Last Friday I published a post about my decision to keep using the stroller with my three-year-old son, even though I kicked his big sister out at the same age. To recap, my reasoning basically boiled down to:
- When I kicked Hannah out of the stroller I was three months pregnant, and I knew I’d need the stroller for the new baby.
- I wasn’t walking as much with Hannah at that age as I’m currently walking with Jacob.
- The primary place I’m walking with Jacob is to Hannah’s school. He’s not good at walking quickly, and I don’t want to be late to drop off or pick up my daughter on account of my son.
One of my awesome Twitter followers tweeted a link to my post, and one of her followers (someone that I don’t follow, and who doesn’t follow me) chimed in and said that she doesn’t like to see bigger kids in strollers. Her primary concern as I understand it is that it encourages childhood obesity, as kids become accustomed to riding rather than walking. Fair enough. But the conversation developed, and eventually it came to the point where I felt attacked, when she tweeted (and I’m paraphrasing) that I was justifying my behaviour, and that my decision wasn’t about my son as much as my personal convenience.
I’m giving you this background because I have read veiled allusions to arguments in blog posts, and they always leave me extremely curious. Hopefully, this will prevent you from suffering the same fate.
I’m a blogger, and I put personal details of my life up on the internet for anyone to see. In doing so, I understand that not everyone will agree with everything I do. I co-sleep, I breastfed my children well past their second birthdays and I have been known to feed my children fast food in a pinch. You may disagree with any or all of these decisions, and I’m totally fine with that. I was totally fine with the Twitter user who disagreed with my decision to use the stroller. But when I felt that she implied I was harming my son solely for my own personal convenience, suddenly everything changed. I felt like I had a big, flashing neon sign over my head: Bad Mother.
There is something about the label bad mother that causes me to react in a deeply primal way. I feel it in my gut. It makes me nauseous and shaky and angry and afraid. It’s the same kind of primal reaction I feel when I experience a near-miss traffic accident, or when I’m in a public place and I can’t find my kids. It’s not rational, it’s not reasonable, and I can’t entirely control it.
I believe that many other mothers have a similar reaction . When I read Catherine Connors’ Bad Mother Manifesto I see her taking a term that can be used to harm her and re-claiming it as her own. This is, in many ways, the same thing that the LGBT community did with the word queer. These are terms that are harmful, that cause us to feel afraid and powerless and attacked. If they didn’t inspire that reaction, there would be no reason to re-make them into something different. I can’t imagine, for instance, that anyone would feel the need to reclaim a label like cheerful.
As I sat in front of my computer, sputtering and vaguely ill, I thought that this must be what a mother feels like when her decisions around breastfeeding or childbirth are called into question. Especially because, so often, when other people pass judgment they’re not doing it from a place of knowledge. They don’t know us, and they haven’t lived our lives or had our experiences. This ups the ante of the bad mother label. In my case I didn’t just feel judged, I felt misjudged, and that may have been the worst bit of all. In my mind, I was being condemned for a crime I hadn’t even really committed.
Part of me is really tempted to lay out even more reasons for my stroller use. I want to explain myself, and make people understand. In the process, I suppose, I’m seeking absolution. If someone knew me, if someone really got me, they couldn’t possibly call me a bad mother. Or, more accurately, imply that I’m a lazy mother. In my head it all amounts to the same thing, though – that imaginary, flashing neon sign that makes me feel so ill. But the truth is I can’t make someone understand, so that would be an exercise in futility.
I suppose it’s natural for us to feel defensive when our parenting is called into question. After all, our children are very dear to us. So dear, in fact, that the phrase very dear doesn’t even begin to cut it. We would walk through fire for our kids, and we’re showing up every day – whether we feel like it or not – and doing our best for them. If someone else can’t see that, it hurts. If our best somehow isn’t good enough, it really hurts. This, I think, is why I reacted like a wounded animal to some sterile, typed words from a perfect stranger.
I’m not sure I’m ready to claim the phrase bad mother for my own quite yet. But I have a new understanding as to why someone would want to take the sting out of the label, and I think I also cultivated some compassion for my fellow mothers in the process. That may be the good that came out of a negative interchange online. And yet, quite honestly, I would still give anything to take it all back and go on about my merry way, without feeling the sting of judgment. This is why I try so hard not to judge others – because I clearly can’t handle being on the receiving end, myself.
Have you ever faced the judgment of strangers in your parenting? How did you handle it? And how do you react to being called a bad mother? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Edited to add: Something just occurred to me, which is slightly tangential to this post, but I wanted to put it out there. What if I was doing something solely for my own convenience? Is lazy parenting really all that bad? After all, parents have needs, too. Ignoring them completely and sacrificing ourselves on the altar of the “good mother” really serves no one. Martyrs aren’t much fun to be around, in my experience.