I’m not sure when motherhood began to resemble a game show entitled “Judgment and Comparison.” “I’ll take, ‘Why is your 3-year-old not potty-trained?’ for $100, Alex.” Somewhere along the way, I feel like moms have developed the tendency to forget that we’re all on the same team with the same goal: to raise productive members of society who can wipe themselves and won’t live in our basements as adults.
When I was wheeled out of the hospital with my baby girl in my arms almost 14 years ago, I remember thinking, Do I know how to be a good mom? Do they realize they are letting this tiny person leave the hospital with someone who only makes her bed when she’s leaving on vacation? I had no idea what I was doing, but I had skimmed enough parenting books and hoped they would help me figure out feeding schedules and how to cut teeny tiny, razor sharp baby fingernails. These were the days before Instagram and Pinterest, so I was blissfully unaware that I was supposed to be documenting every single moment with chalkboard calligraphy reading: “Baby’s First Bath.” I just rocked her, fed her, swaddled her and did my best to keep her alive while maintaining my sanity through sleepless nights.
Then an interesting thing happened, I began to socialize with other moms. We’d meet at the pool, a play group or just push our babies in strollers around the neighborhood. I began to see all the different ways women choose to mother. Some of them let their babies sleep in bed with them, some had already enrolled their toddlers in Spanish classes, and some made their own baby food. I did none of these things. The only way I got dinner on the table for two years was courtesy of “Baby Einstein” videos and 400 viewings of “Finding Nemo.”
Between Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook, we can kill ourselves with “should haves.” We are a generation who has never worked harder at our parenting, yet feel more guilt over all the ways we aren’t enough because we bombard ourselves with constant comparison. Comparisons can consume us, and in an attempt to make ourselves feel better, we can become hypercritical of the ways other women choose to mother their children. We lose sight of the fact that we are all doing the hard things and keeping helpless humans alive. We let our insecurities take over. We all know the mom who makes homemade birthday cakes while you don’t even know how to work your oven, or the mom who stays home with her kids while you actually enjoy going to the office every morning. It’s when we stop comparing that we can fully support each other. We can stop judging the moms who choose home-school over public school, or carrot sticks over chicken nuggets, and realize that we are all doing what we believe is best for our kids. Motherhood has never been a one-size-fits-all proposition. There is no one right way to raise good kids.
As important as it is for us to give our kids grace, we need to give ourselves and our fellow moms grace as well. Don’t look around and convince yourself everyone else is doing it better or that everyone else is doing it wrong. We all have days that are Instagram-worthy because we drank hot chocolate and played a board game with our kids, and days with PMS and a dog that just threw up all over the rug. Motherhood is a minute-by-minute adventure. How great it would be if we all cheered each other on with love and support instead of criticism and judgment, recognizing that one mom’s parenting style doesn’t diminish yours.
I’ve always believed that criticism and judgment are born out of our own insecurities, a need to critique what someone else is doing to validate our own choices. When we begin to believe that we are the mother God meant for our kids to have, we can do a better job of encouraging and loving fellow moms. Maybe your kids don’t need cauliflower carved to look like a poodle, or a Twinkie® made to look like a Minion, but another kid does. We need to quit believing the lie that there is one right way to make our kids’ childhood magical and wonderful. Because childhood is pretty magical all by itself, and it looks different across family lines.
What happens when we begin to live in a way where we quit building walls around ourselves and let others see who we really are and, in turn, they feel safe enough to let us see who they really are? To see where they are hurting. To listen and not judge as they share their fears and struggles about raising broken kids in a broken world. Life becomes richer when we lead with love, because love is the building block to real community, deep relationships and better moms. Maybe you don’t know how to carve a lightsaber out of celery, but you have a mom friend who’s happy to do it for you because that’s her specialty.
Melanie Shankle is the author of Church of the Small Things and the founder of The Big Mama Blog. She is a New York Times bestselling author of three books including Nobody’s Cuter than You. Melanie is a graduate of Texas A&M and lives in San Antonio, Texas with her daughter, Caroline, husband, Perry, and two wild dogs Piper and Mabel.
This article currently appears in the fall 2017 issue of The MOPS Magazine. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get The MOPS Magazine in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.