I don’t know when parenting became a competitive sport. My mom is always shaking her head in disappointment over how terrible our generation of women is to each other. It seems no matter how many articles, t-shirt slogans, or social media pats on the back you see circulating, mom-shaming is still a thing. A big thing. And it absolutely sucks.
In fact, the unrelenting judgment and criticism hurled my way from other moms since I had my children has hardened me and made me not want to open up to my peers. On the topic of bedtimes, diapering choices, and so on, I tend to keep my mouth shut. I just… don’t want to hear it. I’m so used to raised eyebrows, pursed lips, or weird off-hand comments designed to make me feel like crap, that I tend not to strike up conversations with other women — something that’s unlike my personality, really.
Recently, I was at Starbucks with my little one at 6 in the morning on a Saturday. Even for us, it was blindingly early. And my husband, a fan of fancy home coffee equipment who is thusly in charge of prepping the morning brew, was still asleep. Both of us in our pajamas still, I strapped her into her carseat and off we went to get Mommy a caffeine fix.
A woman about my own mom’s age, maybe 10 years older, stopped me at the counter to remark on how beautiful the baby was. I thanked her and then looked away, steeling myself as usual against any potential hurtful commentary. Still, I could feel her eyes on us.
I scanned the baby quickly to do my paranoid checklist: were her nails trimmed, nose wiped, jammies stain-free? Did she have little booties or socks on as an extra layer? Was there anything on or near her that could potentially be considered dangerous or otherwise open the floodgates of criticism? I know it sounds crazy, but this is what we’ve been reduced to as mothers. Always a prying eye; always an opportunity for someone to make us feel bad about our parenting.
“Pretty early, huh? This one makes a good alarm clock I bet!” she said. I nodded and smiled, explained that actually she usually sleeps in pretty late but the incoming teeth had been giving us trouble.
“Oh, good! A late sleeper. Love that. What time does she go to bed?”
(Here we go! This is the point in the conversation when we need to decide if we are going to lie and say what’s socially acceptable to get Suzie Judgment off our back, or tell the truth and prepare for massively uncomfortable commentary).
I was leaning toward lying with a chipper, “7’oclock! Both my kids sleep 7-7!,” but before I could commit, she continued.
“Well, I had five and none of them ever went to bed before 9PM. Not even as babies.”
The heavens opened up. The Starbucks gods of parenting shined down upon me. I could almost see a golden glow surrounding her. My children never go to bed before 9PM, and every single time I’ve ever admitted that to another parent I have been shamed.
I replied that it was the same in our house and we went on to chat about husbands who work late and the fact that at 7PM, most adults are just getting their act together to eat dinner. She told me that her children are all adults now and doing great. Not adhering to a strict, early bedtime routine didn’t hinder their lives at all. In fact, all five send their own kids to bed later than what’s trendy and none of them apologizes for it.
I was basking in the glow of a normal conversation with a fellow mother, albeit one twice my age, when she sealed the deal and almost made me cry right there in my venti red-eye.
“I don’t envy you moms today, though,” she deadpanned, looking from me to my daughter and back. “Too much competition, too much information. Too much judgment. All you need to do is follow your instincts and love them. It’s no more complicated than that.”
I could have hugged her but that would’ve been weird. Instead I smiled, nodded, and thanked her before packing up my little teething bundle and heading back toward our imperfect home. I might not do everything in the trendiest way possible, and I might not be up for any awards in the natural parenting hall of fame. But I can tell you this much: my instincts have served us well so far. And my goodness, there’s a lot of love in our house.