Monday, May 3, 2010

It's Complicated. Or, Maybe I'm Just Paranoid.

“If only she could control her children. They are wild.”

“He’s so undisciplined. And you know why? His mother is never home.”

“She never leaves her kids, so they are attached to her and don’t deal well with others.”

With raised eyebrows and hushed tones.

Judgment. So much judgment.

I knew that parenthood would make me vulnerable to others’ suppositions and opinions about my abilities as a parent, but I didn’t realize it would start so soon. Parents, particularly mothers, are judged by the product of their parenting – their children. There is a bit of truth in this, of course, but who wants to feel as though they are constantly being scrutinized and evaluated?

Of course I am afraid I won’t be good enough. Of course I am afraid of screwing up. Of course I am afraid of making the wrong decision. Do I need others watching and waiting for me to falter, nodding knowingly to each other, “Well, you know, she was always a bit too sensitive/lenient/picky/strict/insert-inadequacy-here.”? No. I am anxious and paranoid enough for myself, thank you. I know my shortcomings and know I’m imperfect. Chances are, I will yell at my kid in public once or twice. I will lose my patience. He will run around a crowded restaurant one day, or at least scream loudly enough to elicit stares of judgment. And guess what? I have no control over whether he’ll cry on an airplane. I wish I did – no one wants to be on an airplane with a crying baby.

I’ve only dealt with this a bit as a pregnant woman –there are judgments from others when I drink my coffee, eat Brie (it’s the unpasteurized cheese you can’t eat!), enjoy a sip of wine, or take a Tylenol for the pounding headaches I used to get as a result of crazy hormones. I’ve been asked if I’ve taken my vitamin and why I am so pale. I get badgered about being a vegetarian while pregnant. It’s sort of odd, to have people pay attention to what I’m doing with my body. Suddenly people have opinions about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. No one used to notice what I ate, drank, or did (aside from my favorite: “Are you getting enough protein?”) before they knew I was pregnant.

Next, there will be decisions about labor, birth, vaccines, circumcision, sleeping, and feeding. Each side of every decision is so weighted. Everyone has an opinion. Some people rave about attachment parenting, others decry it. Some moms tell me not to be a hero, get an epidural; others tell me I can do it without, that it’s better without. Some say babies should sleep in a co-sleeper; others say get the baby in its own room as soon as possible.

Here’s the thing – I want to hear all the opinions, get advice, and learn about others’ experiences - I just take it all to heart. I have a tendency to care too much what others think of me and my decisions, so this doesn’t bode well for suddenly being thrust into a position where people are prone to judge you. Maybe I am over-thinking things. Maybe those around me will be supportive and kind and trust my decisions. Maybe I will have confidence in my decisions and won’t care if others raise their eyebrows behind my back.

As a bystander, though, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Both online and offline, judgment about other women abounds. It saddens me, because the media is already pretty tough on women. Unrealistic expectations are hoisted upon us– we should look gorgeous all the time, lose baby weight immediately, and be able to juggle it all. If we don’t, our husbands might leave us and our kids will be irrevocably harmed. The least we can do is support each other, ladies. We’re all doing our best.
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