Moms, Let's Ditch the Defensiveness

Moms, I have noticed something that we need to change Right! Now!

A week or so ago I had a friend message me with a suggestion for an article on moms' tendency towards defensiveness. Her suggestion stemmed from a picture she put on Facebook in which her youngest child, a little girl with Down Syndrome, had crawled into her old five-point car seat, buckled herself in and fallen asleep. She thought it was so sweet she snapped a picture and shared it with friends and family on Facebook with the caption "content."

Immediately she commented under it, "PS: She is safe, even though her chest clip is low. She is in the bedroom, not the car (this is her lounge chair). I know some of my mommy friends are cringing..."

Shortly after she made that comment under the picture she messaged me privately (reprinted with permission):
"Next blog idea: I always feel like I have to put disclaimers on my posts... like the one I just posted where [my daughter] is sleeping in her infant seat - because otherwise I know my mommy friends are judging me. Sometimes out loud, sometimes to themselves, but I feel like I need to beat them to the punch all the time."
She feels she needs to beat them to the punch....the PUNCH. Yep, because that is exactly what it feels like when a friend or family member feels compelled to make a comment that suggests you might not have your child's best interest at heart. It feels like a punch to the gut, and so we get defensive. Furthermore, when we know it is coming, we get defensive in advance, which almost validates its existence in the first place.

I do it too. When my 3 year old son is on the floor screaming in a store, which happens more than I would like to admit, I have been known to shrug my shoulders at passers by, look contrite and say, totally unsolicited, "what can you do? He missed his nap today." Sometimes it is true, and sometimes it isn't true and I am just looking for a way to deflect the judgment I feel.

WHY!? Why do we feel we need to judge each other? Why do we feel the need to deflect judgment? The fact of the matter is 90% of parents out there are just feeling their way forward, trying to do the best they can for themselves and their children (yep, I just judged myself by asking if I should have reversed that statement to read, "their children and themselves," but I stand by my original statement).

Easter Sunday, while working in the church nursery, we had to go get a Mom because her son was inconsolable. We had already gone through all our tricks and tactics, but he wasn't calming down. Both of us noticed that he had swollen gums, was the right age and clearly was beside himself. We rightly concluded he was teething and decided it would be best to call Mom. She came down and we ended up all standing there talking and sharing war stories. Midway through one of her stories she stopped and said something along the lines of, "Sorry, I know that must make me look like a horrible Mom."

I stopped her immediately and told her that she NEVER had to apologize around me and we all discussed the fact that all of us parents deflect, self-deprecate and make defensive statements. Listen for it next time you are in a group, or look for it on Facebook. It won't take you long to see what I am talking about.

I am speaking TRUTH here ladies. We are all amazing moms, and we are all terrible moms.

Some of us are better at crafts, some at keeping things clean and organized, some at cuddling, some at dressing their kids in adorable clothes, some at doing cute hairstyles, some at routines, some at enrolling kids in extracurricular activities, some at remembering and marking special events and so on and so on. We all have strengths and gifts and we all have our own weaknesses and challenges. We are all very, very different and we need to stop assuming what is right for your own child or family is automatically right for someone else's child or family.

And yet, a friend of mine (who gave me permission to use her pictures and status) just had to post the following on Facebook after deleting two pictures from her page. She deleted them because she had received comments on them that made her feel attacked in regards to her parenting skills:
"Due to certain members of Facebook, you know who you are, I must include disclosures on my pictures. The tree [my daughter] climbed wasn't that high. I had to lay on my back to get the whole shot. And [my daughter] is very strong, confident and careful when she climbs. I would never let her do it otherwise. I would lay my life down for my children.
But there is a fine line between protecting them and never letting them find out how good they are. The tree climbing was a safe risk without possibility of death unless someone shot her from the tree. Please do not contact me directly or indirectly regarding this."
  In honor of her bravery as a parent, I have turned her controversial tree-climbing pictures into memes. Please feel free to share away:


Last time I checked, tree climbing was considered an ages-old childhood tradition. In fact, if anyone argues with children climbing trees, there is a plethora of literature out there that speaks to the fact that tree-climbing is actually a good risk.

 Pick up any literary novel about children and you are bound to read about tree climbing. You have to take risks and embrace life, or you will have nothing of note to read about. Some day that little girl will say, "remember the summer I finally made it to the top of the giant pine tree!" Even if she fell out, her story could be, "remember that time I fell out of the tree trying to make it to the top and broke my arm." What a great moment in her childhood! Think about the confidence she is going to have because she accomplished something risky and hard. When she is an adult and she has to make a choice on taking a risk that could lead to success, she can call on that tree moment and embrace the chance. Life is not safe, and safe stories are boring.

What stories will all those coddled, super-safe children be able to tell? Will they tell the story, "remember when I watched that educational television show while safe in my living room?" Or maybe, "remember that time I went to tumbling class with five other adults in a super padded room." Last time I checked, truly great literature was made up of fantastic stories of bravery and risk. Are we really going to deny our children that on a fools quest to reach a 0% mortality rate?

Perhaps we all needed to pay more attention when watching Finding Nemo for the 1,000th time when Marlin said "How do you know something bad isn't going to happen." and Dory says, "I don't." Or, when later Dory tells Marlin, "Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo."

So parents, stop feeling you need to defend yourselves and apologizing before the judgment comes. You are only reinforcing the judging behavior. And lastly, we all need to learn to hold our proverbial tongues and refrain from commenting negatively on other people's parenting styles. Just because it is different does not make it wrong.

And for the sake of all that is holy and good, please get out there and take some risks with your kids. Give those future writers and entrepreneurs some fodder for an interesting life. Our future demands creative solutions and we aren't going to get them if we don't start teaching our kids to take some risks and learn the hard way.

 I can't promise nothing bad will happen, but I can promise you will feel more alive.

If you liked this article, you can read more on risk-taking and judgment from The Two-Penny Soapbox: