing Kindermusik? Gymboree? Swim lessons? Pottery throwing? Soccer lessons, Science Camp, for the 1-3 year old set? But if you do too much, you start losing stars, and all the overachieving but slightly less-overachieving-in-a-healthy-way moms start calling you an OVERACHEIVER MOM!
Baby wearing? Wood toys or plastic? Vaccines or no? Cloth diapers or land-filling wasteful disposables? Organic onesies? Co-sleeping? Ferberizing? Did you boil up your placenta and turn it into a smoothie so you can have vitamin-packed breastmilk? Submit your son to circumcision? Have you sufficiently sacrificed your entire life, living space, career, time, taste, romantic relationship, body, and mind to your child? Stars for you! Oh, no, you didn’t do those things? Well you might as well feed him crack then because that’s about how well he’ll turn out.
We’ve probably all been guilty of adding up our own stars, at least in our minds. I’ve had more than one person mention to me that you don’t earn a medal for giving birth naturally. They obviously have 1) never given birth naturally and 2) apparently haven’t seen the gold star scale. And just last week a friend on FB wrote about how she had just discovered Uncrustables and what a lifesaver they were. I read it and thought, what, she can’t even make a PB and J? Didn’t she JUST see on the Today Show that guy from Eat This Not That describing how those things had so much sugar it’s like scarfing down 175 popsicles? No stars for her! This I thought as I just finished serving Katya a Toaster Strudel. No joke. The irony was fairly palpable.
I guess what I’m slowly figuring out is that we all are trying to do the best we can. We want to do better for our kids than our parents did, just as they wanted to. But there’s so much pressure, and so much info out there, we end up feeling insecure and questioning whether we’re making the right choices.
We also have media constantly up in our grill with the splashy headlines. And we have Facebook in our, well, face, too. Here’s me checking in to Gymboree! Here’s a video of me and Junior doing flash cards! Here’s a picture of my gourmet baby meal lovingly prepared from chickens I raised myself and kale from my garden!
With all the immediate access to every opinion possible we start looking to others to prove to ourselves we’re doing this right. We boost ourselves up, but often it’s at the expense of pushing other moms down. We either try to feel really good about our mothering skills by thinking we’re superior, or we beat ourselves up because we haven’t made the same choices and maybe sorta wish we did.
So I’ve decided. I’m gonna keep plugging ahead, on my journey with my own Mom Project, reading, gathering info, and trying to be the best mom I can be. But this project is just gonna be about me. It’s not about being better, more productive, healthier, more committed, more relaxed, more psychotic than anyone else. It’s about being more (or less) of those things for myself and for my kids. I’m going to do my very best to stop judging and comparing. Unless you’re the freakin’ tanorexic mom that brought her 5 year old to the tanning salon. You are an idiot. Or my husband’s ex-wife. But I’ll try to lay off everyone else.
I’ll be chronicling the journey here as usual, giving my opinion on the books I read and what’s working, or not, for me. But the caveat is: I’m not doing/not doing things to make anyone else feel better/worse about their own choices. Just myself! Cause I’m allowed. It’s my blog.