My current title is Legal Consultant, but for many years I practiced family law. During that time, I saw some ugly shit go down, both in and out of the courtroom. Being privy to messy divorce proceedings didn’t keep me from wanting to get married, though, or even from marrying the wrong guy the first time around. That relationship ended before children or joint properties entered the picture, so our divorce, like our marriage, was short and very bittersweet.
I am now married to a wonderful man who has a wonderful five year old son from a previous relationship. My stepson’s mom comes from a different school of thought than I, though. No amount of education or life experience could have prepared me for the trials of co-parenting with someone who sees their child as a burden rather than a blessing. Although I’d like to hope that our very different priorities aren’t confusing Zachy, I do worry that living in two households with such different values might screw him up. It has to be tough for a kid to have to abide by a completely separate set of rules in each parent’s house, although he seems to handle it pretty gracefully. For a long time, I felt like I had to decide between trying to adopt a parenting style I am not comfortable with, or risk giving Zach the message that we didn’t agree with Mommy’s rules. Since having my little boy, though, I’ve found that there isn’t one “right” way to do this parenting thing, and am trying to be more respectful of individual parenting choices, even when they would not be mine.
As a new mom myself, I’m getting a first-hand lesson in how hard it can be to balance a relationship and an infant amid hormone roller-coasters. At the time that I had Max, my marriage and job were stable, we had excellent health insurance, and our baby was carefully planned. Even while basking in the joy and the beauty of a perfect little newborn, during the first months I often felt overwhelmed, crazy and irritable. My husband and his ex did not have a home of their own, savings, or even stable income when Zach came along. Having been consumed by feelings of inadequacy while struggling to breastfeed (in my own comfortable house with my husband on paternity leave and mom, MIL, and even a lactation consultant at my disposal), I now realize how tough it must have been for Zach’s mother to bond with him the first few months.
This fall, I joined some mommy groups to try and meet local mothers and babies. Although I have found friends, I’ve also watched some mama dramas unfold into scenes not unlike the courtroom battles of my prior career. I vowed not to participate in moms judging other moms, but my own blended family dynamic sometimes makes it hard to uphold that. What I am trying hard to remember is that every mother is not all the same, genetically, culturally, generationally – so it should be expected for parenting styles to differ. Not all mamas have the financial means to be stay-at-home parents, and not all moms want to! My mother worked ceaselessly before, during, and after kids – not because she couldn’t afford not to, or because she didn’t love her children. She just loved her job, too. We didn’t suffer for it. Yes, there are mothers among us who would love to be full-time moms, but our bills and America’s pathetically short (and for consultants like me, nonexistent) maternity-leave makes that impossible. Not every parent’s budget covers organic, grass-fed, humanely-raised protein sources for their kids. And not everyone who wants to be environmentally friendly can stomach cloth diapers, either. I, for one, am pro-tree and pro-Pampers. In terms of keeping our kids happy and healthy, we are all doing the best we can with whatever resources we have available to us.
I don’t think that feeding your baby formula is bad for them. I don’t think feeding your second-grader doughnuts for breakfast on Tuesdays makes you any less of an awesome mom, either. Feeling a twinge of resentment when your nipples are bleeding from breastfeeding nonstop doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby. If you *aren’t* mad when your toddler flushes your engagement ring down the toilet, then I will think something may really be wrong with you. Recently, my stepson told me that he’d gotten in trouble by his mom for getting a rip in his coat on the playground. At the time, I thought, it’s just a coat! Kids play hard, what’s the big deal? It may just be a difference in parent priorities, I don’t know. But, it could also be a mom’s frustration from a lack of funding to buy a new coat. If you can only afford one, clearly it needs to last through the winter.
What I’m getting at is that we are all struggling with some aspect of parenting. One mom’s apparent lack of affection for her newborn may not be an absence of love. She could have undiagnosed postpartum depression, or be struggling with something she doesn’t feel comfortable talking about. Another’s impatience with her child’s tantrum may not mean she doesn’t appreciate her beautiful little girl. Maybe she worked a 12-hour shift the night before to earn money for the private speech therapist he needs.
So, I’m going to try to base my opinions of other moms on the same set of criteria I hope they will use to evaluate me: not by what’s in our fridges or our wallets, but what is in our hearts.