I recently reunited with my four college roommates in Tennessee. This was the first time we’d all been together as mamas and it was so fun to see our little ones, ranging in age from 1-5 years, interacting. A day into the trip I realized how we differed on some of the typically most divisive topics within parenting: birthing method, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, discipline, etc. For example, I gave birth naturally at a hospital with the assistance of a wonderful doula. My friend Emily had a water birth with a midwife in her home. Our friend Katie scheduled an induction to ensure she’d be with the doctor that she had grown to love during her pregnancy. One of them spanks, the other believes in time-outs, and another in natural consequences. One breastfed at the supper table while another baby happily consumed its formula milk right beside her.
And guess what? Each and every single one of our kids are completely thriving. They’re smiling, playing, and learning as they continue to grow. The mamas are happy, the babies are happy. Driven by a deep love for and desire to do what’s best for our children, we have each arrived at a variety of methods, strategies, disciplines, and diets.
I started wondering if we didn’t have a history together, and if we had each met post-babies, would we welcome each other as friends despite our varying parenting techniques? Or would we put up walls the instant one of these differences made itself known? I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of those grocery store moments of pride when my child is sitting quietly while just across the aisle a mother is peeling her screaming toddler off the floor (clean up on aisle 5), and find myself quick to provide a reason for her current struggle in my mind. “That’s why you don’t give your child sugar before you run errands…” Rather than offering a gracious “I’ve been there” look her way. Why isn’t that my first reaction? Why are there mama-focused social media message boards full of rude, sometimes hateful condemnation in response to a new mom expressing frustration and seeking guidance in regards to breastfeeding? Where does this hostility, that can so easily creep into parenting, start?
The fact of the matter is that parenting is hard. It’s full of second-guessing. One day you’re winning and then the next it feels like the children are definitely planning a coup. There is an article arguing for or against literally every decision you could make as a parent. So we cling to any reassurance that we’re doing something, anything right, and are therefore quick to criticize someone else’s methods as a way to assure ourselves that we’re not totally screwing it up. But in our search for affirmation, we can easily become distracted from the most important task: simply loving our children. And that looks different for each and every one of us. My friends and I never questioned each other’s intentions to fully love and care for our children, so it was natural to accept every parenting method that was practiced within the group.
There are a million factors that go into every epic grocery store tantrum: a missed nap time, teething, utter devastation when you insist that your child can’t lick all the apples. It’s blatantly unfair to assess one mother’s parenting skills based on such limited exposure.
During this season of young kids — this season of life when you need the most moral and physical support you can get — let’s choose to lift one another up. Whether online or face-to-face, let’s encourage one another to ask questions and seek help instead of bullying each other for making a different choice. Offer your own experience in its context but never as the one and only way. Never assume that a parent is doing whatever is easiest.
Let’s give each other a little grace and ourselves, too. After all, don’t we each want the same thing in the end: to raise a healthy, loving, accepting, and gracious human being? Then let’s start by providing a positive example in the way we treat each other. I’m so grateful that this particular group of gals showed me the myriad of ways one can lovingly bring up a child. I like to think the experience will help me observe what truly matters when meeting new mama cohorts — that they’re also doing their best. We’re all in this together, friends.More On