A few days ago, I walked into my two-year-old daughter's classroom at the YMCA where she attends two hours a day. There she was, criss-crossed legs on the floor, staring up and doing the motions for a fish swimming through water. After a few minutes of actively ignoring me and singing about dolphins and fish, she looked up at me, right before the climax of the song where the shark tries to bite the fish. Then when the shark arrived in the song, she screamed at the top of her lungs with all of the other two year olds. Her eyes were opened as wide as possible and locked onto mine, her hands clenched tight as she screeched with anticipation.
It was one of those moments where I realized: My kids are alright. My daughter is happy and present and she is becoming herself every day. She is becoming a sociable preschooler in the blink of an eye. I am doing my best to help her learn and grow and become that girl that will step into Kindergarten with a smile on her face and a Disney Cars backpack slung on her back. I am doing my very best.
These moments help me as a mother. On the other hand, it still feels like there are a million people watching me struggle and grow. Young motherhood comes with an extra set of standards and more people who are interested in you. For example, as I am trying to get two children out to the car in the morning, I struggle with grabbing my toddler’s hand in the parking lot while carrying a backpack and baby paraphernalia. I often see my neighbors across from me warming up their cars and pulling out of parking spaces to go to work.
I can’t help but wonder what my neighbors think about how haphazard I am, how frazzled I look with my hair curled in wisps on my head, perpetually pulled back into a ratty ponytail. The funny thing is, I am probably the last thing they are thinking about. They might be considering whether to stop by Starbucks for a coffee, for all I know. In my own insecurity, I am judging myself as my toddler melts down in front of their cars.
Even if they are not concerned, people are surprised by how young I look. Last week I was questioned at church by a visitor: “How old are you? YOU have two kids? I thought you were a teenager!” While perhaps insensitive, it is a refrain I hear all too often. It’s another reason I find myself trying to “prove” myself as a mom.
There are many shaming messages, and it’s not just us young moms who experience them, it’s also older moms. The expectations for motherhood are different everywhere you go.
In Chicago, there are many older working mothers on the North Shore. When my daughter was a baby, the Doctor's office had a policy saying that “nannies should NOT be the ones bringing a child to a Doctor’s visit, even with parental permission.” Where we lived almost all of the mothers worked. While at first I felt smugly happy that I was able to bring my daughter, I began to feel bad for the working mothers who were shamed (and possibly overwhelmed) every time they entered the Doctor’s office by that sign. These were moms who weren’t allowed to “call off work” one more day and had to figure out how to help their sick child get better without losing their jobs.
So here’s what I suggest: Let’s defend each others' actions and help each other believe in ourselves. As young mothers, let’s stick up for older women who are trying to adopt children or struggling with fertility or holding down a job with kids. If you are an older mom, stick up for the young mother’s decision to have her child despite a limited support network or resources. Imagine how difficult it would be if you were in the other person’s situation.
Let’s start a revolution of non-shaming, where we acknowledge that we all have struggles and insecurities.
In the end, I think it's a heart issue for me. The quicker I am to label someone's life choice as wrong, the more insecure I feel about my own. Sometimes I have to evaluate, why does this mother make me feel bad? Is it because I'm still nervous about my own choices? Is it because I am particularly overwhelmed in this season?
Then I remember my daughter — her face rapt with attention as she sings songs in her toddler class. I remember how she is learning all of her ABCs. How we read together at night. I remember that the soundtrack of my life, besides the two year old whining and crying, is also one of giggles and laughs and “screaming” when the shark comes to attack in a song. Young moms, old moms, in-between-moms — we're all going to be alright.
So let's try support over shaming.
Read more from Briana at BrianaMeade.com.