A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a young mother with a four-month old daughter. I religiously attended La Leche League meetings and co-founded a natural parents group at the local complementary health centre.
I breastfed. On demand and in public. Proudly. Ostentatiously, even. I breastfed in an "I dare you to come here and ask me to stop" kind of way. I never was asked to stop (or even glanced at askance, really), but I think I would have liked it; the chance to vindicate my choice to feed my precious baby in the best and most natural way.
I was so pro-breastfeeding that I became anti-bottlefeeding. I branded my online persona proudly as a member of the militant breastfeeding cult. I was self-righteous in my own saintly virtue as a breastfeeder and vicious in my judgment of women feeding their babies with bottles. Even if those bottles contained expressed breastmilk I still felt they were feeding their babies wrong.
And then after only six short months at home with my baby, I had to go back to work. And I came face-to-face with the kind of judgment I had so willingly heaped on other women. I realized that a lot of women felt they were better mothers than I was simply because they stayed home with their children. Simply because they had made a different parenting decision. When I complained about it at my natural parents group, a friend remarked on how sad it was how mothers — women — judge each other so very harshly.
Years have passed since that day and both my kids are weaned, and although I did breastfeed a lot longer than most women, I also stopped sooner than many. And I've faced a lot of much tougher parenting choices in the last eight years than how to feed my baby. And I've come to accept that although everyone knows breastmilk is — quite simply — the perfect food for babies, not every woman is willing or able to breastfeed her baby exclusively or at all or for very long. And those realities, those choices, don't make them worse mothers. I mean, heck…I let my 5-week old baby sleep on her stomach (in my bed, no less) as this picture proves:
And lately I've been thinking a lot about how we women judge each other. Maybe we judge each other about really big things like breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding, or like working vs. staying at home, and maybe we judge each other about more trivial things like letting our kids watch YouTube or putting treats in our kids' school lunches. But one thing is certain: women judge women. And we often judge each other very, very harshly.
We judge each other's wardrobes, hair and makeup (or lack thereof). We judge each other's spouses, children and homes. We judge each other's choice of books, for goodness sake! Come on, don't deny it! I've hidden my Maeve Binchy and laid out the latest Atwood when having the other moms over for coffee, and I've laughed behind my hand at another woman's recommendation of the latest Jackie Collins read. We all do it.
I don't know why – honestly I can't fathom it. But I'll tell you what: I'm sick of it. And I, for one, vow to stop judging other mothers. I mean, as if it wasn't already the hardest job going without having to face a host of silent critics all the time.
So my challenge to you is this: next time you see or hear someting you disapprove of in another mother, just say this to yourself: "it's a hard, hard job, and none of us are perfect." We're all just stumbling along in the dark, after all, trying to do our best. So let's agree to reach out in support of one another.