Mom Bullies

largeIf my son came home and told me he made fun of someone because their jeans weren’t the right brand or because they were good at something he wasn’t, I’d (metaphorically) knock him into next week. If he came home and announced he and his friends had a jolly old laugh about another kid on the football squad who supported a different team or how they all got together and picked on the best player, I’d have serious words with him. At least a few thousand. Repeatedly.

So, why do we think it’s ok to do that to other women…particularly other mothers?

Today I came across an article about a professional trainer who shared her postpartum workout online. She has since been roundly and soundly body-slammed by people telling her how irresponsible she is for working out so soon after giving birth, others shaming her for shaming other women who don’t bounce back so quickly or easily.

For the love of God, who cares? This woman’s work out schedule has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on you, your children, how your children are going to turn out, or whether or not they’ll need therapy at some point. (Fine, and most probably.)42-49397442

I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to care if one mom is creating Disney-worthy coloring scenes on her kid’s lunch bag, or if another is making Olaf the snowman out of hard-boiled eggs. I don’t care if someone else has four out of her six-pack back in under a month after pushing out twins.

Why is it as mothers we only praise the mothers who confess and admit, the ones who stand up and say, “Hey! This parenting shit is tough!”

We are all guilty of judging other people, especially other mothers. But I think we’re even more guilty of judging other mothers who seem to have it together or gasp, seem to enjoy certain aspects of parenting.

It’s mom bullying.

You are a mom bully if you:

Make another mother feel bad about any of her parenting choices;

Mock another mother for finding something easy;

Shame another mother for finding something hard;

Criticize someone else’s stance on topics;

Question the legitimacy of another mother’s values;

Shame another mother into thinking there is only one right way to do something;

Force statistics that support your beliefs down someone’s throat;

Belittle another mother for what she wears, doesn’t wear, how large her ass is, how small her ass is;

Make assumptions about another mother based on the name of her children or the snacks she packs;

Feel sanctimonious about your own parenting choices by comparing them to others.

I wish more mothers would feel confident without putting others, members of their own tribe, down.

Listen, there are women out there who happen to be mothers who are….well, let’s not mince words…they’re assholes. It’s likely they would be assholes even if they weren’t mothers, but the fact that they are mothers may bring us into daily contact with them, either in real life or virtually.

I’m talking about your run of the mill, average mother. Those of us who are chopping carrot sticks and trying to find a ride to a birthday party or trying to figure out how to get our kids to remember to put their clothes in the hamper and not leave them scrunched in a ball on the floor. The ones who every now and again pat ourselves on the back and think, “Damn if I didn’t handle that well.”

tumblr_inline_ml3t79Pb6G1qz4rgpIt’s tough to have confidence as a parent. Do you know why? Because there is no one right way or one wrong way to do it. Every kid is different. Every parent is different. Every situation is different. Every friggin’ parenting book is different. There is no magic one-size-fits-all answer. It’s eighteen plus years of fighting the good fight and praying that your kids don’t hate you enough to ignore the dribble on your chin when you’re old and dotty.

If you have to get that confidence by trolling or shaming or mocking another mother? You’re doing exactly what (I hope) you’re teaching your kids not to do.

 

 

Time Off for Good Behavior

01kgrhqrhye1fhtyejibngwbyiznw0_3As a mother, I’m daily frustrated by my kids’ trickle down behavior-you know, using up all the good stuff with other people and saving the not so good for the home front. And I get it, because I do the same thing, and I bet you do too.

Just like we were all spectacular parents before we had kids, we’re all better parents when other people are around. We’re on our best parenting behavior. On a plane, in a restaurant, with other parents. Oh, if only we were always the parents others see–the mum with the patience to endlessly pick up the toy their toddler keeps throwing on the floor without hurling it across the room; the cool, calm collected mother who is able to repeatedly tell her toddler to stop kicking the plane seat without losing her shit. The smiling Saturday morning Dad in the park who gently encourages without asking how it is statistically possible to drop a ball 100% of the time. Those parents on the bus who calmly use logic and redirection and positive reinforcement, even though it’s the 67th tantrum of the day and they really want to get off and leave their kid on the bus.

What a relief then when you get home and you can let your gut hang out and tell your kids what you really think. Because man, it’s hard to be on your best parenting behavior for long periods of time. It takes a lot of work not to yell at your kids. It uses up a lot of energy to refrain from rolling your eyes. It takes a steady hand to avoid sarcastic. It’s exhausting.tumblr_mqi8elgIz51sn9lzco2_1280

We recently had friends come to stay with us. It was nice to catch up and to reminisce, to hang out, but it was nice too when we said goodbye and I could finally yell at my kids in peace.

None of use are perfect parents. We all lose patience, threaten to strip privileges, say things we really don’t mean. Just as our children can be whiny and teary and cranky after a day at school on their best behavior, after long periods of time spent with other people pretending to be more patient than I really am, I get cranky and whiny too.

The truth is: I yell at my kids. Not all the time, but I do. From time to time I say things that are not helpful or kind. Some probably even border on mean. I’ve called them not-so-nice names and have been known to question their intelligence levels. I’ve cursed, I’ve stomped, I’ve thrown things, (not at them, but still…). I’ve ignored them, pretended I didn’t realize the allotted hour of iPad time was up, given them hot dogs for dinner without any vegetables two nights in a row. I’ve taken money from one kid’s piggy bank to use at tooth fairy money and never replaced it. None of those things are going to prompt anyone to call child protective services on me (I hope), but they’re all the things I try really hard not to do when I’m around other people. You know, when I’m on my best parenting behavior.

bj-werner-1967-mugshot-fashion-ladySometimes you find a group of like-minded friends and you can let your hair down a little. Confess that why yes, just this morning you called you child an idiot and that no, you really don’t feel bad about it because he was being an idiot. That’s when you know you’ve found your parenting tribe. Stick with them. You need a group of friends you can parenting fart in front of. Because everybody farts. I mean yells, everybody yells…

If only you got time off for good behavior.

How to Alienate Yourself From Other Mothers in 10 Easy Steps

7c669686e02f34a87ab955c1e7c35ef6We moms are a tough crowd. Questionable working conditions will do that to a gal. Despite the long hours, the limited vacation time, and the ungrateful bosses, most of us wake up each day determined to do our best. We work while we are sick, we work while we are on vacation, many work while they work. Most of us have had days when we’re happy we’ve made it to bedtime without using profanity and others when we’ve gone to bed thinking, “Hey! Maybe my kids are going to be ok after all.”

It doesn’t matter if you are a stay at home mom or a working mom, a young one or an older one (during my second pregnancy I almost passed out when I saw geriatric pregnancy on my file). It doesn’t matter if you breast-fed or bottle fed, if you had a natural birth or a c-section. However we got to where we are, we’re all mothers, and no one understands what it’s like to be a mother more than a mother. So chances are you’re going to find your social circle expanding to include mothers or reducing to include only mothers. You’re going to encounter them at school, in the work place, in the supermarket.  They’ll smile at your kids when they are being cute and hopefully smile in sympathy when you are carrying them bodily out of Toys R Us. If you’re smart, you’ll take advantage of the been-there-done-that advice of the ones who are a few years ahead of you. But if you’re determined to go it alone, there are a few easy ways to make sure you achieve the status of “Cootie Mom”.

Here are 10 easy ways to make sure you alienate yourself from the one group of people who know what you’re talking about, sometimes before you even know you’re thinking it.

1. Use another mother’s child as an example of how not to behave. Never. Not even at home. Why? Because it’s rude for one thing. For another, all kids misbehave at some point, and because it will always, always, always get back to the person whose parenting skills you are badmouthing, one way or another. Your mother was right. If you don’t have anything good to say…..

2. Use the word never in conjunction with your own child’s behavior, as in “My son would never throw sand at another child” or “My daughter would never be mean to another child.” Why? Because parenting fate has a funny way of stepping in just when we’re getting too cocky and giving us a good, swift kick up the ass to make sure we stay on our toes.

3. Proclaim that you would never allow something or that you only do something. See: Famous Last Words. Smart mothers know that you always leave room for improvisation, that never is a long time, and that moderation and balance is the key to sanity. That and wine.

WeddingDuds

4. Give unsolicited advice regarding nutrition or behavior modification to another mother, particularly one who seems stressed out or at the end  of her rope. Why? Because we’ve all been at the end of our rope. And you know what we want to hear? We want to hear “Hey, I’ve been there, it’s ok, it gets better,” not “Have you tried a reward chart?” or “Perhaps Johnny has too much sugar in his diet.” There’s a time and a place for advice. If you offer it at a time of crisis, you could end up with a sugar-coated reward chart shoved someplace uncomfortable.

5. Comment on the number of offspring a mother has to that mother. One mother of five I know told me that she routinely had another mother tell her that it was irresponsible to have more than two children because it was impossible to give them the attention and love they deserved. Go ahead. Spout comments like that and see how many people hang around you at the sandbox.

6. Assume that all boys are X and all girls are Y. I’m never quite sure what to make of it when people say to me, “Oh, I don’t know what I would do if I had a boy.” Err…raise him? It is true I only have boys and I have friends that have only girls. But it is dangerous in the extreme to make assumptions about either sex based solely on their sex. If you want to alienate the mothers of one half of the population, go ahead and start bad-mouthing one or the other.

7. Talk about how your labor wasn’t painful, how your baby slept through the night by one week, or being back in your size 4 jeans when you left the hospital. Why? It doesn’t matter if those things are true or not. No one wants to hear them.

8. Don’t judge a toddler by its cover. Never compare the behavior of a baby to a toddler or a toddler to a pre-schooler or a pre-schooler to a kindergartener, and so on and so on and so on. I never thought my sweet baby boy would pick up a stick and beat the ground with it.  Then he turned three.  All those giant four year olds running around like wild things on the playground? You’re going to have one of them someday too. The same way that soon enough I’ll probably have a sullen middle schooler. Parenting is relative. We only know what we’ve been through, where we’ve been. Assume you know nothing about any age that is more than three months older than your oldest child and keep your mouth shut.

strict-1950s9. Always talk down about your own kid. We all complain about our kids from time to time. In fact, I don’t trust women who don’t complain about their kids sometimes. But when you never say anything good about your kids, it’s draining, and heart breaking, and you will eventually find yourself an island in the Sea of Motherhood; the one place where you don’t want to be an island.

10. Always one-up the person you’re talking to. Their child didn’t sleep through the night until a year? Yours didn’t sleep for two. Their kid doesn’t like fruit? Yours doesn’t like fruit, vegetables, bread products or meat. Why? Commiserating is fine, but when you have to one-up someone at every turn, it makes their own struggles or complaints null and void.

Parenting is tough. Even the easy parts are tough sometimes. While you may be in a good spot, a sweet spot, if you’ve been a mother long enough you know they don’t always last and it doesn’t do you any good to go around mouthing off about it.

So there you go. If the thought of alienating yourself from the one group of people who truly get you doesn’t make you stop and think, I’ll leave you with one more word.

Jinx.

 

Micromanagement (Or Why I Decided To Back The Hell Up)

Photo: lonestarsportsledger.com
Photo: lonestarsportsledger.com

Every generation thinks the buck stopped there; thinks the generation that follows is going to be the end of civilization, the downfall of polite society, the scourge of the world.  Every generation thinks they were tougher, made of sterner stuff. Every generation thinks they are the last of the true survivors.

“We survived walking uphill to school, both ways! Mothers who smoked! Net-less trampolines and cars with no seat belts! We are better people because we played dodge ball and had to carefully pick our way through the minefield of playground hierarchy.  We didn’t have X! Or Y! Or even Z! We had to make do, use our imaginations, we had to play!”

Every now and again social media fairly drowns in nostalgia posts: Remember when we went home when the streetlights went on? When you rolled around in the way back? Remember when you hung out in the woods with cigarettes stolen from your mother’s purse? (Okay, maybe that was just me). It’s like one generation poking the next one in the chest and calling “Wuss.” I get sucked into the nostalgia from time to time, pumping my fist along with the rest of Gen X.  Even my ‘book’ is peppered with glimpses of growing up in the 70s and 80s: unchaperoned, unbothered, unmanaged.

Here’s the thing though: something went kind of horribly wrong between then and now. Somewhere between rolling around in the way back and latchkey kids, between ABC Afterschool Specials and Everyone’s A Winner, between casual little league and Organized (with a capital, bold and Helvetica O) Sports, something went awry. Somewhere between us being kids and us being parents, we rolled around one too many times in the way, way  back and missed our stop. We stopped being just parents and started being extreme parents. We stopped being a parental lighthouse in the storm and a guidepost along the way and instead became—well, everything. We are walking spread sheets, pack mules, absorbers of emotion, defenders of behavior. We have gone from suggestion and leading by example to micromanaging every aspect of our kids lives.

I speak as someone who does this.  Slight correction: I write this as someone who has recently decided that knowing exactly what my kids are up to every moment of every day is not healthy.  Not for them, and certainly not for me.  Somewhere along the way, the idea of spending time with our kids and knowing what they’re up to got inflated. It got super sized and blown way out of proportion.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about knowing if your kids are going to a party where there will be alcohol–or parents–or kids who graduated a dozen years ago looking to reclaim their youth. I’m not talking about being up to date with what is going on in their lives, taking an interest. That is being a parent, and a good one. I’m talking about controlling every aspect of their lives. I’m talking about taking so much responsiblity for them, their relationships, their academics and every other nuance of their behavior that they become stunted; dwarfed into some never-ending limbo of childhood with an unhealthy reliance upon their parents.

Many of us have become so blindsided by the bad, by the dangers that our children face, that we are suffocating them in bubble wrap. Yes, there are dangers. Yes, there is frightening stuff out there on the internet that makes me cringe. And yes, our children need to be aware of these very real things. But if we stand over their shoulder at every opportunity, telling them where to go and what to do and what to say, they are never going to learn how to think for themselves.

I’m not sure which straw it was that broke this particular camel’s back for me. Perhaps it was not only accepting the blame for forgetting a school bag, but actually believing that it was my fault. Perhaps it was the fact that my nine year-old’s behavior was increasingly bratty and challenging, perhaps it was the sight of him standing there in front of the pantry asking if he could have a cookie.  I had a sudden thought that it was entirely possible that my son could end up calling me up from college asking if it was okay to have another cookie….because I have never let him make the decision himself.

Photo: news.bbc.co.uk
Photo: news.bbc.co.uk

It’s a fine line.  There must be rules, there must be limitations.  But there also must be freedom.  Freedom to experience, freedom to make mistakes, freedom to screw up, freedom to learn. If we are there, directing each movement like Scorsese, managing each fork full of food and every relationship, managing time and words and thoughts, we are not protecting them, we are preventing them: from growing up, from independence, from life.

No one likes to be told what to do all the time.  If you are directing a constant barrage of instructions at your child’s head, even if they are well-meaning and worded in the most polite way possible, eventually they are going to balk.  It makes sense that my son’s behavior was a reaction to this. He was arguing with me over the color of the sky because we had basically given him so little control over his own life that this was the only way he could exert it.

So I’m backing off, giving my children the breathing space they need to actually grow up.  We have our rules, and because they are fewer, they are broken less. Even in the few short weeks that I have stepped back and encouraged my older son to do more by himself, for himself, I’ve noticed the changes. He is more reasonable, the arguing has lessened.  Given the chance, without me reminding him, making sure he’s got this and that and has done x,y, and z, he remembers most of the time.  He’s more polite. He’s more helpful. As a mother, I am less tired, less harassed.  The best part? I feel like my son and I like each other again.  At least for now.

There are going to be times to clamp down of course, times when my kids get too big for their britches, too cocky. When those times call for it, I will clamp down.  But I’ve got to let them choose their own britches, even if the ones they choose make them look like Kazak wrestlers.

Children need to be able to stretch and exercise their own judgement. Though it may make my heart clench, the only way they are going to limber up enough to make the right choices is if I stop making their choices for them. If I back the hell off and let them grow up.

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