September 28, 2011

Other Mothers.

With Tess, 5 days old
Lots of times when I can’t get to sleep it’s because I drank a cappuccino too late in the afternoon or because I’m wondering if I should get out of bed and put socks on Tessa so her feet don’t get cold in the night. Things like that. Last night was different. I couldn’t fall asleep because I was thinking about other mothers. I think about them a lot. Too much. I’m sort of obsessed by “other mothers” because I find them so perplexing and upsetting. What I want to understand is how they can be the way they are, which is—so often—very, terribly mean to one another. 

What I was thinking about in particular was an article I read on the Café Mom website yesterday that posed the question: Can moms who use the attachment parenting method be friends with moms who use the cry-it-out method? The comments in response to the article were malicious. I can’t make myself re-read them because I literally felt like they were stabbing me in the heart over and over, but the gist of it was that most of the attachment parenting moms said that no, absolutely not, they could not, would not, be friends with a mom who uses cry-it-out because they consider it a barbaric form of child abuse to let a baby cry herself to sleep. One mother went so far as to say that she won’t even let her child have a playdate with a child whose mother uses cry-it-out because that child no doubt has emotional problems that she doesn’t want her own child exposed to.

Isn’t that the most awful thing you have ever heard?

A woman who I used to be friends with forwarded me a link to the article. I say used to be because, in the end, the way we parented our young daughters was so very different that the friendship imploded. The friendship had caused me one too many sleepless nights, which is not, you know, what I’m really going for when looking for a friend.

What it boiled down to was that I did everything different than this woman with regards to parenting, and I refused to apologize for it or change it. And, unfortunately, I really let it get to me that she seemed to think I was doing such a crap job with my daughter. I diapered my baby with disposable diapers, fed her soy formula, vaccinated her, gave her antibiotics, left her with oodles of babysitters so I could go on dates and vacations with my husband, and—worst of all, in this woman’s estimation—let my baby cry herself to sleep at night.

I didn’t know this then, but my mothering style began when Tessa was still tucked inside my womb. You see, I’ve been what other mothers might call a “bad mother” from the start. I sometimes had more than one glass of wine when I was pregnant. I drank coffee and Diet Coke and took anti-depressants and once or twice I even smoked a cigarette and enjoyed it. I also did lots of things “right”—went to prenatal yoga every week, read a dozen books on childbirth and breastfeeding and parenting, stockpiled new pregnant friends, and quit my job and started my freelance writing business so I could stay at home with my baby. Most importantly, I wanted this baby. I longed for her and loved her before I knew her and worried over her and analyzed everything all the time. And I still am doing all of that—longing, loving, worrying, and analyzing. 

This is who I am. So wholly imperfect. And I like me. 

Why is it that so many parents think there's only one way to get out of this whole parenting thing with a well-adjusted, well-loved kid? And who decided that the moment of conception was a starting line, and that once you cross over that starting line, you have to start being some sort of perfect, selfless, exhausted person? 

My man Augusten Burroughs says, "I like flaws and feel more comfortable around people who have them. I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

Me? I like flawed mothers. Have you ever left your kid in the car while you run into the gas station for a bottle of water? Then I love you. You are my kind of mom. 

I didn’t know this much about myself before I had Tessa. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get a kick out of sitting in the dark in a rocking chair for two hours clutching a sucking, squirming baby at my breast and trying desperately to get her to fall asleep, and then and only then, slinking off to try to eek out some me time.

I’d always heard that parenting is the hardest job in the world, but I didn’t get the meaning of that. I didn’t get that it’s so much more than how much you give your child; it’s also figuring out where to draw the line on all that giving. Because, at the end of the day, I draw the line. I read Tessa a few books, I get her some milk, I plant loads of kisses all over her silky cheeks and milky mouth and then I say, “Goodnight. Mommy loves you soooo very much, and I'll see you in the morning.” And then I shut her door.

Sometimes she cries, and it never stops sucking.

But I’ve drawn the line. I’ve given all I can give for that particular day. In the morning, I will get up and I will give again, and I will give to her every day for the rest of my life. I just can’t give everything I have all day long. I have to save some of that for my husband and for my friends and family and, yes, for me.  

I lay awake last night because I was really, really sad because I feel that there's nothing to be done about any of this. All I can do is be honest and hope that someone hears me who thinks that they wouldn't want their little girl to play with my little girl because my little girl has learned how to put herself to sleep. I want to say: I am doing the very best I can. And also: I'm a good mother and so are you. We are just different, as are our children, our families, and our lives. Sometimes love looks and sounds different. Sometimes it even sounds like a crying baby.