There’s no way to sugarcoat it: when my daughter was a baby, she was hard work. From the age of 6 months to a year or so, she just wanted to talk and walk and was super frustrated that she couldn’t. She was (and still is) wildly inquisitive — into everything and very switched on. Unlike my son, she wasn’t content watching DVDs and gazing out the window — she wanted to be entertained and engaged every minute of the day.
It was around this time that I knew a mom whose son played with mine, and she kindly took my son to school every day for me. I was grateful for her help, but she always made clipped comments about how my daughter was clingy, or threw tantrums, or refused to eat anything but mushed cauliflower cheese. I just brushed them off; I was so grateful for her help (she was unquestionably kind!) that I didn’t really think it was a dig.
This mom recently had a baby girl, and back when she was pregnant, she told me how worried she was when she found out she was having a daughter, as she was worried she would have one like mine. Apparently she dodged a bullet, because now she’s always putting her hand on my arm and telling me what a good baby she has, and how she is a joy and SO much easier than mine was.
I just stare at her and think, Are you seriously being so rude?
And then I feel an overwhelming sense of regret that I ever let her into my life. That I let her see me at my most vulnerable — when I had two small kids, when my husband worked 60-hour weeks, when I was going stir-crazy being home alone all day and not working, when I was struggling with postpartum depression.
When we first give birth, it is such a shock to our bodies and minds. We float about in a daze, not quite sure of what day it is as we negotiate feeding and diapers and inordinate amounts of laundry. We often end up befriending women who aren’t our “type” — people we wouldn’t normally choose to be buddies with. We hang out with them simply because we have kids the same age and we need to get out of the house and have some company that isn’t in diapers. We end up bonding with those who live near us, who drop in for a coffee, who we hope will support us in the long, dark early days of motherhood.
So why is it that this mother felt the need to remind me of my failings in those early days, and drop in competitive little barbs?
New motherhood is such a minefield. We beat ourselves up for every little thing and find respite in offloading to moms in similar situations. We feel like we are walking through an eternal maze and having someone understand, or sympathize, is like the holy grail. Now imagine those mistakes magnified and brought up five years later. It makes me wish I had just suffered in silence.
When she makes these comments, I usually try to pretend I didn’t hear her correctly, or that I’m overreacting. But last week I reached my breaking point. She had returned to work and mentioned so in a text, apologizing for her late reply. She added that she felt guilty about returning to her part-time job, but needed “me time.”
To make her feel better, I replied that being at home with kids is tough and that I got depressed when I did it. I went on to tell her that our eldest kids had loved preschool and made great friends there — all things I hoped would make her feel better.
Then came her reply, “That’s why I was so panicked when I knew I was having a girl — I remember what you went through with R. But O brings the whole family such joy.”
Steam was coming out of my ears. I had to calmly reply that my daughter brings me a lot of joy, too — and yes I found it tough, but unlike her, I didn’t have family nearby to help me.
I wish women weren’t so quick to judge and put down others. That we all cut each other some slack — realizing that what works for one mom may not be our ideal — but who cares! It works for them, so that is GREAT.
We are all too quick to comment at a time in our lives when none of us are perfect. None of us know one definitive right way to parent because every baby is different. Most of all, what we don’t expect is our moments of weakness to come back to haunt us years later. To be reminded that our baby cried all night, or that we carried them in the sling the wrong way that one day, or that we couldn’t cope with breastfeeding, or whatever.
This woman asked me out for coffee yesterday, and I didn’t reply. I won’t be, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years as a mother, it’s this: time is precious, never more so than when you have kids, so spend it wisely — with those who make you feel good about yourself and raise you up, not people who use your hardships to make themselves feel better.