Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Children deserve so much better than mothers...

My daughter was hours old when I got my first "you're an unfit mother" comment from some beeyotch in hospital scrubs. It was the nurse who kept abducting my tightly-swaddled and pink-hatted bundle despite my feeble (just gave birth) protestations.

See, whenever I held the little boo she'd suckle gently and then we'd both fall asleep all propped up in the hospital bed. Enter Nurse Chin Hair to rescue said baby. I was going to drop her on the floor, she predicted, or crush her with my terrible bosoms on account of being too tired to stay awake a second longer (just gave birth).

"Give her to him," I instructed.

I pointed to my hubby in the black-and-white checkered shirt he chose especially to appeal to the visual idiosyncrasies of a newborn. The shirt was buttoned down, of course, so that he and his new daughter could have skin-to-skin contact. He'd read all about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact on the internet.

"He doesn't have a clue," she said loudly. "And he needs his sleep. Do you think it's easy helping you give birth? I'll take her."

In her defence, hubby was sporting a fauxhawk at the time which is a hairdo that does suggest incompetence on many levels.

But whenever Nurse Chin Hair took my new boo to her station so that she'd have something to play with, something got fussy. So then she'd have to bring her back for me to calm down. Then when she'd calm down (i.e. fall right to sleep) she'd get rescued again. Then she'd get surly. You get the picture.

"Let me ask you something," Nurse Chin Hair said in a cloyingly sweet voice with my rigid, angry babe in her arms.

"When you were pregnant did you ever relax or were you all go go go all the time? Cause this is one wound up little baby," she said.

I explained that I was sometimes relaxed and sometimes on the go just like the rest of humanity. Then I told my husband that if he let Nurse Chin Hair take our baby away from us again I would bleed on everything he owned.


According to the very first person I'd met since becoming a mother not only had I already ruined my child but would probably soon accidentally kill her.

4 years and two more kids later, I have received countless barbed, thinly veiled, obtuse, puerile, vicious, ignorant, dense, flip, belligerent, off-hand and/or barmy criticisms of my choices as a mother.

I wish I could say that the bulk of the crits were hurled by the toddlers from whom I've confiscated items they've wanted to wield or ingest.

"Bad Mommy!" they sometimes yell, stamping a foot and pouting a lip. But, nope, my kids are far from the only ones with an opinion on my parenting and the lack of restraint to let me know all about it. 

Pretty much everyone feels compelled, nay, morally obligated to inform me what I'm doing wrong.

Some of the most urgent criticisms are by my non-breeder friends and acquaintances -- that wizened lot who have spent countless nights pacing the floor with a restless urge to watch television when nothing better than Nanny 911 was on. This gives them vast insight into my ineptitude, of course.

If I knew what they knew my one-year old would definitely choose to quietly do math homework at a university level instead of sticking raisins up his nose and sneezing them out for fun. The gist of it, as far as I've gathered, is that I'm always supposed to be in control. Um... yeah.

The most effective slams are fer sure by other moms. If they're to your face (not very likely) they probably take the form of, "Well I would never do that to a child..." Ouch! And if they're uttered behind your back (most likely scenario) it'll be because another mom doesn't want to put you down, but is just really concerned about your kids. It could be because you're vegetarian, or because you're not vegetarian, or because you let your children drink juice boxes or take off their hats while playing outside, or some other very dire thing that won't be the demise of your child but will make him or her just a little less cared for, just a little less capable, just a little less loved than her kids in the long run.

And the craziest slights are by medical staff who have lost sight of the big picture or any picture at all really.

I recall an ultrasound during which my unborn son (about the size of a prize-winning turnip) was doing a truly wonderful rhythmic gymnastics routine. This made it difficult for the technician to photograph the various ventricles of his heart.

She shot me a look that so plainly said, "Ma'am. Please get your fetus under control. You are totally ruining my life."

Then she kind of jabbed that lookey-into-you thinger into my belly with an extra cold squirt of jelly all mean like.

And then my unborn kicked her hand, like, several times --hard!-- while she pretended not to notice.

And I was all like, "Yay, Fetus! You're the best fetus ever!" Though not out loud, I just got real smirky-like.

And she knew it and so she got all sullen like I should feel really sorry for her for getting into a fight with a fetus! and losing! And then she moved her hand and the thinger and he kicked her again! And she shot me a rueful look that plainly said, "I cannot believe you are actually encouraging your fetus to misbehave. You are going to make such a terrible mother."


I was quite used to that kind of shite by then, mind you.

Cause when it comes to mothering, everybody is an expert. Your barista is. The teenager at the pool who teaches swim lessons is. That guy who walks his dog around the hockey rink is. That weird lady at the farmer's market -- the one who needle-felts gnomes and fairies and displays them at toddler height and then becomes very alarmed when a toddler approaches them with wonderment in his eyes and so begins to rattle off an unnecessarily vitriolic spiel about how they are not toys but one-of-a-kind handmade artisanal pieces while shooting daggers all up and down you with her kooky I-have-way-too-many-cats gaze even though you come every single week and have never once let your gorgeous child touch her poorly and absurdly over-priced clumps of fibre that probably contain surplus cat hair -- is undoubtedly an expert. How could she not be?

The other day I was walking downtown with my baby bundeled up very thoroughly in her stroller, with just her nose and eyes peeking out, and a homeless man shouted at me to "Cover up that little face! It's cold out, Ma'am!" 

A homeless man, mind you!  Do I tell him how to do his job?

"Sir, Look more askance at passers-by! And it's better when you push your shopping cart full of stuff through the snow, it ups the pathos!"|

My husband thinks I'm just tetchy and hormonal. He doesn't think society at large is at all critical of parents.

And he would like to point out that the conflict with the ultrasound technician occurred entirely within my own mind.

Well he wasn't there, dammit!
I am tetchy and hormonal, that is true. And I sure don't take criticism well, no Nelly. But the larger issue is that society-at-large isn't critical of parents, per se. It is critical of mothers. Fathers are not judged in at all the same frazzilingly harsh light. Since my husband helps with the kids and the housework at all it's pretty much understood that he's a saint. And people tell him so. Repeatedly. Without prompting.

I do the bulk of the child care, though, and receive the lion's share of unsolicited advice on how I could, should, or must do better. It wouldn't irk me so if it wasn't quite so rare to receive a compliment on what a good job I, as a mom, am doing.

My hubby does tell me I'm a good mom -- which is odd, because he's the only one who sees me come utterly undone on a regular basis. And my 4-year old (the only one of my kids who has learned to talk so far) has shouted at the top of her lungs, "You're the awesomest mommy EVER!"

But other than that, I can count on one hand the number of off-hand or heartfelt remarks I've received on the way I mom that were of a positive nature.

Once a midwife listened to the heartbeat emanating from my giant belly and said, emphatically,"Well that's just perfect. You are doing such a wonderful job. It's hard being pregnant, isn't it?" Then I wept and blubbered in gratitude for the next half-hour.

It is hard! It so is! And there's so many sources telling you what you're doing wrong and so few telling you what you're doing right. Choke down a kale salad and nobody will congratulate you on making healthy food choices for your unborn baby. Savour a cup of coffee, though, and just listen to all the experts paraphrasing a study that proves pregnant women who drink coffee are basically asking to have a miscarriage. (Yes, more than one person has actually said this to a pregnant me and no, drinking a cup of coffee will definitely not cause a miscarriage. Think about it. It it were that easy to end unwanted pregnancies.... The study was basically about how women who drink 15 cups of coffee a day are more likely to have miscarriages. Thanks for sharing, Media.)

The only thing to do with all this negative crap and poo is, of course, to tune it out.

Tuning in to the opinions on your moming that really do matter helps too.

It just so happens that my kid's faces light up like the Aurora Freaking Borealis everytime I smile at them. 

And I'm pretty sure that it's because mostly, most of the time, I am the awesomest mommy ever, dammit.

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  1. Oh, so true! I died laughing at the ultrasound tech's battle with your fetus (losing battle) and had to read it out loud to my husband. I, too, have swelled up with blubbering gratitude at every mom compliment I've received. I've been pleased and proud to have received several from a few good non-mom friends, when I figured they either wouldn't notice my parenting or would, you know, think they could do better.

    I'm going to try to go out of my way to pass out some of those compliments now. That sounds like a good idea all around.

  2. I'm not a mom yet, but I can still understand what you mean and how that must make you feel. That's awful that people seem to enjoy making mothers feel that way.

    It makes me afraid that I will have to deal with this some day. And for me, it's not necessarily the scariest idea to hear snide comments from strangers... it's family that will get my goat. My mother-in-law, for example, is so vocal about things she disapproves of. I truly don't know how she and I will remain cordial after the day she makes her first criticism of my mothering. See, with a stranger, I think I'm just bold enough to fire right back at them with my astonishment and ingratitude. But family... how do you let them know your mothering isn't up for public debate, and that doing things different from the way they raised their kids isn't such a horrible thing?

    I dread this aspect of motherhood approaching. Do you ever deal with these issues with family, parents or close friends?

  3. Great post! It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job according to your husband and four year old - and those are the only opinions that matter! And you're right, we don't hear often enough how great we are.

  4. You rock my world, Betsy!

    I remember back before I had kids, when I knew everything about parenting. Those were good times. Good times, I tell you. If my mother is any indication I will re-gain that knowledge right around the time my youngest is 27. I will make grand pronouncements about how much better things were in MY day. I'm looking forward to it, I must say.

    (And I kind of want to poke Nurse Chin Hair, and her cousin Nurse Your Milk is No Good who I met, to this day. Boo on them!)

  5. I had the meanest old school pediatrician for a short time after my daughter was born. It wasn't so much that he was mean, actually, as cold. I hated the way he poked and prodded my baby without permission or apology. One day for a routine visit my naked infant daughter peed and then pooped all over his examining table ( you know those runny breastmilk poops?) I didn't offer to help clean up. I just gave her a big smile. "I bet that feels better doesn't it?" I said. And I was speaking for both of us.

  6. This was hysterical. And true.

    For some reason my unmarried sister and mom think that weaning my son is the key to everything. He has tummy trouble, wean him! He doesn't sleep well? Must be the breastfeeding. Etc. Want to tell them to STFU but they are family.

    Ah well.

    Thanks for the laugh.

  7. great post! I agree with you so much! it's aggravating how much unasked for advice moms get. especially since i'm a first-timer but it sounds like it doesn't get any better. ARG!

  8. You are so funny!
    This is all so true. I wonder how it can be that the nurses in the maternity ward can be so sure that something terrible will happen if you fall asleep for one instant with the baby in bed with you. It's not like you can really move, anyway...what with the straitjacket bed and the tubes and the pain and all...

  9. You have such a gift for writing exactly how it is. I felt just like this. I remember thinking that as mom's we are self deprecating enough, we don't need to put each other down.

    Thank you for reminding me that the problem isn't really with me or my mothering. It's with them and their big mouths. ;)

  10. great post! i can totally relate. i agree that the best thing to do in most instances is just to tune out the negative remarks.

  11. I read this last week, and still have the hilarious image of your dazed husband with the fauxhawk, shirt just so, etc....and then the assumption that he just couldn't take the baby because he was so worn out from helping you give birth.

    This patterning is so unfair for the guys that are naturally awesome fathers, who want an "equal" share of the work & the joy of having kids. Sometimes I see my husband struggle to define himself with friends/family who assume that he is "helping" me, doesn't really want to do something w/his child, etc.

    I think L & D must be a place of high burnout. I thought it was bad in social work, but a few nights with these ladies, and I was ready to fire them all. I started to wonder if they were all trained in the 50s, or if I had somehow slipped back in time.

  12. OMG, yes! Just yesterday I was visiting with a mom of a 6 wk old and a grandmother. Both kept going on and on about needing to put the 6 wk old down and not carry her too much lest she be spoiled. I stayed silent holding my 11 month old after she fell asleep nursing. I could feel the judgment coming off of them.


Tell Betsy...