A stranger, a checker, eyes my belly and says “I’m guessing you’re 8 months?” He smiles kindly enough as he bags my kids’ cold medicine and disinfecting wipes. I have an impulse to correct him (more like 6) and offer an explanation (it’s my third). Instead I give a raised eyebrow and tight-lipped smile, waiting until I walk away to roll my eyes.
I mean, it’s only the tenth time this week, only the thousandth time since my first pregnancy, that someone has interjected an assumption, a misjudgment, or personal inquiry. Why did this stranger, and so many others, feel entitled to information about my life? Only in pregnancy, and parenting, is this paradigm so widely accepted.
Why is it that pregnancy and parenting seem to be public business? Is it human nature? Caring interest? Some instinctual curiosity to compare lives, reminisce, or project onto our own? My size during pregnancy (and everything I ingest, take part in or sit out, and my general attitude) is only the beginning. I know people mean well (and if they don’t I pretend it, to curb my anger). Either way, it isn’t the nosiness that I mind.
My problem is with the widespread, mistaken belief that personal parenting choices are up for public debate. I take issue with the follow-ups to innocent questions that convey: you should never; I always; you have no idea what you’re doing, so let me tell you, as an expert on your life, stranger.
Without realizing it, I fell a few times into the trap of buying that bullshit. Giving out answers I didn’t really want to discuss, listening to advice I didn’t ask for, and questioning my decisions based on someone else’s ideas.
Although I have never cared much what others think (no secret where Addie gets it), I sometimes get caught off guard by a judgmental busybody. The trick for me is to remember that I can only Mom the way I Mom, to my actual children I. If I got sucked into worry over everything anyone may think I’m doing wrong … well, I would never have time to do any actual parenting. I would be forever in the corner banging my head against the wall.
I couldn’t please everyone even if I wanted to try, and the issues up for debate are endless. In my effort to remain uneffected by outside opinions, I have also learned that I am pretty neutral to how anyone else parents.
Please, by all means, you do you, and let me do the same.
I had one baby with an epidural and one without. I strongly preferred the birth without it, but I have zero preference on how any other baby comes into the world.
Both of my babies breastfed, but I was never in love with it and stopped right at one year. When I see older babies nursing, it looks beautiful. When I see a baby chugging a bottle: adorable. When I see a baby who looks hungry and a mom who looks flustered, I don’t pretend to know all of what’s going on in their moment.
Ideals change along the way too – I have found myself on the flip side of my own philosophies a few times.
I’m strict about sleep habits, family dinners, clean hands and feet, manners, and a tidy house. I’m probably a little too loose about sugar, screen time, and a clothing optional home life.
Pre-motherhood, I never thought I would buy “kid” foods, like GoGurts (not that I thought about it much), but they are in my refrigerator at this moment. I also make homemade yogurt, but sometimes it’s GoGurts. So let me be the first to say: I don’t care what kind of yogurt you feed your kids, or if you do at all. I don’t actually care what or how you feed your kids.
I no longer scold my children in public; all it accomplishes is riling all of us up further. That’s not to say I don’t work on behavior, I just try alternatives: discussing it privately later, and lots of preplanning (bribes) for when beasts appear in place of my humans. But public threats, strained reprimands, issuing of consequences … they don’t work for us. It was when I realized I was scolding mainly to please onlookers, in defense of my parenting and in attempt to show faux control, that I let that shit go.
This is all different than giving zero fucks about anyone else or their choices. It fascinates me – the variants, options, and wide-open spaces that allow so many ways to parent. I give all the fucks about it.
I just respect and assume that everyone chooses what works best for the actual humans they raise, and for themselves.
It used to get under my skin, the unnecessary and unhelpful judgment. Okay it still does at times, because I’m so irritable and easily set off. But I smile and nod, shrug it off. And I hope to remember not to do the same when I get past these wild years and feel the urge to pass my reflections on to strangers in parking lots.
For now, I will do my best to Mom my own way, and remember that my fellow parents are doing the same. All the kids will be screwed up anyway (half-kidding).
*Or Dad your own way. Or grandparent, or foster; there are a million wonderful people who raise beastly little children in a million ways. I just happen to be a Mom, so I write as one.