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. 


  1. KatieSeptember 28, 2011 at 12:39 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this. I am so tired of women judging each other as mothers. Each family, each woman has their own truth, what works for them. There are many many roads to a happy child and the only thing that they have in common is love. Pure and simple.

  2. blair @ a case of the mundaysSeptember 28, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    another beautiful post, ellen. thank you for sharing this.

  3. GwennieSeptember 28, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    I cryed when I read this. I judged you, I judged myself, and I am so sick of it. We are hurting ourselves with all this perfect parenting, and at the end of the day, I am tired, too. There are countless points where things can go wrong. We need to be more gentle to each other, not just our babies. And to ourselves. I'll be your friend, Ellen, and I'll tell you a secret. I leave my kids in the car, running, air conditioning on and locked, when I go in the post office, to check my po box. Playdate?

  4. emilySeptember 28, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    absolutely beautiful!!! wish I had a kid to throw into the mix, but am so very thankful to be on that list of friends you save some of yourself for! ;-)

  5. LindseySeptember 28, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    This all makes me so sad! You are a great mom and you love your girl so so well! And for what it's worth, I did it the way you did it... but you'd be a great mom even if you did it another way ;-)

  6. Laura MaukSeptember 28, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    it sounds like we do some things the same (cry it out, drink wine, coffee and diet coke, stay home with our babies) and one thing different (i cannot leave sabine in the car alone for a second or i might have a small coronary--but i live in LA, not TN!). none of what you do is terrible. i tried attachment parenting and it did not work for me or for sabine. she slept better--as in, actually slept--when she was in a bed of her own as opposed to a bed with three people in it. i thought sleep training sounded like child abuse before i did it. but then i was left with no choice as i was about to have a nervous breakdown from lack of sleep. and once we did it, that little girl cried for twenty minutes (we went in and reassured her every so often) and fell asleep for the entire night! how was she ever going to learn that if i didn't try or let her? and now she sleeps like a champ! i don't know. i feel the same way about the judgement and how mean other moms are to each other. but i will also say that going through all of that has taught me to really listen to myself and do what's right for me and not care so much what other people think. because i tried it their way and it just didn't work. sabine can play with tessa anytime :)

  7. TrischaSeptember 28, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    This is such a great post. It's so true that we would all be happier mothers if we could just give to each other the freedom to parent the way that works best for each family. It reminded me of something I posted a couple years ago. (here, in case you're interested) I went back and re-read it and thought I'd share it with you.

    "In the end did I find the secret, and it was this: There is no one secret way to be a "good" mother. Each of us has to invent motherhood for herself and invent it over and over and over as we move forward through it. We can find the common threads of motherhood from talking to each other, but everyone is different. Each child is different, and we are different with each child, just as life is different for each child. No one explains how to do it. Each of us must figure it out for ourselves."
    - Frances Wells Burck, Mothers Talking

    Thank you for writing this post and for sharing it with us!

  8. CindySeptember 28, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    I am appreciative of this as my husband and I are trying to have a baby. Should I be blessed with a bambino, I know that I would wonder if I was doing it all wrong, and now, rest assured, I realize I shouldn't worry. I should just love really well and do what feels right for our home. thank u.

  9. mandySeptember 28, 2011 at 8:54 PM

    this is a wonderful post Ellen. i relate so much and REALLY wish we lived closer.

  10. Lil Muse LilySeptember 28, 2011 at 9:45 PM

    wonderful post Ellen. and isn't it ironic that it was the so called kind "don't let them cry it out" mothers that didn't think they could get along with the cry it out mothers?
    i'm with you. i need to save some.
    it's your friend's loss. really. hugs

  11. NatalieSeptember 29, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Really nice post Ellen. I think you're right about the way mamas tend to talk with each other nowadays. I'm one attachment parenting mama who is NOT judging you. In fact I'd love to have a glass of wine with you! Keep up the good work, you're daughter looks beautiful, healthy and happy.

  12. DelSeptember 29, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I think the problem is general is women(whether mothers or not) are way too critical of one another. Then add motherhood to the mix and it just becomes a whole other ballgame. I don't critize other people's parenting. As long as your children are happy and healthy..more power to ya!

  13. cjmSeptember 29, 2011 at 2:52 PM


  14. Faith BendtSeptember 29, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    There is no right or wrong to ANYTHING in life. As long as you try your best and are a good person while you figure it out, that's all you can do and just hope for the best. I generally think those who judge are usually the ones who have something to hide and use their self-doubt to call out others to make them feel better about themselves. If only they could be open to observing how others handle their parenting, they might see new ways to handle a situation and better their own experiences with their child. There is no room in life for close-minded people. Period. If everyone in this world was the same, I wouldn't want to live. Here's to being weird. Thank GOD!

  15. Little Gray PixelSeptember 29, 2011 at 9:28 PM

    You are amazing.

    I have never seen this put so eloquently before.
    We are all different. Isn't individuality something we're taught from an early age -- there's only one "you"? So why do some mothers want to force a one-style-fits-all parenting approach? It just doesn't make sense. Every baby is different. Every mama is different. Every family should function the way that suits that family best. Period.

    And for the record, I drank Coke Zero when I was pregnant, and now my baby has a third arm. KIDDING. ;-)

  16. MaeSeptember 30, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    Mandy sent me. And now I am in love with you. Awesome post.

  17. kristenSeptember 30, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    I don't have kids, and don't plan to for at least 5-6 years, but this is an awesome, awesome, awesome post!

    I can't believe mothers think their is only one right way to parent a child. I mean, just think about all the different learning styles they use in school (as early as pre-school)... If all kids needed the same thing, why would there be a need for different learning/teaching styles?

    Also if you want a good laugh, you should read the chapter about breastfeeding from Tina Fey's Bossypants.

  18. Kate in MadisonOctober 2, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Beautiful Ellen! I feel the same way!

  19. Victoria KPOctober 22, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    Visiting from Write on Edge. Great post! I agree. It's horrific the way women (who ought to know better) judge each other. I seethe every time I let myself read those back & forth comments section about parenting decisions like breast feeding or crying it out or any of a dozen other issues. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world and NONE of us has all the right answers.

  20. January DawnOctober 23, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    Thank God you wrote this beautifully honest post. I love it and I love that your name is Ellen. That's my Mum's name. ;)

    We all try our best to do right by our children but nobody is perfect and no one parents perfectly. AND THAT'S OKAY. Because we are human. I am in total agreement with you. This judging business needs to stop.

  21. jesterqueen.comOctober 23, 2011 at 10:10 PM

    Amen! I found you through the Writing On Edge Writing Linky, and I agree a thousand percent. I stopped reading Cafe Mom because the trolls are so hard to distinguish from the genuine posters over there sometimes. Especially when those crazy open ended questions showed up. Those were guaranteed to bring out the howlers.

  22. melNovember 11, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    two things. beautiful picture of you at the top with your 5 day old baby girl and beautiful post... i have lost some friends who constantly judged me so i gently let them fall out of my life. they insisted i formula feed and scold my kids because the kids wanted wear costumes in public. if my kids are safe, happy and healthy and they play well with others then i am cool. i don't judge other moms and you can come sit next to me at the park- i'll be the one with the kid dressed as captain america when it is not even close to halloween.

  23. AnonymousNovember 18, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    I loved, loved re-reading this post. Yes, it's one of my favorites, too. So real and honest as are you, my daughter!

  24. AnonymousNovember 28, 2011 at 6:47 PM

    FANTASTIC Ellen! Seriously, I right there with you. Babies really do have to learn how to go to sleep and I believe they are happier long term as a result. But I have also had angst about this when other mothers feel differently about this, any time I feel like I'm being "judged actully.
    I am also on anti-depressants, I drink wine here and there and have coffee. I also left Jilly in the car to get take out once! (Whew, that felt good).

  25. AnonymousDecember 17, 2011 at 2:57 AM

    hi ellen. before i had my daughter, i planned on being the perfect babywearing, breastfeeding, attached parent. Boy did that go out the window (except breastfeeding)! You are right, parenting is fricken hard and my biggest lesson was that it's better to be a well balanced and happy mum (with some "me time") than to try to live up my own unrealistic expectations and feel crappy cause I never had any time to myself. That being said, I also have a hard time being around mums who treat their children badly (ie call them names, spank or tell them they are naughty all the time), so I guess there are times where I am judgemental of those mums. Because in the end it's us doing our best, and I don't think a parent who hits their child is really doing their best... but that's my judgement, maybe it IS their best! Anyways on another note, I randomly stumbled across your website and LOVE it. I'm an expat living in New Zealand,age 31, 2 year old daughter. And absolutely LOVE my so called life. Thanks for your beautiful sharing.-Deva

  26. JillJanuary 3, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    I couldn't agree more.I wish I was more like you. I give too much and not enough to myself. It's exhausting and I'm constantly failing and I always end up imploding from the weight of all the expectation. I need to remember to take a breath and that there are many MANY ways to love each other.

  27. KristinApril 5, 2012 at 6:10 PM

    I recently found your blog and love this post. I am not a parent yet (maybe soon!), but I found myself judging my sister for putting her son in daycare. I would think, "How could she do that? I don't even have a child, and I *know* I couldn't do that!" Well, sis had - and still has - a fabulous job that she didn't want to give up. Fast forward 2 years, and she found out that her husband had been cheating since she was on maternity leave. Despicable. Now that they are getting divorced (he refused to give up his "friend"), I am so happy for her that she didn't give up her job and that she can support herself and her son. Looking into the future, I'm glad that I learned to not judge parenting styles prior to being a parent! Even though it's said that you never know what kind of parent you'll be, I suspect I will parent like you!! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

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