There are many surprising things about becoming a parent. But perhaps one of the most jarring is the sudden influx of unsolicited advice. Of course, there’s always Aunt Edna at the Thanksgiving table, insisting that her kids grew up eating margarine and artificial sweeteners and they turned out “just fine.” But that’s to be expected. Everyone just rolls their eyes and digs into the stuffing and cranberry sauce.
What catches a new parent off guard is the strangers that feel the need to share their hard-earned parenting “wisdom.” And what’s even harder to swallow than Aunt Edna’s famous yams is that many of these strangers (or friends of friends, or acquaintances) are other moms.
Mom-on-mom crime runs rampant in our society, and I’m here to say that it must be stopped. Because honestly, don’t we have bigger things to worry about? In a world where “me too” has become a collective voice to call out the patriarchy, can’t we all give each other a break on co-sleeping, or potty training methods, or whose kid has the best BPA-free sippy cup at the playground? United we stand, and divided we fall mamas.
The first step to ending mom-on-mom crime is recognizing it. I catch myself all the time! My kid comes home from preschool, voice full of hope and excitement, saying “So-and-so had chocolate pudding in his lunch!” My first thought: “Who the f-ck packs pudding for a 3 year old?” However, when I take a moment more to process, I think: “Maybe pudding is all that kid will eat! My kid is not picky (thank God) but if he were I might just give in and pack him pudding so I would know he had something to eat today.” It only takes a few seconds to put a little more thought into it and give another parent a (probably much-needed) break.
But some of us are guilty of speaking up to another mom before we put in that extra time. If we thought a little more about it, we would probably realize that it would be best not to say anything! That we could really just give a nod and a smile, or maybe just walk on by.
Here are a few of the most commonly perpetrated mom-mom crimes, based on my own experiences:
- “At that age, my kid was…” Every mom is guilty of this one, myself included. We have an instinct to compare and contrast milestones of our offspring. But why?! What does it matter if your kid walked at 11 months and mine at 15 months, as long as they both DO it at some point? Aren’t we both just lucky? And wouldn’t it be great if we could just not have this conversation that leaves one (or both) of us feeling a little bit shitty?
- “He looks big for his age!” My son is tall and sturdy. I’m proud of his healthy body, and I want him to be too. So for some reason, it rubs me a the wrong way when other people comment on it. I imagine it would be the same if they were commenting on the fact that he was petite for his age. Because i’s just a little bit weird that it’s so acceptable for adults to comment on kids’ bodies. I mean, imagine if you met someone at a party and he told you he was 42 and you responded “Oh, I never would have guessed that, you look much bigger than 42!” Ridiculous, right? Well, kids come in all shapes and sizes, just like adults. So can we lay off commenting on how “big” my son is? Once again, just because we think something in our heads does not mean it has to come out of our mouths. We can take that extra second and think about it, and maybe just choose to walk on by.
- “Enjoy every minute.” This mom-on-mom crime is typically perpetrated by a mom of older kids. Maybe she’s an empty-nester or about to be one, and she sees a mom out with littles and can’t help but impart this “wisdom” on her. But what she’s not considering is that maybe that mom has been up all night with a kid with night terrors, and her other kid just threw up in the car on the way here, and now she’s worried she smells like vomit because she cleaned everything up but she can still SMELL it SOMEWHERE! Lady, that mom really doesn’t feel like being told to “enjoy every minute.” So take that extra second, think about it, keep it to yourself, and walk on by.
- And drumroll please, my personal favorite: “When you have another one…” For the moms of one, this seems to come up constantly. Everyone, from family member to complete stranger, has advice about when would be a good time to provide a sibling for your kiddo. I have a 3-year-old, and when he was 2 I had an acquaintance (a mom of grown children) tell me that I had better have another child soon because I didn’t want to end up with “two separate families.” I’m sorry, if my children are five years apart, do I have to buy them separate houses? Does one grow up in a tower guarded by a witch? I was unaware of these rules. I’m being a jerk, but the point is that we cannot impose the structure of our own families on others! We cannot assume that what works for us will work for someone else. In fact, we really shouldn’t assume much of anything. And assuming that someone is going to have more children is perhaps one of the most loaded assumptions of all. We don’t know who’s struggling with fertility issues, or who has had a miscarriage. We don’t know who isn’t having more children because of financial reasons, or medical reasons, or reasons that are just none of anyone’s damn business. We don’t know who doesn’t want another child. And it’s rude and demeaning to talk to a mother of one as if she’ll one day understand what it’s like to be a mom only after she has more children. So no matter how well meaning, before we offer up comments or questions about adding kids to the family, we should feel free to just walk on by.
There’s a lot that we as moms need to say more of to each other. We need MORE unconditional acceptance, MORE support, MORE sharing of common experiences, MORE honoring differences, MORE encouragement, MORE acknowledgement that what we do every day is difficult and there is no one right way to do it.
We need LESS judgement, LESS imposing our values on one another, LESS competition, LESS invalidating of one another’s experiences.
We can do it mamas! All we have to do is take a few extra seconds. Think about something before we say it. And if we don’t have anything nice to say, we can just walk on by. Let’s be the generation that ends mom-on-mom crime.
Because in this moment in history, isn’t being a mom (and a woman, and a human for that matter) difficult enough? Let’s make it a little easier on each other.
To all the super moms, dads, and people out there: I love you all.