Being a mother means subjecting yourself to the opinions of critics, whether intentionally hurtful or not. There's some things other parents shamed me for that still bother me all these years later because, well, they hurt. I'm sure I've been guilty of privately shaming other parents, too (like judging ridiculous antics on reality TV) and I openly admit that I am not perfect, but if my words really bothered someone I'd apologize immediately and I'd feel pretty lousy about myself. Honestly, I have my own flaws and insecurities to focus on, and putting others down helps no one. Most well-intentioned people don't mean to cause harm when they say things to a new mother, but that doesn't make it OK, either.
When I first had my daughter, I was already incredibly insecure. It felt like every decision I made was being examined under a microscope by everyone around me, because my partner and I weren't married, we hadn't planned, in any way, for a baby, and our finances were a mess. We went into parenthood climbing a steep hill and we knew there'd be strong opinions surrounding us and regardless of what we did (or didn't do, for that matter). Still, while my partner can laugh it off, I hear the words echo inside of me forever. I can't help but take criticism personally. I guess it's just the way I am.
I'm no more secure in the choices I make now, either, and have simultaneously realized that the judgment is far from over (and probably never will be). No matter what I do, there's bound to be someone who disagrees, so all I can do is live my life to the best of my ability. So, with that in mind, here are some of those things other parents shamed me for that I wish I could forget, but can't.
My Choice To Formula Feed
I didn't go into motherhood with the intent to formula feed. In fact, I was excited to breastfeeding and was looking forward to enjoying the experience. Then, when I had my daughter, things didn't go the way I'd hoped they would. Not only did she refuse to latch, but my milk didn't come in when she was hungry and screaming. My postpartum depression (PPD) made it difficult to sit through any part of it, so breastfeeding wasn't only a "hurdle," but a minefield capable of pushing me deeper into the throes of PPD. After visits from a lactation consultant, it was clear I wasn't cut out for breastfeeding. I gave it everything I had but, in the end, I had to feed my girl and that meant switching to formula.
Plenty of parents questioned why I gave up on "the best thing you can do for your baby" because "breast is best." While I agreed with them, their words hurt. Did they not recognize what I'd gone through or that every attempt made it that much harder to bond with my baby? I'd come to resent breastfeeding her at all because of the stress. It still bothers me today, because I know I did all that I could and people will still tell me I "failed." That's horrible enough, let alone adding insult to injury with snide comments or questions about my ability to give my baby the best start.
Staying Home Instead Of Going To Work
During my first pregnancy, I was adamant about staying home with my daughter for an undetermined amount of time. I had yet to find the right freelance opportunities to work from home, and I had no desire to leave my baby right away. When I was young, my single mom worked, leaving my younger brother and I with various under-qualified babysitters that left me scarred. I vowed I wouldn't do that to my children, no matter how difficult it was financially. I stuck by that vow.
This decision wasn't supported by most, though they hadn't experienced some of the horrors I had under other people's care. I was steadfast in my choice but also extremely sensitive to others' interpretation of it. Thankfully, I found work I could do from home so I didn't have to make the choice to leave. I just had to listen to all the cynics, first.
To this day I work from home and care for my two children. What others think shouldn't bother me, but they do. Can't we let parents do what they think is best and leave it at that?
Not Being Married When I Had My Daughter
At the time of my first pregnancy, my partner and I weren't married and had no plans to be any time soon. We'd had discussions, but with an unplanned pregnancy in our early 20s, it wasn't a priority. We had shaming from all aspects of this one. Some thought, because we had a baby on the way, we owed it to her to get married immediately. Others — the more outspoken people — were completely against the idea and didn't think we should be together at all.
No matter which side of the fence other parents sat, it still bothers me to think back of all the times I felt insecure holding my baby with my partner next to me, simply because we weren't married. We did the best we knew how and, yet, it wasn't enough for some. Now we're edging up on 10 years of marriage, having been together for 13, and I wouldn't change a thing (except the shame people cast upon two well-intentioned kids).
Pregnancy Weight Gain
I gained a lot of weight with both full-term pregnancies. I had hypertension and was put on bedrest both times. It's the least healthy I've ever been and I already felt bad about myself. Of course, this was the perfect time for "concerned" parents to comment on how much weight was "too much," as it might affect the baby. I already knew these things and was doing what the doctor told me. Reminding a pregnant woman about her weight when she can't do much about it at the time, isn't cool. It was fat-shaming at it's worst.
Even after giving birth, I had difficulty losing weight. Strangers would ask when my baby was due (while I was already holding my baby), and I'd go home and sob. Hormones and genetics made it even harder to shed the pounds and my self-esteem took a direct hit. Eventually, I discovered my love of running and the weight came off on its own (with healthier eating), but some of the comments I endured when I was postpartum will stay with me indefinitely.
My Career Choice
Aside from my secret childhood desire to runaway with the band Aerosmith and sing on stage with Steven Tyler, I've always known I'd be a writer. During school when I was supposed to do work, I was busy writing haikus and song lyrics (and eventually short stories). Some know their life journey early on, and writing was mine.
With that, I knew finding steady, legitimate work would pose a challenge. Financially, it was harder than I thought it would be (especially during pregnancy), but I wasn't willing to settle for unfulfilling jobs I wasn't passionate about. From my teen years through my early 20s, I worked dozens of jobs for the sake of others and their desires for my life, trying to find my "thing." I only wanted to write, so I stuck with it. This brought on a slew of shaming from those who couldn't understand my dream and said it was a waste of time and energy. There were even some who said I couldn't make it at all.
I'll be honest, having a career in writing it still tough. Money is always tight and I never know how long each good thing will last. The thing is, though, I love it. I write when I'm paid nothing and I write when I'm paid what I'm actually worth. It's been a long road, so I understand concern to an extent, but I've never doubted I would get "here," and neither has my partner.
My Need For Routines And Schedules
Along with all my other awesome qualities, I also deal with a daily dose of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which is described by Anxiety and Depression Society of America as "persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things," Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), that's considered "unwanted and intrusive thoughts" and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which includes "having flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories." Sounds fun, right? Try living it.
When it comes down to it, the only way I get through a day is via routines and schedules. These symptoms became more abundant after having my daughter and trying to get her on a solid sleep routine, and was later escalated with my postpartum depression. Through therapies I learned I've suppressed a lot from childhood. These things morphed into various tics and obsessions I didn't realize were the above disorders until a few years back.
Throughout my entire motherhood, I've gotten a lot of flack about how rigid I am with scheduling. It's usually the subtle comments where the subtext is meant to make me feel inferior. Things like "your kids are the only kids who go to bed that early" or, "why do you need to eat at those exact times" aren't just rude, they're harmful to any recovery I might've made. I get that a lot of people don't understand my disorders (which is why I write about them so much and why I think it's important to promote understanding and empathy), but judging and shaming me for doing things I feel I need to to mentally survive, aren't helpful.
The one thing other parents shamed me for, and continue to do so, that bothers me the most has to do with who I am. From an early age, this question of "what are you?" has followed me and haunted me. I discovered my brother and I had different biological father when I was 9 years old. While I always felt something to be "off," I was unprepared to be cast as the "outsider."
All through school I was asked on a near daily basis what I was "mixed" with and, because I wasn't ready to come to terms with my identity and didn't know the full story just yet, I managed to laugh it off by day and cry myself to sleep at night. How could I answer them if I didn't know the answers?
As an adult, with babies of my own, there are times when I still question my identity. The story of my birth father is long and will, unfortunately, never provide the answers and relief I've needed, as he's deceased now. Every now and then, I'm confronted with insinuations about my heritage again and hell yes they bother me. They always have. The only different now, thankfully, is that when I look into the eyes of my children, I don't feel shame. I only feel acceptance.