Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Why are you so angry?": How my non-mother friend taught me to be a better mother

Is that even the correct term?  "Non-mother"?  I don't want to call her "childless" because at this point in her life, she's not digging the idea of kids for herself, even though she's a big fan of the ones who belong to friends.  (In fact, she's one of the best babysitters in the world because she has a large dog who requires lots of care and attention, so she's always thinking about playtime and meeting basic needs, but I digress...)

My friend -- let's call her "L" -- came to visit me a few weeks ago.  Even though we didn't have much time to catch up, we did manage to find a couple of hours one afternoon to sit at the kitchen table and just chat about what was on our minds.  Interestingly, I brought up my issues with mommy blogs (I recently posted a little about them).  I talked about how I didn't like a certain blog because all the writer ever talked about (it seemed, at least) was cloth-diapering and "natural" parenting (am I "fake" for using disposables?).  I mentioned my grievance with the constant preaching of the cry-it-out method of nighttime parenting as the "only way" on other blogs.  I brought up how I couldn't stand that some moms had probably never dressed their kids in Carter's clothes (in favor of the $40-an-outfit boutique kind).  This mom blogged about her kid who was speaking in essay form at 9 months; that mom blogged about her kid being potty-trained at 18 months.  The more I talked, the more animated I became, until I was almost pounding fists on the kitchen table in heated emotion.  L let me talk it all out and when I was done, she just looked at me and said, "B, why are you so angry???"  And I just looked back at her and exclaimed, "I don't know!!!"

We giggled for a minute, but it was true -- she was right.  Even though I knew they made me angry, I had been chronically reading blogs that made me feel red flames on the sides of my cheeks.  Why did I feel compelled to keep reading?  Good question.  And yes, L, just exactly why was I so angry?  Even better question.  So I asked her, "How do you find out?  How do you get to the bottom of something like that?"

Then L gave me one of the single-most fantastic keys for discovering the root of your irritation with someone:  She said, "Ask yourself -- very honestly -- what is it about that person that you see in yourself?"  Oof.  Yuck.  One of those hold-myself-up-to-a-mirror exercises?  I *hate* those.  I hate them so much that in fact, I couldn't do it sitting there at the table.  I told L I'd have to think on it.  And boy, did I ever think on it.

After much soul-searching (the truly nasty kind where you sit in the bathtub late at night, counting up your flaws and trying not to cry), I came up with the following:
  • What I saw in those other people was the need to be perfect, the need to be right, and the need to let others know how perfect and right they are.  And you guessed it, I saw it in myself.  HARD CORE saw it in myself.  And I so hated to admit this, because before I married Marty, I was in a broken, wretched marriage for a very long time, yet felt the need to present my life as perfect to others, rather than admit my mistake, reach out for help, and rectify it (which I eventually did).  Following my divorce I had been pretty outspoken in donning a mantle of perpetual honesty, and I thought I'd been doing a good job in always being truthful about my life.  Well, enter parenthood, and enter a whole new reason to be perfect and right and let others know about it. 
  • This led to another realization (oh yeah, the self-flagellation just *couldn't* end there):  I was afraid.  These mommy bloggers were, for all appearances, doing an excellent job parenting.  They were involved.  They were fun.  They were showered! What were they doing that I wasn't? What did they know that I didn't? Was I failing???  (You can imagine, with a failed marriage under my belt, that I'm a teensy bit afraid of failure.) Anyway, not only were these mommies showered, they were dressed -- their kids in Janie and Jack, themselves in Anthropologie, and their windows in Pottery Barn!
  • Which led to a further realization (of course, more):  I was jealous.  Like, the secretive, ashamed kind of jealous, where you think you must be an undercover third-grader for even having the feeling in the first place.  But it was true, nonetheless.  I was jealous that I didn't have the money to have professional pictures taken of my children every three months.  I was jealous that some moms have the resources for cleaning services, for pedicures, and for visits to the children's boutique downtown.  I was jealous that some moms have their own moms local to them; I can't imagine how amazing it might be to call your mom for help and have her show up 5 or 10 or 20 minutes later -- it takes my own mom *7 hours* to get to me.  And that's when her work schedule allows!  I wanted these things, and it hurt not to have them, and I hated that other girls got the shiny, pretty thing and I didn't.  Boo-hoo.
  • And finally (yes, one more, but this one at least didn't hurt):  I was angry, yes, but *rightly* so.  I saw attitudes that I didn't like toward moms who chose a less-traveled path.  Such as, you guessed it, choosing a soothing method for nighttime parenting.  Or for not choosing breastfeeding.  Or for choosing to go back to work.  There always seemed to be a caveat thrown in, like "good for you if another thing works" but sometimes, it just didn't ring true, it just didn't sound sincere, it just couldn't stand up to the "I'm so superior and I've worked it all out" message that came through loud and clear otherwise.  And I wanted to fight all of that, here on my little blog.  I want to say to anyone who will listen, "Hey, I give you permission to do it YOUR WAY."  So I've said it and I'll say it again and I'll probably be told to shut up at some point.  But I feel so strongly about it, and in a good, positive way.  I want moms to be encouraged to be the moms that they feel called to be.  We're not all going to look alike, and that's okay!
Emerging from the task of soul-searching, I have to admit, I feel so much better now.  It feels good to confess my imperfections.  It feels good to say "I don't have it figured out."  It feels good to want to do better, to do more with what I have, and to let go of what I don't.  More than anything, it feels good to not be so angry anymore.  And I'm a better mother now that I've gone through this process.  May I encourage you to do the same?  Just get it all out there, take a hard look at it, admit it, own it, and then -- and then -- LET IT GO.  Be thankful for what you have.  Enjoy your babies, whether they're dressed in onesies or cloth diapers or hand-stitched linen overalls made in Paris.  Get creative with the money that you do have.  Don't think about the money that you don't have.  Consider that you might not be right (if you claim to be).  Consider that there might not even be a "right" way.  It's really as simple as this.  Not easy every day, but definitely that simple. 

L, I can't thank you enough for putting me on the path of this particular self-discovery.  I suppose I owe you a cool thousand for the counseling services?  Thank you for all that you do for me.  I love you!


Anna said...

I appreciated your comments on Blue eyed bride. I never comment on Erin's blog anymore because it's usually not in agreement and not appreciated. This post is so candid and I commend you for your courage. Please realize that what most people present online is an idealized version of their lives. I am sure you are doing a fantastic job as a mother, just keep following your God-given instincts, because He gave you your family with each one of you in mind. Meaning, you are the best fit for your child(ren), husband, and vice versa. Keep your chin up!

Joette said...

Yes, after seeing your comments on Blue-Eyed Bride, I felt compelled to come check out your blog. I couldn't disagree more with sleep training, and I was amazed that out of the 51 comments posted, only you had the guts to disagree. And even more disappointing is the fact that so many moms idolize this mother as the "know-all" of motherhood. She is a great mother, yes! But I never let my son cry-it-out (he's 10.5 mos now), and he eventually got to the point of sleeping 10-hours uninterrupted. He's a very happy baby! And I am sure that he will have the capacity to sleep through the night through childhood and adulthood even though I didn't sleep train him.

Joette said...

I also wanted to add that this post really resonated with me. Much of what you said is exactly how I feel. I read a lot of mommy blogs, but sometimes, I find that I find myself questioning and thinking: "Why am I not more organized? Why can't I keep my house clean or afford a cleaning service? I guess my baby's nursery is craptastic because I got all of the furnishings from Target and Wal-Mart and don't have custom made bedding or wall art. We've never once had professional pictures taken of our baby or our family, I guess we're not going to have those "cherished memories" to perserved. Oh, and we shop for his clothing and toys at second-hand/consignment shops. Oh, the horror that he's not dressed in Janie and Jack"

I do get jealous or envious when I read some of these blogs sometimes. I feel as if I've failed somehow at being a mother because I'm not providing all of those things to my son. But when I really reflect on my life and my mothering, I am actually thankful that I don't have all of those things and that I'm not a peachy perfect person. My child certainly is not any less happy or any less loved for not having all of those things or for not having a perfect mother.

I could go on and on and on, but I will stop for the moment. I think mothers do a disservice to all mothers when we get caught up in material things and not having honest conversations about how hard it really is to be a parent.

I was going to just send you an email, but I can't from this computer. Please know that you are not alone in your thoughts.

Becky said...

Dear Anna and Joette, I am responding to you over email but I want to also say to you both here that I can't adequately express what your supportive comments mean to me. I don't know why we can't just come out and say "I disagree with that" or "I don't like that" without it somehow being a judgemental reflection on ourselves or the person we're talking to. When did we become that way as humans, as mothers? It's not for me! I crave authenticity. My friend L, who I talked about in this post, challenges me to achieve that, and I want to pass on that challenge. Be free to say what you want! Yay for freedom of speech, ha! :)

Joette said...


My email is joette dot basham at gmail dot com. I'm not sure that it is linked up to my comments, and I don't have it on my blog.