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!
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!