Posts Tagged ‘mom shaming’

We All Need the Village

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

We all need the villageFor much of the day, I am solely responsible for my children’s livelihood, safety, and well-being. As a caregiver to three young children mine suddenly take on a particularly vulnerable feel. We all know the scenarios of varying likelihood—robbers, kidnappers, terrorists, clowns. I am a very vulnerable target with my car seats and non-mobile, slow-moving children who, now outnumbering me, are prone, as all children are, to getting distracted, being loud, and ignoring instruction. Of course the scenarios can be far more realistic. Allow me to demonstrate.

I’m at the grocery store with three young children. I’ll assume all goes well in the store, “well” being defined differently by various people who witness my existence. I get outside with a cart full of groceries, baby fussy and ready to nap and two preschoolers frustrated that the other keeps touching his side of the cart. It is 95 degrees outside. If I put kids in the car first with no car on, what am I doing? Trying to overheat them to death? Of course if I leave them in the cart or standing by the car, oh the horrific possibilities of cars hitting them or the cart rolling away on the never-even pavement. If I put them in and start the car, what about that one news clip I saw about people jumping into a stranger’s car to steal it—with my children in tow!? Oh the danger! But it’s hot.

I decide my course of action. I strap them all in as my frozen goods melt, because strapping in three children takes time. I’m not complaining, as I did choose to have these exquisite children all in a row, but who really wants melted ice cream even if they chose the lifestyle that leads to it? I start the car and stay vigilant as I quickly load the groceries. Then I must decide—leave the cart like a jerk in the parking lot or take it three cars up to the cart area. There is literally no way for me to complete that scenario where someone could not point out how I potentially endangered my children.

My scenario is relatively minor but that’s how it adds up for many of us. Mommy shaming seems like a phrase of the moment but I assure you it is a daily potential experience for many of us. I’m tired of hearing about mommy shaming (and blaming). I want to talk about something more important: the supportive village.

I don’t need to defend why I exist or why my children exist or that we deserve to exist. I don’t need to hire a sitter or leave them at home with someone else for your (or my) convenience. I’m not saying let’s allow our children to run amuck (though the argument can go so far as to say we all deserve a little grace and we all sometimes run amuck); nor am I saying you need to bend over backward for me. I’m saying I have kids and we are all invested in their outcome. Every time we go out in public, they learn to become more civilized, though at times the side glances or under-the-breath comments from adults are less than civil.

Instead of blaming me for all the ways I potentially put my children at small risk just in order to make it through the day—to put groceries in the car, grab a quick shower, let them learn to climb the monkey bars alone—help me. At the very least just let me be. Better yet, be the village. Instead of pointing out the ways my child could be stolen, create an environment where we instead blame the person who is…you know…stealing the babies. I’d even go so far to say care for the criminal too—I doubt he or she had a village. Mothers and caregivers get blamed and shamed rather than welcomed into the fold. Protect us and look out for us, the vulnerable. Offer to take my cart those 30 steps. Drive more cautiously in the parking lot. Stop looking at the things I do that seem potentially concerning in a minuscule way and look out for the things that are actually concerning.

I know, I know. I’m asking you to take on some responsibility for my choices of having children. That’s true. We all take turns being the vulnerable—we were all once kids, we all have times when we’re sick, particularly overburdened, or for whatever reason emotionally, mentally, or physically distracted in our lives. We become more vulnerable as we age, too. We all benefit from a village, so please care about it, whether or not you have children. Look out for others rather than point them out. Fellow moms I’m talking to you (and I’m reminding myself). We sometimes opt for mommy wars rather than help, maybe because we are so thinly stretched and know too well how vulnerable we are. It’s easier to keep vulnerability at a distance. We need to take the step, even in our exhaustion, to build the village too.

More is at stake than a smooth shopping trip. It’s our investment in one another, our relationship with each other that keeps us connected as individuals and groups at large. We’re living in an individual wants-before-greater good world. I am in a season of vulnerability. Look out for me, will you?

Lynette is a mom of three children from 6 months to age four. She has cloth diapered all three since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

Unapologetic Parenting

Monday, September 26th, 2016

img_1145I take it for granted that when my kids grow up and ask me questions about their childhood, I’m going to end up apologizing for something. I’ll tell the oldest I’m sorry I didn’t hold her enough. The middle child will get apologies because I didn’t enjoy her enough while she was the baby because I was too freaked out about getting pregnant again so soon. The youngest, for not getting to go to preschool, story time, playgroups, or dance class like her oldest sister did at her age, because I was too busy carting around the older ones.

This approach has come to guide my daily decision making. I think about it frequently, like when I’m tired, when I’m tempted to say no automatically instead of thinking about each situation specifically, or when I’m out in public. I try and really think about my decisions because I don’t want to make decisions I’m going to have to apologize to my kids for someday if I don’t have to.

But now, in an age of frequent parent-shaming, I’ve come to think of parenting decisions in public also as public-relations problems. How will I defend myself if someone videotapes me or turns me in to authorities for something I think is perfectly reasonable or low-risk but they think is not? (I honestly had examples here but was too worried someone would shame me for doing those things, so I took them out.)

I feel like any small parenting decision can have very public consequences. Once when my husband was out of town, I had just put both kids to bed and decided to have a glass of wine now that I was alone. But then I thought: What if the house catches fire? What if someone breaks in or I have to take a child to the emergency room? All it takes is for someone to smell alcohol on my breath and that becomes a story. I dumped out my wine and spent the night tossing and turning in the dark, waiting for one of the kids to cry.

I’ve seen friends get called CPS on them because someone thought their house was too messy in a Facebook photo–Hoarder! Or because they joked in a post about running away from it all–Call the police! There was the mom in Houston who was going for help because she locked her kids in her car and got accused of getting her hair done while her children baked in a hot car. (She’s now suing the TV station for $200,000 and fears for her family because people were so vile over it.) There’s the couple in Sandusky, Ohio, who walked a few feet away from their baby, who was in a car seat, to grab food at a buffet, and had a complete stranger shame them on social media and call them terrible parents. (He didn’t call 911 or do anything about it at the time because the baby was in no danger.) A recent study showed that individuals in a focus group judged parents on the perceived moral rightness of their actions when stepping away from their child even for a moment.

Read that again.

The article says that “moral attitudes toward parenting have changed, such that leaving children unsupervised is now judged morally wrong. And because it’s judged morally wrong, people overestimate the risk.” It’s much more exciting for some Facebook acquaintance or stranger to call the local news station than give you a call and ask if you’re OK or if you need help. What a hero.

So what started as a pledge to not have to apologize to my kids one day in the future has become of a way of living in public. I have to make the best possible decisions I can not only for my family, but now also to the defense of my integrity in the public eye, even when my kids are unaffected. You’d think raising tiny humans to be decent adults is enough pressure. It’s an exhausting proposition. It puts me on edge in public, and sometimes I have the feeling that everyone I see is judging me. But that’s an advantage, I guess. Because someone always is. At least now I am prepared to confront them.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three. She lives and writes in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.