"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven" (Lk. 6:37).
I swept through the large crowd gathered around my good friend at her recent baby shower, overhearing tidbits of conversation. Being a co-host has its advantages and disadvantages. In some ways, I wanted to protect my friend from all of the unsolicited advice I knew would bombard her, but on the other hand, I knew that some sage words of wisdom from veteran moms can help ease the anxiety of welcoming a new baby into the world.
Nothing really registered about those conversations until I returned home that evening. Somehow, it seemed that most moms wanted to showcase their opinions and how superior they were to others. As a mom of two girls with special needs, I felt ashamed that I did not measure up to some of their guidelines and expectations for motherhood. In fact, some of their advice to my friend seemed hollow and even judgmental.
As I processed what I heard, I thought about the ways moms form such strong opinions, and at the root, it seems to be fairly benign - helpful even. The problem is that what works for one family or one child may not be a parenting panacea. Is it fair for earthy moms to brag about their all-organic, homemade baby food and how superior it is to the processed jars when some moms do not have the time or energy or desire to make their own food? Should the breastfeeding purist inadvertently make the mom who formula feeds feel guilty about not giving her child that "liquid gold"? There are the co-sleepers who promote full attachment parenting. There are the sleep trainers who believe in schedules and circadian rhythms.
And, once, I was among them. I read all the books, held lofty ideals, and strove for parenting perfection. Only when my daughters arrived, one by one, did I realize that my expectations were rigid and unrealistic. As I cried to other moms about my breastfeeding fails and sleep travails, I received pity but not compassion. Being surrounded by mothers who make it all look like a breeze did not help my wounded sense of self as I gathered to collect the pieces of my broken identity following my first daughter's birth. All I could think, day after day, was, "I am a failure. I am a terrible mother."
Those thoughts continued for years, mainly because both of my daughters needed early childhood intervention for developmental delays. I couldn't relate to the moms whose kids were perfectly healthy and managed to meet or exceed those developmental milestones we all read about from the pediatrician's office. Sadly, I blamed myself and attributed my lack of parenting know-how to my daughters' special needs. "It was because I didn't breastfeed them for a whole year," I'd tell myself. "Or maybe because I didn't co-sleep with them."
Or I didn't give them enough tummy time or puree all of their baby food. I did what I could, but in my mind it was never enough. And it was because of the moms I'd see and hear talking about how wonderful attachment parenting was for them and they'd highly recommend it as the preferred form of parenting. "I'm not like that. I need my space," I'd think, quickly brushing away any additional feelings of guilt.
When I read the Gospel from Luke, "stop judging and you will not be judged," I realized that this is something most, if not nearly all, mothers tend to do. We categorize. We quantify. We share our opinions and advice, not out of malice, but out of a genuine desire to share what we've learned. The only problem is, however altruistic those motives are, they are unhelpful and may make other moms feel inadequate.
So, when the baby shower ended and I had some time to mull over these thoughts, I decided to modify the baby advice card I submitted for my friend. I wanted her to know that holiness is more important than academic achievements, that a well-loved baby doesn't need bells and whistles and the latest gadgets and gizmos. I wanted her to know that she, as her baby's mom, is enough, because God gave them to each other. And He gives us the grace we need to learn how to guide our children on the path toward Heaven. I wanted her to know that she will question her parenting techniques and probably receive all sorts of unsolicited advice from others, but above all, turning to prayer and asking for wisdom will give her strength and confidence that the choices she and her husband are making are what's best for their daughter.
['tweet "Learn the mysteries of motherhood by looking to the good each mom does. By @JeanEwing07"]
I wish moms would stop judging each other and themselves and instead be more merciful. If we looked at the good that each parent does with what she has, wouldn't we learn even more about the mysteries of motherhood? I'd like to think that, somehow, it's not so much about strategies and timelines as it is about forgiveness and kindness.
Copyright 2017 Jeannie Ewing
About the Author
Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief. As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose. Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines. She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website lovealonecreates.com.