I really should stop joining the local mommy groups on facebook.
I do it so I can connect with local moms and be a part of the community and find out what cool stuff is happening in our city and to get my finger on the pulse of moms in my hood.
And I get a lot of that from participating.
I also get stuck in a lot of perfectionist parenting potholes.
Let me explain.
Parenting potholes are just like regular potholes in the road. And like regular potholes, you usually don’t see them until it’s too late and you try to swerve out of the way to miss it but still catch your tire on the edge.
If you’re lucky, you get away with a tire that is a little more weathered but you can still drive with it. If you’re not so lucky, you get a flat and have to proceed to the nearest auto shop. Or even better, you get stuck in it.
The road is your experience as a parent.
The potholes appear when you observe the way someone else parents and you compare yourself to them.
It’s an unavoidable part of being human and the cause of so much suffering.
While perfectionist parenting potholes might be caused by the same thing, the potholes themselves contain different treasures.
Here are a few examples:
My kids won’t sleep through the night. Everyone else I know has kids who sleep through the night. What am I doing wrong?
Everyone says that “breast is best,” but honestly I don’t love it. Breastfeeding stresses me out. Am I failing my child if I give her formula?
I love the idea of “gentle parenting” but sometimes my kid won’t even listen unless I raise my voice. I don’t like yelling and I try really hard not to but sometimes it feels unavoidable. Am I a bad mom?
We might come up with these parenting potholes all on our own, but social media certainly accelerates their growth.
Everyone has ideas about how you should parent your kids, whether they are parents or not. And now that many of us live our lives much more publicly than ever before, our actions and choices are under much more scrutiny.
You had a c-section? You took the easy way out. Lucky you.
You gave birth at home? That’s really dangerous, you know.
You feed your kid formula? Selfish monster.
You’re still breastfeeding your 2 year old? Gross.
You let your kids watch TV? That’s lazy parenting.
You homeschool your kids? Wow. That’s brave. It must be nice to have enough free time to do that!
Are you actually raising your kids vegan? That seems really irresponsible.
You’re only having one kid? Don’t you worry they will be lonely?
The list doesn’t end there. Every parent I know can come up with a parenting pothole they’ve fallen into, either on their own or because someone suggested that what they were doing wasn’t ideal.
Mom shame is a very real thing.
Sometimes mom shame occurs because another mom says something that indicates your choices or methods of parenting aren’t as good.
Twice I’ve had a pediatrician question my parenting.
Once, when my daughter was 3 days old and struggling to nurse, a pediatrician in the practice we went to (but not our doctor) told me my nipples were the wrong shape for successful nursing.
Another time, more recently, our pediatrician questioned whether the way I was feeding my children was appropriate since they are smaller than average. Both were otherwise healthy and strong and developmentally above average, just on the smaller part of the growth curve.
Other types of mom shame happen when you observe what another mom is doing or saying and it’s counter to your experience or what you choose to do.
It should be easy to ignore this, but sometimes it cuts too close to the bone.
Everytime I read something about “gentle parenting” it sets my teeth on edge. The parents always sound so self-satisfied.
What I read or hear is this: “I’m so great because I never raise my voice or get angry at my kids. I am raising them with respect and compassion unlike those other parents.”
What’s they’re usually saying is this: “I’m really proud of the choice we’ve made to work with gentle parenting. It’s not easy but it is rewarding.”
This is the fine line we walk as parents in public view, by the way – the line between pride and judgment. Yes, people cross it all of the time. Sometimes it happens on purpose and sometimes it happens unknowingly. Crossing or even just walking alongside that line can create a pothole for some unsuspecting parent on the other side of the internet all the same.
I’ve been accused of crossing this line myself and it feels awful.
I’ve frequently shared my own story of 2 successful homebirths and nursing both of my children past the standard 6-month mark. I’m deeply proud of both of these things and I’ve expressed as much in facebook and instagram posts. Some people have interpreted my statements as meaning that hospital births and formula feeding are not ideal. That wasn’t my intention, nor is it my belief.
This is that precarious edge: how to be proud of our choices without making others feel about their own choices is difficult.
I’ve done a fair amount of soul searching on this lately.
Most of the time, when I get dumped into a parenting pothole, it’s not because of what the other mom says. It’s because of what I hear.
I am much more likely to be critical of my own choices or what I perceive as “failure” than someone else might be of me.
It’s also easy to assume that someone else is judging you for not measuring up to their standards because you made a different choice, even when that’s not the case.
Being a parent isn’t easy and the last thing we need is to feel shamed, judged, isolated, or disapproval by other parents or by our own inner critic.
Here are a few ways to Protect Yourself from Parenting Potholes and How to Prevent Creating them.
1. To protect yourself from a pothole, remember that if you didn’t post it, it’s probably not about you. Unless someone expressly uses your name. In which case, that person might be an asshole. Unless they are complimenting you, which is lovely. Still, almost every single time someone posts something on social media, the person is posting about herself and her experience.
Know Your Truth. While this will not 100% protect you from inadvertently getting sucked into a parenting pothole, it can help remind you of what matters to you and why.
2. To prevent a pothole, be inclusive, not exclusive. Use your words mindfully and compassionately. Remember that not everyone has had the same experience as you. This doesn’t make their experience better or worse than yours. It simply makes their experience different. While you might feel like your experience is ideal, it’s important to remember that another person likely feels the same about their own experience.
Try to use language that acknowledges how proud you are, but recognizes that your way isn’t the best or only way to parent.
3. To protect yourself from potholes, get to know your triggers. Get to know those soft spots that feel vulnerable and raw and exposed. Have a conversation with your triggers and your soft spots so you know them deeply and honestly. The better you know your own triggers, the more easily you can avoid getting sucked into a pothole someone else created.
4. To prevent a pothole, be willing to acknowledge when you’ve misspoken or overstepped. Be willing to have a conversation with someone who feels that you’ve said something offensive or unkind. Be open to the fact that mistakes happen and that you are as susceptible to making them as anyone else. It’s a vulnerable place to be. No one likes making someone else feel hurt. Well, most people don’t.
5. When in doubt, be compassionate and kind. Lose the judgment and invite connection.
Comparison is the thief of joy. I don’t remember who said this, but it becomes more true every single time I hear it.
Compassion, on the other hand, is what reminds us that we are connected to one another, often in ways that are invisible and easy to dismiss.
I might not be able to avoid all of the perfectionist parenting potholes over the course of my life, but I can try to choose compassion over comparison and keep building connections with other mamas instead of criticizing them.