Learning To Speak Up For Myself As A Mom Has Been My Most Brutal Parenting Lesson
“She's eaten plenty and I think they should be allowed to talk at the table.” When the words came out of my mouth, I was surprised by how harshly I snapped after listening to a family member get on my daughter for the third time about chatting between bites at the dinner table. It wasn’t the first time I've had to bravely step in when a family member criticizes me or my kids in my presence, but it still felt out of character for me to speak up for myself. I may not be a perfect mom, but I know I'm a good mom. Most of the time I feel confident in the choices I make regarding the everyday care of my kids, and I am always proud of the people my children are growing into, but when someone has something negative to say about my daughters or the way I've chosen to raise them with my partner, I've had to learn how to speak up and say what's on my mind.
I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, there was a time I felt so unsure of myself that I was really having a difficult time speaking up for myself and my kids anytime someone questioned or criticized an aspect our family dynamic. Honestly, I’m embarrassed by just how long it took for me to learn to speak my mind in the face of criticism. It wasn’t until I realized I wasn’t the only one who was suffering that I finally accepted that something had to change. I realized that when I chose not to speak up for myself as a new mom that I was putting the opinions of others above the needs of my family. And that's not something I was OK with — at all.
As a new mom, I felt like I was constantly comparing myself to mothers around me as a way to see how I was doing. It was an unhealthy amount of comparison, and I took any difference I noticed to heart, even going so far as to make changes I didn’t really believe in because I was afraid of the judgment I'd feel for doing things differently. Once, I let my daughter cry-it-out at friends, simply because the friend suggested my daughter wasn't sleeping well because we didn't practice sleep training.
I was betraying my kids during the times when they needed me on their side, simply because I cared too much about what other people think.
When criticism was expressed about any facet of my parenting, I was too insecure to do anything but stand by. I have memories of ignoring when a particularly difficult family member harshly reprimanded my daughter for clumsily knocking over a picture frame, an accident, not misbehavior. I regret not speaking up.
In retrospect, sometimes I think I wasn't sure I was doing it right. I was a new mom, and when my convictions varied from those of a more experienced or more outspoken woman, I find myself questioning my choices or fearing judgment. My insecurities set a poor example for my children. My lack of a backbone only frustrated them, and it's no surprise they were confused by my inconsistency. More importantly, I was betraying my kids during the times when they needed me on their side, simply because I cared too much about what other people think.
In a culture that makes a habit of asking girls and women to be meek and quick to say "I'm sorry," I don't want to my children to feel they need to apologize to me for who they are or the emotions they experience.
One day, in the car, not long after I had failed to speak up for my kids during a playdate confrontation, I decided enough was enough. I hadn't stepped to help my child navigate a toddler bully because I didn't want to step on the other mom's toes. At that point, it was clear to me that my kids needed someone they could count on to have their back, and if it wasn’t me, they would probably find someone else. My children trusted me, but if I made a habit of failing them, I was sure that would change quickly. As their mom, I want to be the one person they can trust when things are hard, when someone is giving them a hard time or when they have made a mistake. So I'm working really hard to make changes in my own parenting to speak up for myself more, for the betterment of both me and my kids.
For starters, I'm making it a habit to sticking to my parenting convictions no matter who's around. It has taken guts to stand up to family members who disagree with the way we do things, but I know I am their mom for a reason and only I can decide what kind of parenting my children need. I'm also choosing to always assume the best of my children. In a culture that makes a habit of asking girls and women to be meek and quick to say "I'm sorry," I don't want to my children to feel they need to apologize to me for who they are or the emotions they experience.
I'd love to say I haven’t failed my children in this way since that day, but that simply isn’t true. It has been harder than I expected to side with my children when someone is being critical of the way I parent or the way my kids behave because I still care what others think about me as a mom. Honestly, I wish I didn’t care so much about what people think, but I do, and that probably won’t change anytime soon. Still, I'm not about to stop trying to be better about taking their side and speaking up for myself as a new mom because I know just how important it is to put my family first.