It’s Moms For Moms Day next week, and we’re all supposed to be talking about this and doing supportive stuff for moms. Unfortunately I have been less than supportive of anyone this week, most of all myself and my family. The new job and the winding down of my business has put a lot of stress on me, albeit welcome stress, and I haven’t had much time to catch my breath. Not only that, but for some reason, I seem to be picking fights with people left and right. Not in the violent sense, but I mean, little petty, sticky things that make me want to speak up and speak my mind. I have never been known to shy away from an argument a lively debate on an issue I’m passionate about, and while it sometimes makes things a little tense, I would rather live in an uncomfortable world of my own creation than succumb to shuffle along passively while I allow the opinions of others to shape my environment.
We talk a lot about being non-judgmental in this community, particularly with regard to parenting practices and the tired SAHM v. Working Mom (media-manufactured) debate. But I think there’s another side to the coin here that needs to be flipped:
You can speak up, speak out, and stand up for what you believe in, in the appropriate circumstances … without being “judgmental,” at least in the way we use that term here.
We all have some deep-rooted, firmly held convictions about our world and the way we live in it. Can you imagine what kind of society we would have if we all bent over backwards to politely decline to discuss our politics, opinions, and yes, sometimes, our judgments?
Yet, I contend, there is a way you can express these thoughts and feelings without overtly playing the judgment card. Here’s an example:
Mom 1: I hate having to wake up overnight to make a bottle, you know?
Mom 2: That sounds hard. I breastfed, so I don’t have the experience with formula. Those night nursing sessions were killer though.
Mom 1: Oh ….
Mom 2: [sensing awkwardness] I don’t want to presume anything incorrectly here, but just so you know, I don’t judge you for your decision to formula feed. You sounded uncomfortable for a moment there.
Mom 1: Oh, yeah, well you know, some people have given me a hard time about breastfeeding. I just didn’t want to do it.
Mom 2: I know it can be a delicate subject. I can only speak for myself, but my decision was based on the research I did, and admittedly, when I started doing it, it came naturally to me. I realize that’s not true for everyone.
Notice how I didn’t say, “oh I’m totally cool with you formula feeding.” I do have strong feelings about breastfeeding, and I’m not shy about expressing them. In this example, the mom says she didn’t want to do it. I would never call someone out for not trying, but since it’s something I do feel strongly about, I would surely offer my own experience in doing research and coming to understand why it’s important.
But that one was too easy. Let’s try a different one:
People Laughing: This chick who lives across town had a homebirth? Can you believe how dangerous that must have been? And she ate her placenta afterward – what a freak!
Casual Observer: Excuse me, but I did the same thing: homebirth, and yes, I consumed my placenta afterward for the health benefits.
People Who Were Laughing, Now Sitting in Stunned Silence: Oh … um …
Casual Observer: Look, while I don’t want to make this awkward, I feel compelled to point out that those of us who engage in natural parenting practices, including homebirth, are not some fringey weirdos in cults on the outskirts of society. Personally, I did my research, and learned that hospital birth carries with it significant risks, and that homebirth is safe. You can disagree with me if you have your own statistics and research to support your position, but it sounds to me like you were just taking the opportunity to make fun of someone just for being different than the norm.
Other Mom Who Suddenly Interjects: Well, I had a really complicated birth and I’m pretty sure I would have lost the baby if I hadn’t been in the hospital. So I don’t agree with homebirth at all.
Casual Observer: I’m sorry you had that experience. I recognize that you are probably viewing my experience through the lens of your own birth trauma. I would love to talk more about these issues with you sometime, if you are interested.
Ok, I realize that second example is a tough one. It’s hard to stand up for ourselves or our family members without encountering some uncomfortable conversations once in a while. But what I’m saying is that you should never feel like you need to be ashamed or overly polite about your strongly held beliefs about parenting decisions or anything else, under the guise of not judging people. Especially when someone else is doing the judging. But the key is to recognizing when someone needs to be put in their place (the insensitive people trashing your own decision right in front of you, who clearly need to be educated), versus when someone is being defensive due to their own personal situation (the formula feeding mom, or the hospital emergency mom in the examples above). In an effort to be kind, accepting, and understanding, we sometimes hide our own views and opinions. This benefits no one, because sharing these ideas is how we learn, grow and improve ourselves.