I was doing some thinking since writing the entry How Can We Best Support Autism Parents? As I thought about the question I posed in the title I kept coming back to the slideshow of my worst parenting moments in my head. I know that I am not alone in those moments. I know that other moms feel this way , too. For this entry I am mostly referring to mothers.
Let me explain why.
As a group, mothers are judged so openly, and harshly by others about every move, decision, and idea we have. I rarely hear of fathers shouldering this kind of judgement. They might be judged on their finances, and employment decisions, but even that pales in comparison to the daily barrage mothers face.
Don't believe me? Here is a short list of things I have heard people say before in relation to mothers, and their ability to effectively parent their children. All of them are completely false judgements.
1. Her baby cries all the time, because she never puts him down. He never learned to be alone, and will grow up to be very spoiled, and insecure.
2.Of course her baby never sleeps through the night. The child never learned to put themselves to sleep, because she allows him to sleep with her.
3. The baby has a funny shaped head, because she leaves her in her bed all the time. ( When referring to a medical condition called torticilis)
4. Her baby doesn't eat well, because she never makes him try new foods. She lets him be the boss,and eat when/what he wants.
5. The baby isn't crawling, because she is too lazy to put toys out to properly motivate her.
6. The baby isn't walking because she never puts him into his walker.
7. The child has pigeon toes, because the mom never put proper shoes on her.
8. She never learned to self soothe, so she requires a security toy. The mother should never have allowed her child to feel so afraid to need one.
9. Only kids who have no discipline require nightlights.
10. That mom is too lazy to break him of his bottle/pacifier. Look how old he is!
11. The way that child is crying I can tell she has never heard the word no.
12. His motor skills are very poor, because his mom never worked with him.
13. If a child can't begin kindergarten with basic writing, and alphabet skills it is probably because the mother never read to them.
14. He doesn't talk, because his mom doesn't make him. She caters to him.
15. She is not making any progress, because the mom doesn't want to work with her outside of school/therapy.
16. Look at that boy tantrum! Ridiculous. That mother needs to get control over him before it's too late!
17. She doesn't eat well, because the mom doesn't make her.
18. If she cared about her son, she'd not feed him _______.
19. If she cared about her kids she'd stay home with them,instead of working.
20. If she cared about her family she'd get off her butt, and find a job.
21. Can you believe he isn't potty trained!? His mother really needs to get with it.
22. Where was the mother?- in response to any, and every situation when a child/teen has misbehaved, or gotten hurt.
23. That child is too old to be breastfeeding!
24. You are not providing the necessary nutrients for you baby by bottle feeding.
Maybe my short list turned into a long one! Oops!
In any event, every last one of those I have heard either said to me about myself, or someone else. None of them are fictional, or exaggerated to make a point. Given that platform of constant judgement I can understand so much how as mothers we feel that our child's every action, difference, temperament, or inability to meet some arbitrary standard has us questioning ourselves. It's because society questions us at every turn. We love too much, and not enough. We cause harm while pregnant, and before. The way we conduct our entire lives from reproductive age till death is predicated on how well our offspring do, it seems. It is never ending.
I don't pretend to know all about child development, and I certainly am not going to solve the nature vs. nurture debate in this entry. Of course, we can do things that can be less than optimal for our children. We can, and do, as humans make mistakes. That's a part of life, and is inevitable.
The biggest mistake of all that I have found for myself is letting the fear of my parenting ability being judged poorly that I became less like the mom I want to be. Almost all of the less than stellar parenting moments that I have experienced was due to me trying to mold my children into what I thought was expected of them in a situation. I made choices that I knew felt wrong, but I don't want the teacher, store clerk, other parents, the perfect stranger standing next to me.... to think that I am an ineffective mother. Not only will they think it, often times, they will say it! I will be honest, it is rare that anyone critiques my parenting, but I am always afraid they will. I think that most moms feel this way. This fear of being judged harshly follows us wherever we go.
I have touched on this subject before in the entry Autism Mom McJudgy Pants, but that was more from the point of view of autism mothers arguing about what is the best way to do x, y, or z. The driving force behind much of that argument is what this post is about. It's that feeling of having a definite right, and a definite wrong way to parent any child, and the fear of repercussions of not choosing the 'correct' way often makes special needs moms really defensive over their choices. We become attached to our beliefs, and rigid, because we're afraid of that judgement. When your kids have obvious differences the world feels like it's perfectly acceptable to offer you unsolicited parenting advice. I don't know why that is, but it happens. Navigating that kind of social interaction on a regular basis can leave even a confident mother feeling a little threatened.
If anything you gain from reading this I hope it's that we need to question why we burden mothers with so much blame. The next time you go to say something about the way a mother is parenting her child, I hope you think of this blog entry, and stop. The next time you are in a situation where you know your child is uncomfortable, or needing something that seems out of the norm you remember this blog. You remember to stand tall, not accept the gender biased myths of mother-blaming, and be able to honor your own instincts, because you mothers out there are capable. Don't let anyone tell you any different.