Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I'm the best, yah boo sucks

This is a slightly extended response to a post on another blog about the ways mothers judge other mothers. Undomestic Goddess called for mothers to be non-judgmental and just accept that different ways of parenting are right for different people.

Something about this doesn't sit right with me. Much as I hate people judging my parenting, it's okay that they do. I claim the right to be partial. I parent the way I parent because I think it's better - I do. Otherwise, obviously, I'd parent a different way. That moral relativity - 'we need to value everyone's choices /lifestyles equally' - doesn't work for me.

'Judgment' is a loaded word, but think of it as 'the courage of your convictions'. We make judgments when we weigh up the choices and decide in favour of one. Sometimes other people won't like those choices.

Part of being strong women is having the capacity to deal with disapproval. And we need to have the courage to disapprove. Of injustice, of child abuse. Yes, we are all doing the best we can with what we've got, but sometimes the best we can do is crap. Obviously Undomestic Goddess isn't talking about child abuse. She's talking about the smaller decisions we make, the kinds of decisions that we are told are personal choice. It's okay to feel passionate about our choices.

I think there is a fantasy that because we all have a common experience (having children), we can sit around in a mutual circle of unconditional positive regard. That would be like turning off my brain.

I put a lot of thought into the way I parent. I'm open to new ideas (sometimes), but not all ideas are good ideas. Some simply aren't good for me(I'm not a routine person, so naps and feeds at set times is never going to work in our house), and some just aren't good ideas (babies under six months should not be left to cry - there's lots of research linking infant distress to impaired neurotransmitter development, and none to indicate the baby will be 'spoiled' by repeated comforting).

So, the judgments are okay. The grey area is when it's okay to comment. When I think it's abusive, that's straightforward. I might be pretty mild - I said to a woman (an evangelical Christian, as it happened - apparently the fundies have much higher rates of corporal punishment of children) when she was talking about smacking her child (making him lie over the bed and count) 'I don't believe in hitting other people.' I was pretty unemotional about it, and I knew it would have absolutely no effect, but I couldn't just let it pass. She was relating the story so proudly. Hopefully, gradually, she will understand that it's not socially acceptable - but I doubt it. But there a hundred smaller, daily choices that together make up the sort of parents we are and the sort of people our children will become. I don't comment on the breastfeeding/ bottlefeeding thing, although I think people give dumb reasons for giving up - 'My partner felt left out,' I've heard twice now. But what do I care if my baby is 6.7 IQ points higher than theirs?I saw a woman feeding her very new baby in the parents room - she had the bottle propped up in its pram while she read a magazine. She didn't talk to it or touch it or make eye contact the whole time. I felt deeply sad for that baby and wondered if the mother had depression. I'm sure she was making the best choice she could at the time - she wasn't shaking the baby - but I would not pretend that method of feeding is as good as an extended cuddle with a bottle.

So there, I am judgmental.

To me, asking us not to have opinions about how other people parent is like saying, 'mothering doesn't matter - you can do it any old way.'


Kelly & Sam Pilgrim-Byrne said...

Yeah, fair call.

E, M, and the Little Man said...

It's an interesting topic. I just made a comment on recov.ering straigh.t gi.rl's blog about not being judgemental. There's a link on my blog if you want to read her post from today.

But, sometimes I am. I saw a woman at the library on her laptop working while her son was creating havoc around her. He was clearly trying to get attention, and negative attention was the only way he was able to get through to her. She would yell at him to stop and then go back to her work. I was judging her for doing this, but then I also wondered if it was something really, really important that she was working on and on most days she's a very good mother.

I go back and forth.

Anonymous said...

i've been thinking about this a lot since you wrote it. i've been struggling to articulate what my difficulty with it was.

i think there is a difference between judging what is right for you and what is right for someone else. so i totally agree with you that it's OK - important, even - to judge how other people parent in order to inform your own parenting style. but i don't think it's really OK to judge what is best for someone else's family (with the caveat, of course, about clearly abusive situations, where i think we need to judge but also act).

so i think it's OK to look at the woman feeding her baby in the shopping centre and think, "that would never be OK for me to do to my kids" i think it's not fair to extend it to saying it wasn't OK for the child and mother involved. we just don't know enough about the full picture of their lives to know if that was the right thing at that moment. there are so many factors influencing each one of us as we parent, it's impossible for an outsider to know if we're really doing the right thing or the wrong thing for our family.

my partner and i are becoming even more aware of how people judge parents now that we have a toddler. toddlers are more conspicuous and people are always watching how you respond to their trickier moments in public. i'd prefer to think that they're thinking, "i would never respond to my child that way" as opposed to "she shouldn't be responding to her child that way." so yes, exercise your judgement and have the courage of your convictions... for your own family.

Mikhela said...

e, m, I think that is a very good point about making judgments in the absence of all the information.

theTwinkle - I agree there is a difference between 'what I would do' and 'what they should be doing', and that I should stick with the former. Perhaps the problem is in defining 'abusive' - I think abuse is more than just hitting. In the bottle-feeding example I mentioned, I was thinking about the research into the effects of sustained emotional absence on infants, and that the first two years are when we are hardwired to empathise and form relationships and develop a lovable or unlovable self concept. Obviously, I didn't know the full story, but it seemed so sad and pathetic. She stuck in my mind and I often wonder whether I should have asked the woman whether she was alright.

But yes, I think it's important for me to develop that distinction more consciously - am I judging this as something that is not right for my family, or something that is just not right?

E, M, and the Little Man said...

I also think it's important to realize where people are coming from and the sort of education they might have about parenting. For example, I think it's great that you know and have read the research on "Sustained emotional absence on infants," Mikhela, but you are educated, and have the resources to gather information such as that. Perhaps the woman who was feeding her infant with the bottle wasn't in the same situation as you, or wasn't raised like you, and should she be judged for that?

Mikhela said...

I have really been thinking about this a lot today, and have a much longer post in my head, but it will have to wait. Maybe the issue is not about the mother being judged, but about how our community does or doesn't support mothers who don't have the information they need to parent effectively. Also, I understand my passion on this subject is the product of the convergence of a number of life experiences, again too much for right now but hopefully tomorrow night...

Thanks for engaging - it is, for me, an issue I wrestle with.

Anonymous said...

Once again your blog is thought provoking. I can't tear myself away despite generally avoiding blogs once the babies arrive!

This interests me because my mother couldn't breastfeed - not didn't want to, physically didn't produce anything like enough milk and couldn't make me take what she had. She is still scarred by smug other mothers telling her she was a bad parent and I would be stupid and badly adjusted. My siblings and I are all highly educated professionals and just fine thanks because our parents did the best they could, even if it wasn't always the "ideal". A similar thing happened to a dear friend recently. After 7 years of infertility she eventually had an IVF baby and had to stop nursing at 6 weeks because she was simply losing far too much weight and got very sick. As her doctor told her, a formula fed baby with a healthy mum is better off than a breastfed orphan. Yet the attacks she receives are heartbreaking.

I think it's often more about having all the facts. It's like the way many, many women with babies can be inadvertently so nasty to the infertile, assuming either that we are selfish career women who couldn't be bothered, or that we've done something to deserve not being able to have them.

By all means have an intelligent debate once you know all the options you are advocating are actually an option for the other women - after all, as you point out, there's an enormous amount of research on parenting and you've taken a lot of time to read and process it! Just make sure you have the facts first ... and try to be nice about it ;)


JahTeh said...

I'm a little bit late for this but I remember my own year of hell with everyone weighing in with judgments about my parenting. I had a ceasarian. I couldn't breastfeed. I had severe post-natal depression. I had to hand over my baby to my mother for a year. People came out of the woodwork to abuse me even my best friend told me my problem was that I was too lazy to look after my boy.
I went to Mum's every day to look after him under supervision. I did the washing, checked his nutrition, took him to the doctor by myself (traumatic)and generally looked after him without the primary responsibility. My confidence was destroyed by the 'mother' network. It pissed me off because I had had enough brains to know I needed help, psychiatric and medicinal and enough courage to hand him to someone else until I was better.

mikhela said...

Thank you JB and Jahteh, for that reminder about the difference between 'judgment' and 'intelligent debate'. Sometimes, I fear, my own upbringing was so fiercely conformist and 'nice' and 'polite' that my fear of remaining a sheep can lead me to err in the other direction. I agree, knowing the facts is MOST important. I think what I worry about is that we are all so concerned about being nice and supportive etc etc that there is no room for obviously I have had a different experience of the mother network.