Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Strength In Numbers

So, I'm on this message board on Facebook for a Baby & Me group from the hospital.  The Baby & Me groups were formed by the hospital for new parents to get together and share the joys and despair of new parenthood.  It's mostly moms, even though the hospital promotes it as a place for anyone to come.  On this board, I have a friend, whose daughter is about 6 months younger than L.  She recently posted a question asking the other moms what to do about her daughter screaming in restaurants.  There was a ton of advice, and most moms posted what they do/did, and how long this phase of screaming in restaurants lasted for them.  It's an awesome place to go (both physically and electronically) to get a lot of ideas and commiserate over motherhood.

The thing that struck me, wouldn't leave me, and kept me up last night was the fact that she mentioned that while at a "family friendly" restaurant, she got disparaging looks for the fact that her 19 month old daughter was screaming (and then giggling like a fool because she was getting the attention she wanted) during dinner.  After reading all the responses, it seems to me like every toddler does this at some point in their life.  So I couldn't figure out how people at this restaurant could be put off by it.  If you have a family, you've been through this.  Are you so far separated from the toddler years and early motherhood that you forget? Or have you rewritten your personal history in your head that tells you that your children never did such things?

Motherhood (and fatherhood) is the single-most difficult job you will ever have in your entire life, for the least amount of pay.  It is also the most isolating life change a woman experiences, which is why, I think, so many women judge other mothers' parenting skills and choices.  You don't get much public support and praise for giving your best, just disdain for the outcome of your child screaming in a restaurant, peeing on the waiting room floor of the pediatrician's office, or having an all-out, on the floor, kicking and screaming meltdown at Target because you came to buy toilet paper, not a Thomas train.

When E was a baby, another new mom friend of mine & I went to one of those big consignment sales in downtown Portland.  Another couple of moms noticed the diapers our kids were wearing, and made a sweet comment: "Cute diapers!"  I noticed that those moms used cloth diapers, too, so I decided to show off my awesome cloth/disposable hybrid gDiapers, which are a local company (because local is good in Portland, right?)  The two women looked us up & down with disgust and stated "We only use wool," and walked off. 


I couldn't believe that another mother could do something like that - to make another mother feel inferior to you just because they made a different choice about what they should catch poop with.  I went home and thought about this for a while.  And by "a while," I mean, I am still thinking about this.  I will be the first person to admit that I judge.  Rather, have judged.  Past tense.  When you're a new mom, and the majority of the advice you get is 30 year old stuff from your mom who takes it as a personal affront that you're not doing things the way she did it, you need some way to validate your choices as a mother.  When you're pushing your happy kid through the grocery store and someone else's is whining over not getting chocolate, admit it.  You smile to yourself and give yourself a pat on the back because your child would never do that... at least not at this particular moment in time.

When I realized and acknowledged the fact that I was silently judging other moms, I knew I had to do something to change, or I might become that mom at the consignment sale.  It doesn't take long to go from silent, passive judge, to loud, obnoxious, overt, pushy judge.  But what could I do?  How could I feel good about my parenting choices in a world of parents who are different from me?  Yes, I had friends who exclusively breastfed, but not all of them used cloth diapers.  I had friends who used cloth diapers who bottle fed.  I had friends who nursed exclusively and used cloth diapers, but turned their kids forward facing at 1 year.  If I surrounded myself with people who did exactly what I did, I would be a group of 1.  And then I realized why it was that motherhood is so frigging isolating.  There is not one person who parents exactly like you.  There is not one person who will make the same parenting choices as you.  Not even your husband.  And when you're brand new at this job, you really need some validation to know that your choices are good and right.  Hell, even when you're at it for a few years, you need that validation, because even though you've been a mom for 10 years, this is the first time you've been a mom to a 10 year old.

And that is when I made the conscious decision to support every mother I met, no matter what, in their decisions and their parenthood.  When I nursed in public, I would seek out another nursing mom and sit next to her.  While I'm extremely shy and didn't even speak (the internet is a savior to us introverts), just having that silent support and strength in numbers was enough.  Any jackass can tell one mom to cover up, or leave an area for feeding her child in public, but there are few who will speak up to a group of moms.  In restaurants, I choose to sit next to other families.  Again, strength in numbers.

But I can do more, I can do so much more.  When I see a mom struggling in the grocery store with a screaming child, I can say "I know where you are right now.  Parenting is a bitch, and you are awesome.  My kids do that all the time."    In fact, today I did just that.  While buying shoes at the local Fred Meyer with my kids, a woman with three kids (for those of you who are mathematically challenged, that's a 3 to 1 ratio of children to parents; a 6 to 2 ratio of kid hands to adult hands.  Try to wrap your head around that one) was experiencing the drop to the floor tantrum.

I stopped and said, "Parenting while shopping is tough, isn't it?  As if parenting wasn't hard enough as it is..."

She replied that she couldn't wait until school started.

"I hear you, sister!"

And off we went on our separate ways.  It was a short exchange, but I hope that the commiseration was enough to keep her strong through that moment.

I plan on continuing to offer encouragement to struggling parents in public wherever I go.  And I offer you a challenge to do the same.  When you see a mom nursing in public, give her a thumbs up, pat on the back, high five, whatever you feel comfortable with.  Same goes for a mom bottle feeding in public.  If a toddler is screaming in a restaurant, go over to the mom and tell her what an awesome mom she is for braving a restaurant with a young child, and how you remember those times.  When a mom is dealing with an all-out tantrum, let her know that you have been there, will be there, and understand everything she is feeling right now, and that she is awesome.  Hell, if you're feeling really good about it, how about you offer to watch her cart while she goes outside to help her child with an attitude adjustment?

Let's all make a pact, right here and right now that we will stop judging to make ourselves feel better about our choices as parents, and instead start encouraging others so that we all feel good.

Because 20 minutes of this is enough to make Mother Theresa drop the F-bomb.


  1. Belcher, wonderful post and so very true. Screaming children have never upset me. What has gotten to me over the years are screaming parents, the ones who berate their children and threaten them, or worse. This holier-than-thou attitude about diaper choices and such is absurd.

    As the mother of a now 29 year old, there is something you cannot see clearly when you are raising little ones -- that children are their own distinctly unique beings, and you as a parent are really just along for the ride and to give them support and help them learn life's lessons.

    We think all of the choices we make for them really make a difference, but the truth is when they reach a certain age, they will make their own choices no matter what you do or say now, what diapers they wore, whether you breast fed or not. Some of them reach a point where their friends have more influence on them than parents do, no matter how fantastic their parenting was.

    Parents can be as smug as they want that it was their superior parenting skills that made the difference, but I've seen way too many instances of young humans doing things their parents do not approve of, lectured against, would never consider allowing. That little human you're raising will make their own choices in life, and the sooner you realize that you don't get to write the script of their lives, the better off you are.

    Your role is to get them to adulthood prepared to survive in the world without you, and hopefully still liking and caring for you enough to call or come home for visits. Diaper, breast feeding versus bottle, and play group choices are ultimately inconsequential.

    Anyways, love to you all.

    1. Oh Donna, how true that is. We get so wrapped up in our own hot mess that we forget the big picture. My best friend from college has three kids, who never had a sip of breastmilk, wore disposable diapers, ate baby food from a jar, went to day care while both their parents worked full time and attended public school. All three are pretty awesome kids and teenagers. While her choices and the outcomes never did much to influence my own personal choices during these early years, they have definitely helped me relax and enjoy this time, knowing that I'm not going to fuck up my kid if I happen to put a disposable diaper on his bum, give him some formula, or feed him (gasp!) non-organic food every once in a while.

      Who will my kids (and hers) become when they reach adulthood? We don't know, but we both hope that they will be kind, respectful, honest and hard working. And by God, hopefully they will remember to call us on Mother's Day.

  2. Thanks so much for this! It is just what I needed to read! There are some days when I just never know what to do or I worry that I am making the wrong decision entirely and will screw up my child FOREVER! Having a child has been such a humbling experience. I would love to have another mom tell me everything you are doing is just right for you and your child! Having strength in numbers in something every mommy needs!

    Thanks, thanks, thanks, and thanks again!