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Reel Mama: The "bad mommy" syndrome

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The "bad mommy" syndrome




Have you ever felt judged as a parent?
I’m convinced that the new generation of moms is the single most “judged” generation of moms, and the most anxious because of it.  Others judge us; we judge each other, but most of all we judge ourselves.
Call it the “bad mommy” syndrome, the constant fear that we as moms are doing it wrong, that our every choice is the wrong choice.  We worry that we’re scarring our kids for life somehow, or perhaps depriving them of something that will help them succeed later in life.  I fret and I sweat, and I constantly call my goodness as a mom into question. And I know I’m not alone.  I want to be the perfect mom, but how?
The problem is that not only are the standards for “perfect parent” impossibly high, but nobody seems to be able to agree on what they are.  Parenting wasn’t even a topic until Dr. Spock published his book Baby and Childcare in the 1940s (and by the way, I feel like a bad mom for not having read his book).
I was made to wonder about this when a teacher at my daughter’s preschool took me aside and lectured me about “modeling at home” (how we set examples and act as role models for our kids by what we say and do).  I got a “talking-to” because after I dropped my daughter off, the teacher saw that my daughter’s jacket had the remnants of some stickers on it.  When she asked my daughter what had happened to her jacket, my daughter said, “I ruined it.”  The teacher immediately assumed that someone at home had accused her of ruining something, and that my daughter had internalized it, thereby crushing her self-esteem and self-worth, and thus indicating poor parenting.
It never occurred to this teacher that my daughter might have picked the saying up from another child at the preschool, or that my daughter might have taken “ruin” out of context and applied it to herself.  Admittedly, I can’t claim that I never used the word at home.  Maybe I let it slip a while back when I walked into my daughter’s bedroom, and she had colored one wall and her brand new toy box solidly green while I was in the bathroom.  My daughter probably overheard us bemoaning the fact that our two cats ruined our new sofa (it’s now nothing more than a huge, comfortable scratching post).  And just yesterday I caught myself saying, “She ruined her appetite with those cheese crackers.”  Whoops!  It’s probably not a great word for her to pick up. Young children are very sensitive.  On the other hand, for days I’ve been stressing over the words I use around my daughter.  I don’t curse like a sailor.  I’m not dropping f-bombs.  I consider myself to be a thoughtful and sensitive parent, but clearly not everybody thinks so.
I’ve been judged.
I’ve been judged for breastfeeding too long.  And not long enough.
I’ve been judged for enrolling my daughter in a preschool.  If I were really a good mom, wouldn’t I keep my daughter with me 24/7 for as long as possible? I’ve been judged for not going back to work full-time because my daughter doesn’t have a “proper” sense of autonomy.  In short, I’m judged for working, for not working, and everything in between.
I’ve felt judged for hiring a mommy’s helper to help out with household chores.  It’s frowned upon for any mom to admit that she needs help.  After all, you’re the mom.  You should be able to handle it.
I’ve been judged for letting my daughter watch TV. (But it’s Elmo, people!  It’s not like we’re chillin’ to Jersey Shore!)
I’ve been judged for letting my daughter eat Cheerios.  Yes, Cheerios, because they are too processed.
This is just the tip of the big, messy, opposing-parenting-philosophies, heaping-guilt-on-each-other iceberg.  No wonder my head is spinning.
I find myself agonizing over parenting choices, mistakes, and lapses of judgement.  The guilt others might heap on me is nothing compared to the constant guilt-fest going on in my brain.  Yup, it’s a party in there--just me and the mommy guilt.
It’s the little stuff: I feel bad when I’m the only mom who didn’t bring a fresh kale salad and fresh-cut papaya, while I’m whipping out the crackers and (fake) fruit roll-ups.  And then there’s the big stuff: I waited too long to have kids, and then I only had one.
I’m going to either have myself committed or be the best mom I can be based on my personal believe system.  I’m going to provide a safe and loving home for my child.  I’m also going to make time for myself: parenting is my most important journey in life, but isn’t my only journey as a human being.  I’m going to enjoy and savor this parenting adventure in spite of the stumbles.  I’m going to lighten up on myself, or at least I’m going to try.  I’m going to admit that I need a hug.
My life is my party, and mommy guilt, you’re not invited because I’m “un-friending” you.  I’m not a saint -- I’m just a mom.  And I love it.



3 Comments:

At February 22, 2012 at 5:39 PM , Blogger Barbara said...

No, ReelMama, you are definitely not alone. We (moms) all feel judged in too many instances. My top one is when my eldest acts up in daycare and the staff looks down at me and lectures me about how I should "talk to her so that it doesn't happen anymore". Ha! My daughter's tantrums become my whole responsibility because, as everyone knows, moms have a magic wand that they use on their kids to instantly make their behaviors change. Right. Not even in Elmo's land does that happen. I am now a single mom of two adorable princesses aged 4.5 and 2. I have a full-time, more than 40 hours/week job and don't have any household help. I often feel that I am going crazy. I sometimes lose patience with my girls and repent in the next split second. I make a lot of mistakes. I also know that one daughter's behavior and my reactions/corrections to it will not suit my other daughter's. There is NO perfect parenting recipe because there is NOT one particular, general and universal situation. We are the best parents we can. I stopped worrying (too much) about the judgments all around me because I found out that the only "wellness-meter" that is worth caring about is the smiles on my daughters' faces. I must be doing something right :-)

 
At February 23, 2012 at 12:03 AM , Blogger Reel Mama said...

Thank you for the lovely reply, Barbara! What makes you a great mom is your focus on your children rather than worrying what others think. Your dedication to motherhood and the joy you derive from your girls are clear. Enjoy your princesses' beautiful smiles, and kudos to you for all that you do! I hope you take the time to give yourself a pat on the back and to do something special that's just for you.

I love what you say about moms wishing to have a magic wand to use on their kids to "fix" those behavior issues. Having a wand would make it easier for us, but it wouldn't be fair to our kids, who, even though it may drive us crazy, are just testing the limits on their own journeys of self-discovery. The reality is that they need to have those growing pains, and we experience growing pains of our own as moms.

The reality for me is that pleasing others is actually at the bottom of my parenting priority list, because moment to moment I'm only focused on my daughter and what's best for her. Nevertheless, it's still hard when those moments of judgment come up. It happened again today. I found out that the preschool teacher read a book to my daughter called "My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life." Funny, maybe, for a 'tween, but totally inappropriate for a 2-year-old. Again, I felt that the book choice was somehow conveying a message about how this teacher felt about my parenting skills. Yet I found it strange that she didn't want my daughter using the word "ruin," then she went to the public library, checked out a book with "ruin" in the title, and read it to my daughter. What's up with that??

My daughter is smiling too, most of the time, I'm happy to say. And I know she really doesn't care what other people think. Her world is Mommy (and Daddy, of course) and the unconditional love that she shows me is like nothing I've ever experienced. That's the only "wellness meter" I need!

 
At February 23, 2012 at 6:31 AM , Blogger Veronica Lee said...

I guess we'll always be judged for whatever we are - mom, friend, co-worker etc. We can only do our best!

Hi! Stopping by from MBC. Great blog!
Have a nice day!

 

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