Friday, May 30, 2008

"mommy guilt?"

I was reading something the other day that got me thinking and… Well you know what, there’s no point in explaining how my thought process works. It really is a mystery, even to me! Somehow though I came to this conclusion: I can’t be vocal about my parenting philosophies with most people I know/meet. Since becoming a parent I have struggled with this. When someone says something that I don’t agree with, do I speak up to let them know I don’t agree, or do I remain silent to keep the peace? Mostly I’ve chosen to remain silent. This shouldn’t be very hard for me, since I do generally keep pretty quiet about my opinions anyway. It’s not that I don’t have very strong opinions, or that I’m not highly passionate about my opinions. It’s just that I don’t much care for contention, and since I live in [enter strictly conservative area here] and am quite strictly liberal, voicing my opinions almost certainly and consistently brings contention. With some people, I feel comfortable voicing my beliefs, because I know that while they do not agree with me, they do respect me, and we can have a healthy discussion. However, most people I come in contact with here lack a certain amount of respect for anyone who does not worship the Republican party…

I don’t mean to turn this into a political thing, so let me get back on track.
I was saying that I am pretty accustomed to keeping quiet about most of my strong opinions. However, with my parenting beliefs I am finding this to be an almost impossible feat. I feel probably more passionately about the things I choose to do as a parent than about anything else in life. It is hard for me to remain silent on such important issues as breastfeeding, gentle discipline, etc. In addition to that, I feel completely dishonest and fake when I do. It’s not an issue when it’s strangers offering their (completely-opposite-of-anything-I-would-ever-do) advice; if some nosy grandma at the grocery store wants to meddle in the middle of my toddler’s tantrums, so be it. I can easily nod and smile at whatever is suggested, then walk away and keep right on doing what I do. But when it’s people I consider my friends, or people I am trying to make my friends, who have the “helpful advice,” I just don’t know how to respond. When I talk about my toddler not sleeping through the night and a friendish someone responds by telling me all about how well it worked for them to let their child cry for hours on end, if I am silent that implies that I agree with them (Ever heard that silence implies consent?). If I speak up, though, I am judging their parenting choices.

And more than just wanting people to know where I stand on those kind of issues, I want to be honest with my friends about who I am. I want to be honest because if these people are my friends, or if I want them to be my friends, I want them to actually KNOW me (strange concept, I know!). So I should speak up, right? Right?

It doesn’t matter to me what anyone thinks about my parenting philosophies, or if they agree with me. But it seems like if I say anything to express my honest opinions, I am seen as a judgmental, holier-than-thou, super-mom parent. And I am SO not that. Really. I understand that parenting is a highly complex, highly personal undertaking, and what works for me doesn’t work for everyone. I truly believe that most of the people I know really and deeply love their children and are doing what they believe to be best for them. I know we all have different strengths and weaknesses, our patience levels are variable, we have higher tolerance for some things than for others. I know all of these things affect the way we parent, and that these things (and consequently, the way we parent) change each day. I also know that parenting decisions are usually the result of two people (typically husband and wife) coming together, and because there are two parents who get to do the parenting, compromises must be made, often great big enormous compromises. All these things factor into our individual (or familial) parenting philosophies and practices. As long as no one is abusing their children, I really do not judge others’ parenting choices.

However, it seems like anything I say in dissent to the “mainstream” parenting opinion is construed as a judgment by others, even though I truly never mean it as one. I believe that this stems from the so-called “mommy guilt” that many mothers feel, and their need to defend their choices and actions, even though I never want another woman to feel guilty or to feel that she needs to explain or defend herself to me. I think this is why, when people find out I continue to breastfeed my 20-month-old, besides thinking I am wacky, they feel they need to explain to me why they formula-fed or why they weaned their child at 8, 12, or 15 months. I really don’t care about anyone’s reasons, and I really won’t judge them for anything like that. If they feel comfortable and confident about their decisions, so do I. The problem I guess is that many women DON’T feel comfortable about their decisions, and so this gives them guilt, which in turn makes them feel like they need to explain their actions, which in turn makes them feel they are being judged when someone does something differently. Is this assessment right? I really don’t know, because so far there are very few things I feel guilty about as a mom. I know that I am far, FAR from perfect. I don’t not feel guilty because I never do anything wrong; I just don’t feel guilty because I have done my research and I really believe that I am doing the best I can for my son. I truly believe I am doing the best I can, and I don’t think I need to explain myself to others. I feel confident as a mother. When I slip up (and I do, a LOT), I forgive myself, apologize to my son and hope he forgives me, and move on. Because I am a human being.

It makes me really sad that not every woman feels this way. It makes me really sad that not every woman puts a concerted effort into making such important decisions as how to raise her children. It makes me really sad that our society has so much influence on people, and on parents and mothers especially, and that there are so many agendas flying around out there that the real facts and information are not readily available.

And today mostly it just makes me really sad that I can’t be who I am without someone coming away feeling guilty about their choices…

1 comment:

-A said...

I see the response more as self-doubt than guilt. Even the most well thought out parenting methods seem to beg for justification when they are being "held-up" against another view. I personally fall into the trap of biting my tongue too often, assuming that nobody wants to hear my contradictory opinions. However, hearing parenting views that differ from my own gives me a chance to think and consider my position.

I believe that more than anything else, we moms all want to be understood and accepted, no matter our take on the best way to raise a child. So, the instinct to explain our methods (aside from just plain wanting to talk about our own kid) is really a way of sharing ourselves.

Then again, maybe that's just me . . .

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