Over the years my mothering skills have been questioned many times and by many people. For some reason, people, sometimes complete strangers, have felt the need to inform me of my inadequacies and even to inform me why I’m a bad mom. In my nearly nineteen years of motherhood I have heard just about everything. Starting with my first pregnancy I was drilled by family and coworkers about every detail of my new condition. I was constantly told what to or not to do including:
Don’t drink coffee
Don’t drink caffeinated soda
Don’t drink alcohol, not even one sip
Don’t eat too much
You have to gain more weight
You’re gaining too much weight
You’re not getting enough sleep
Don’t lift anything, not even your toddler
I could go on and on. It just seemed that throughout all four of my pregnancies, everyone was a better expert on me and my body except me. The mere fact that I was carrying a baby gave everyone license to instruct me on how to eat, drink, sleep, move, and rest. I understand that people were concerned for the health of my baby. I also understand that they were concerned for my delicate condition. What I don’t understand is why people assumed that I had not educated myself about every little detail about pregnancy (I’m an info geek). Or that I had a very open and honest relationship with my OB/GYN, who was highly sought after because he knew his stuff.
During my pregnancies, I did in fact drink coffee, and Diet Coke. I did cut down from my non-pregnancy rate. I can tell you that one cup of coffee every morning and an occasional Diet Coke did not hurt my babies. I did work out during every pregnancy. Walking was the ONLY thing that helped with my morning sickness! I did gain more than recommended with all my pregnancies. I gained 40-50 with each pregnancy. I also lost it all relatively quickly after each delivery (thank you breastfeeding). I also lifted things over 15 pounds. After my first pregnancy there were toddlers who wanted to be held and carried. There was laundry to carry, there were groceries to carry, and the list goes on. The most controversial thing I did in my pregnancies was drink alcohol (I know, very bad mom). I am in no way advocating regular or heavy drinking during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is very real and very serious. I also took the warning that three’s no known safe amount of alcohol you can consume during pregnancy. I do however think that a very occasional sip of wine was not going to cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in my children. I do get people’s concern that I shouldn’t be able to make that decision on behalf of my unborn baby. I do understand the urge to protect a child. Never-the-less, I do assert that my doctor and I were the best people to make decisions concerning my health and my that of my unborn babies.
The advice didn’t stop at pregnancy. No, it just increased after my babies arrived. Even after my fourth, when I was a seasoned mom, the advice poured in. For instance, three of my babies were colicky, and this was always somehow my fault. I ate the wrong foods so my breastmilk was funky. I was too anxious so my babies picked up on that and fussed ad so forth. Not one bit of advice ever helped with the colic. I have to say though, with hindsight, I should have turned vegan years ago. I really think that is the only thing that might have helped. Aw, my most frustrating time though was getting my babies to sleep through the night. I was damned if I let them cry and damned if I picked them up. Truthfully, each of my kids was different and I followed their lead on helping them sleep through the night. They all did eventually organize their sleep so they could sleep (and let me sleep) through the night. The MOST crap I received was over breastfeeding. Oh my goodness, everyone was an expert on that, even though very few people I know actually breastfed. I breastfed all four of my kids. It was my favorite part of mothering. My babies and I both loved it. Again, each of my kids was different and I let them take the lead on me meeting their needs. I fed them on demand and not on a schedule. I fed them all for more than a year, in fact I breastfed my two youngest into toddlerhood. You would not believe how passionately people informed me of all the ways I was damaging them for life. It never mattered if I refuted their arguments with all the research on the benefits of nursing kids, even past the first year.
As for the toddler years, I again horrified people by letting my kids decide many things for themselves. I let my kids wear princess, Buzz Lightyear, pj’s, shorts, or any other combination of inappropriate attire. I did make them dress for the conditions when we went out. I also had to wrangle them out of their favorite dirty outfits in order to wash them. And then there was potty training. I encouraged my kids to start using the potty at two. My two oldest took right to wearing big kids’ pants and saying goodbye to diapers. My two youngest on the other hand would have happily worn diapers to preschool. It was very hard to keep other well meaning people from shaming my two youngest. Or shaming me (bad mom!)for not being harder on them and forcing potty training sooner.
Now comes the most controversial part of my mothering journey. I have never taken my children to church (not just bad mom, going to hell mom!). They came from mixed religious backgrounds. I myself have never been part of a particular religion in my adult life. I have instead, spent time studying and learning about as many religions as possible. I have done my best to teach my kids about all the religions. It goes against my ethics to dictate their beliefs to them. I believe instead that my responsibility is to teach them concepts and principles of religion and enough information to let them choose their own belief system. Apparently, this goes completely against what most people believe. I can’t tell you how many times very concerned people have asked me how my kids can have any morals if I don’t take them to church. I’m ALWAYS taken aback by this. My kids learn morals because I am a moral person, I teach them morals. I try my best to be a good example of a moral person to them. And no, I did not get my moral values from the religion I was raised in. The morals I have are common to all religions and spiritual practices minus the shaming that seems to unfortunately go along with the morals, these being mainly empathy, kindness and respect to ALL, period.
Now, my kids are older, I have two teens and two pre-teens. I encourage them all to be their own person. I want them to think for themselves. Again, it goes against my principles to teach them what to think. I want to teach them how to think. I want them to own their opinions. I want them to argue with me. I expect them to challenge my ideas (only a bad mom would let their kids challenge them!) as I challenge theirs. Of course that’s not always the case, we all mostly agree on things. What I mean specifically is critical thinking. If my kids disagree with me on politics, that’s great. I love to hear why they believe as they do. I want to hear the facts they have based their convictions on. I like to talk through the consequences of their beliefs. I truly believe they are eery bit as capable as an adult to decide for themselves a particular stance they want to take. As a mom, I do believe that I’m a little more seasoned so my best service is as a sounding board for them to hone their opinions.
So yes, I am a bad mom. I seldom take a stranger’s wisdom over my children’s. I seldom do what others tell me to do. I don’t feel guilty about not taking my kids to church. I don’t feel guilty about letting my kids occasionally eat chips for dinner or ice cream for breakfast (I do serve healthy food 90% of the time). I don’t feel guilty about telling my kids no. I don’t feel guilty about the occasional F on a report card (I do my best and my kids do their best. Not every kid is a traditional student.) I don’t feel guilty about losing my patience. I don’t feel bad when my kids get frustrated with me. I don’t feel guilty about watching my kids struggle. I jump in when needed but that’s not that often. I don’t worry if they make a mess. I don’t worry if they stay up late on the weekends. I do feel proud of the people my kids are becoming. I do feel like my instincts have paid off. I do think that I have helped my kids learn how to make decisions. I do think they are capable of being independent thinkers. I do believe my kids are not afraid to be themselves and not feel bad if they are different for the other kids (Different is often seen as a bad thing, it is not necessarily good or bad. Different is just different.). At least this is my hope. What does matter to me is if my kids are happy. If they feel loved. If they feel content and challenged enough but not too much. And most importantly, if they are happy with who they are.
Motherhood is the toughest job in the world. Moms are more subject to criticism (from others and self) than anyone else. They are also usually the least likely to receive any praise or gratitude. So, go easy on those moms in your lives. More importantly, go easy on yourself as a mom. You are not going to do everything perfectly. You will not get through raising your kids without mistakes. Some of those mistakes will be little and some will be big, it doesn’t make those mistakes go away if you beat yourself up over them. I’ve made mistakes I will always feel guilty about. The only thing I can do about them is try to learn from them and in turn help my kids learn from my mistakes. In the end the only thing I am really sure about as a mother is that I love my kids, I do the best I can for them even if it goes against conventional ideals. If that makes me a bad mom, then so be it.