I hardly ever write about parenting or motherhood. Mainly because I am not yet a mom yet and feel unauthorized to say anything on the subject. But. I am a huge parent and especially mom-ally. So I like to think that when I stand up for moms/parents, it is okay, despite my lack of parenthood experience.
So first, why am I especially a mom-ally? Because in my experience, in straight relationships, moms are the ones who do the majority of the parenting. I think the reasons for this are plentiful and depend on the couple. I also think dads are very important and because they’re so important, I wish they were more involved in the day-to-day acts of parenting. And I know that I’m making generalizations and there are some dads who are really involved, sometimes just as involved as the moms. But even in my very progressive group of friends, in the heterosexual relationships, the majority of the moms do the vast majority of the parenting. And then in my work in the domestic violence world, I see abusers put all the responsibility on the survivor and refuse to help and if they separate or divorce, they manipulate the system to try to get custody, which sometimes work. And in straight relationships, men are typically the ones who are abusive.
So that’s why I am a mom-ally. But really I’m a parent ally. Part of the reason I am multiple years into my 30s and married without children is because parenting looks very challenging to me and it’s hard to feel I’m ever going to be ready for that level of responsibility. And I know I’ll never really be ready but I may be less unready and honestly, I’m still not sure I’m there yet. Close. But not quite.
So when I hear about how judgmental people are of parents, especially moms, it makes me overwhelmed and sad. Look, I get that other moms are often the ones being judgmental but I really think that’s the result of patriarchy and how much sh*t has traditionally been put on women by men and that women have then internalized. Just the facts, as I see them. So what I’d like to encourage women to do is to be less hard on themselves because I think that’s where a lot of this criticism comes from in the first place. Ladies, moms or not, you’re great and you’re doing enough and you don’t deserve to be perfect. So don’t beat yourself up, even if you have judged someone else. Chances are, there’s a long, oppressive history that led you to be judgmental in the first place.
So I read this article recently about a mom who was shamed by a male stranger very publicly and in front of her children. Why was she shamed? Because she gave her three children pretzels. Holy crime of the century! JK, OF COURSE! I can’t tell you how many ring dings and funny bones I ate as a child – and seriously wth is up with the names of some of these foods?! And yes, my mom gave me these foods, presented on a plate with a doily. Yup. But my mom also taught me the importance of exercise and healthy eating. I spent the majority of my childhood frolicking in the Vermont outdoors. And I always had plenty of fruits and vegetables to eat.
But anyways the most remarkable part of the article to me and that no one seemed to be picking up on was that this man was shaming his children when he shamed this mom. The mom explains that she sees this guy with his well-groomed and well-behaved children and when one of his children has the audacity to ask for a pretzel, he tells his child something along the lines of “No, you can never eat that hideous junk, not even if you were starving.”
So of course the mom felt awful and judged. But let’s think for a moment. How might that child have felt then? I know that if someone insulted my food choice at this point in my life, I’d feel insulted and judged and if I’d been a child…? I’m sure I would have assumed I was so very wrong to have wanted a pretzel and that my food choices are terrible and therefore I am terrible and I would feel very ashamed. Seriously, children are concrete and their thought process is likely as such. And is it possible these children were so well-behaved because they’re plagued by chronic guilty that “keeps them in line,” so to speak?
Okay now I can see how this may come off as judgmental on my part of this dad. But hold up. I think there’s a huge difference between imperfect parenting (which all parents do, right?) and parenting that is based on belittling your children into submission. I mean, maybe, maybe this dad was having an off-moment and he doesn’t normally say such things. In which case, I’d say give him a break and give the author of the post a break. But let’s for the sake of the argument, say that he was not having an off-moment. Let’s pretend he often speaks to his children this way. To me those words seem intentionally chosen to create shame in not only the mom and but also this guy’s children. And that reminds me of the kind of parenting we see by people who are controlling abusers. Parents who are controlling will do whatever it takes to get their way in their household and this includes both insulting and scaring the other parent as well as the children. To be clear, I am not saying this guy is a batterer. I am saying that he was doing something in that moment is something batterers do and do so repeatedly so as to establish and maintain their authority. And in the case of domestic violence and parenting, that’s one time, in my opinion, when it is okay “to judge.” Or rather, it’s okay to question the behavior that parent is doing and hold them accountable. Because they’re not holding themselves accountable and in the process, they’re getting their way (i.e., kids who don’t beg for a soft pretzel) and hurting everyone else. I say that if you’re not intentionally harming your children then you don’t need to be judged. But if you’re purposefully putting yourself before your children and/or your partner, well, then you need to be called out on that. And I do think that if this man said what this author said he did then he did, likely intentionally shame his children. And if that’s something that he does not occasionally but rather frequently so his children are “kept in line” then that is not cool.