Dear Dad, Partner, Gestational Carrier, Pregnant Person, Grandparent, Relative, Friend, Well-meaning Stranger,
But mostly, dear Mom,
I am writing to you out of a place of love and understanding. I am also a mom (and know moms, and love moms, and see moms at the grocery store that I don’t know). I have what I consider to be a reasonable amount of education, though I want more. I consider myself to be reasonably well-informed (though I’m working on that, too). I have a lifetime of upbringing and experience that flavor my perspective. I have a belief system. I live in a culture. I have a family. I have some friends. I work hard. I love my kids.
I am doing the best I can with what I have.
Let me repeat that. I am doing the best I can with what I have.
Now, I am going to make a series of assumptions about you.
I am going to go ahead and assume that you have a place of love and understanding in your heart. You are also a mom (or love a mom, or know a mom, or see a mom in the grocery store, etc). you probably have what you consider to be a reasonable amount of education, though maybe you want more. You consider yourself to be reasonably well-informed (but maybe you are working on it). You have a lifetime of upbringing and experience that flavor your perspective. You have a belief system. You live in a culture. You have a family. You have some friends. You work hard. You love your kids.
You are doing the best you can with what you have.
That friend/sister/relative/rando in the grocery store? She is doing the best she can with what she has. That brings me to rule number one.
Rule #1: Assume everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.
Now, I know it’s probably best to feed your kids a bunch of whole, healthy foods that aren’t covered in pesticides. It’s probably best to breastfeed for a long time, to start saving for college early, to never yell and always explain on the level your kids understand, to get eight hours of sleep, and know everything about everything you do before you do it.
But, my kid just ate a booger, and I just threatened to sell the other one to gypsies if he didn’t stop sticking his fingers in his baby brother’s ears. One of my kids is circumcised and one of them is not. I worked outside the home sometimes, and other times I stayed home full time. I gave one of my babies formula. I breastfed. I co slept. I cried it out. I vaccinated. I used an alternative schedule. I gave ibuprofen. I used essential oil. I calmed with chocolate. I hallucinated due to sleep deprivation (more on that later). I cried in the bathroom. I worried. I full-on crawled into the bathtub with my kids, clothes on, because I just couldn’t see a better option in that moment.
I know there are better ways to do some of the things I am doing. But that doesn’t mean I am not doing the best I can with what I have. Sometimes my best is not THE best. And that is usually okay. Sometimes my best isn’t even my best (as in, I know I could do better right now, but I’m not), and that’s usually okay, too. The reason I write “usually” is because sometimes we do have to stop and take a hard look at the way we do things. And sometimes we just need to do better. But you be the judge of that for yourself.
Rule #2: Sometimes YOUR best is not THE best, and that is usually okay. Sometimes YOUR best isn’t even your best, and that is usually okay.
For example, breastfeeding is pretty much irrefutably THE best way to feed a baby. However, there are a litany of reasons that parents might not breastfeed. Maybe they can’t, because reasons. Maybe they want to but are unable, because reasons. Maybe they don’t want to, because reasons. Maybe they didn’t want to for no reason at all. Maybe the baby can’t, because reasons. Bottom line: you don’t know. You don’t get to know. Even if it is not THE best, it is THEIR best. And even if it’s not THEIR best, it is still their choice. And even if it is not THEIR choice, they still deserve your love and support. Which brings me to rule #3.
Rule #3: It’s not about the best, her best, your best, their best. It’s not about feeling bad when you try to empathize, imagining what humbling backstory led up to what you see in front of you. It IS about setting your opinion on the shelf for a hot minute, moving in, listening first, asking polite questions that you wouldn’t mind being asked, and speaking (if you must speak) only from that place of love and understanding.
Here’s a recap and a few pro tips from a mom who works with and for moms:
Rule #1: everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.
Rule #2: your best might not be their best. Your best in this moment might not be your best at another time. Your best might not be THE best. And that is usually okay.
Rule #3: what you see in front of you is another human. Resist the urge to see what that person should be doing better, in your opinion. Don’t ask yourself how you can change what that person is doing. Please ask yourself, “How can I support this person?”
If you need a little help, like we all do at some time or another, here are two lists:
Finally, you can’t have a war without two opposing sides. One the one side we have people who judge (other moms/parents, well-meaning strangers, friends, family, healthcare providers, etc). On the other side we have people who feel judged.
To those who feel judged: whose opinion matters? Why does it matter to you? What has gone into the formulation of that opinion? Does that matter to you?
Is this person trying to help? Is it possible that they are trying to express love but are just bad at it? Will it harm me or them if I just say, “thank you for sharing” and keep on doing whatever I was doing?
Can I be made to feel inferior, inadequate, like a failure, or otherwise wrong without my permission to do so? (the answer to that leading question is no.)
Parenthood is not a competition. It is a cooperative event where we hope to leave the world better than we found it. We succeed when we help, love, and support one another. We succeed when we withhold judgement. We succeed when we refuse to be judged.
We are all on the same side.
Sincerely, and with love,
Another mom who is doing the best she can with what she has, and whose kid eats boogers