Monday, May 28, 2012

On Being "Mom Enough"

This windstorm happened a while back, and by now it's easily old news, but it's also something I sincerely meant to write about and share my thoughts on when it was still fresh and interesting. By now, everybody has gotten the point - that being "Mom enough" doesn't necessarily mean doing the ultimate best ever, but doing the best you can with what you've got - but I still have the urge to weigh in on this concept on this cloudy, stormy Memorial Day.

There are plenty of abusive, insincere, angry parents out there who are nowhere near "Mom enough" to parent their children. They are current hard drug abusers, angry alcoholics, emotionally and mentally unstable. They hurt their babies or even take the lives of their children and they are unquestionably not "Mom enough", and I don't think anybody would argue that. Those who need help and don't seek it, or ignore the problem, or take their issues out on their offspring have problems that need to be taken care of before they can sincerely stand up and say they are the best mother that they are capable of being.

But that doesn't qualify the rest of us - those of us who were former drug users, former alcoholics, who are clean and sober, or who were booby trapped and robbed of a healthy breastfeeding relationship by unsupportive family or pushy medical personnel, or who didn't know enough about circumcision or vaccination or whole foods or healthy living to make an honest, educated decision about it, they just went along with what they were told was right and spanked their kids or yelled at them or did something that in general most of us know better than to do, or know how to do it safely (if such is possible). We are parents who have busted our asses to do the best we can do, and be the best we can be, and set the best example for our kids as possible. Maybe we formula fed our kids, and used disposable diapers, and pushed potty training, and vaccinated and circumcised and ate what is honestly pretty awful fast food, maybe we put our kids in separate rooms far from our's and spanked and did all kinds of things. But the problem with judging other mothers based on what you see or hear them doing is that, honestly, you have no idea how much they know.

Maybe that mom was raised thinking spanking her children was the only and most correct form of discipline. Maybe her friends convinced her breastfeeding was disgusting, maybe her husband or boyfriend convinced her that circumcision was the only option. Maybe she thinks that co-sleeping will turn her baby into a clinging, dependent child. Maybe she thinks that cloth diapers are a hassle, and that fast food isn't all THAT bad, and that organic foods aren't worth the money. Maybe she was told one time to never question shots that our children are given and that they're all completely 100% safe for every child and adult. Maybe, just maybe, she is like the majority of other parents, who think that if they are being told something by friends or family or a doctor or nurse that the advice they're given is true, effective, and honest. And really, if you step back and think about it, even if something goes against instinct, why is that really such a harmful state of mind? It shouldn't be. And that seems to be the problem, that instead of trying to correct the problems - uninformed medical staff, friends and family who don't really understand - we make the mom feel bad. We make her feel like she isn't "Mom enough" to her children, that she doesn't do enough or try hard enough. We call her names and jump on her and force her to eventually submit not to the idea that she didn't know better and was misled, but to the concept that she messed up and should take responsibility for her actions. Actions that, a lot of the time, I honestly don't think that these moms should be held accountable for.

The TIME article that instigated this entire thing - about extended breastfeeding - has caused a lot of problems for a lot of people. Subtly inflammatory, it suggests that the only women who have earned the right to call themselves "Mom enough" to their children are those who have gone above and beyond even their own comfort level, potentially driving themselves to discomfort and leaving them resenting their children because they feel as though they absolutely must do or say something in order to be a real mother. By this logic, I am anything but; I did not breastfeed either child past six months (the first was only breastfed a mere four days!), I only occasionally used cloth, I turned my first child forward facing at 13 months old. I have done things that many would consider to be nowhere near "Mom enough" because they are all I knew - and although none involved so-called "extremes" to parent my children to try to win that coveted "award", they are all things that I did because I was misled or uneducated or lacked experience. They are things I did that many would consider to make me not "Mom enough". (And on that note, I ask you this: how are mothers who have pushed themselves to a level even they are not comfortable with being the best moms they can be if they are in a constant state of wishing they HADN'T gone that far, all for the sake of trying to do what they think they have to be "Mom enough" to do? A woman not comfortable breastfeeding a three year old in public or otherwise - because she chooses not to leave herself resenting her child and her decisions and chooses to wean before then, does that mean she isn't "Mom enough"? Hell no! It means she wants to be the best mother she can be, and she knows that part of that is being comfortable and secure in her relationship with her child!)

The one thing that we moms will always have in common is the ability to teach each other. We have all been in similar situations, whether or not we carry our children with us in our arms or they are gone now - we carried them a length of time, we loved them, maybe we were blessed enough to birth them and raise them. We are a group who have experienced things that others never will. We share a bond because we have loved someone more than we ever knew we could love another being. We have helped create life, and that is perhaps the most amazing thing of all. The last thing we ought to do is be tearing one another down and suggesting that there is some potentially unattainable perfection that we should all be shooting for instead of simply trying to be the best we can in our own situations for our own children. That impossible perfection is exactly what ends up dividing us, causing huge rifts in what should be a community of moms supporting one another and teaching each other how to raise children. We should gently teach, give suggestions, offer help when it is needed. We should reach out to help each other and give support in difficult situations, not throw out halfassed judgement because it's convenient and makes us feel, by proxy, "more Mom" than someone else is.

So who is "Mom enough"? Everyone. Every mother who has learned, and grown, and educated herself. Every mother who wanted to do more and try harder and fix problems and change things for the better. Every mother who has stood up and said that she isn't sure this is the ultimate best, but that it's the best that SHE can do and the best that SHE knows how to do - these women are "Mom enough". All of us are, and that is sincerely and honestly what counts the most, and no matter what we think of how another mother is doing when it comes to raising her children, the one thing none of us EVER have ANY right to say is that we don't think she is "Mom enough".

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