Monday Musings: Constructive Criticism

Monday, March 16, 2009

Last week I wrote about the Elle magazine article "Die Mommy Die" , which deals with the issue of the culture of incessant child-based chatter, especially at the workplace. I was amazed at the amount of discussion and commentary the post brought on, both on the blog and off, including correspondence from people at Elle who were, actually, of two sides on the topic...

Apropos to this blog, one comment in particular got people talking. A poster who signed off as "Jack" said: "...I would dare say the poor children are better off in the care of a stranger at daycare, or dumped in the woods to be raised by wild dogs than with a resentful, selfish "mommy."

Whoa there man, who are you talking about? Oh wait. You're talking about me...!

Well, in response, I received a plethora of personal messages along the variety of" F#@$ Jack." Not going to lie, it felt great to get the (electronic) support so thanks for everyone who wrote!
But, in all honesty, when I first read "Jack's" comment, all I did was laugh and forward it along to two friends with the message "Wowza, glad I have acquired a thick skin." Truly, I wasn't fazed and I thought about my husband telling me that "once you have haters on your blog you know you've made it." So maybe I should start planning my "I made it" party (note to planners: I want cake...lots of cake).

As recently as two years ago, the situation would have been completely different. When I first had D, I would live in fear of hushed words or sidelong glances at playgrounds or anywhere else--signals that I must be doing something wrong. Like many moms, I was unsure of myself constantly and the idea that I was somehow not raising my child properly could level me. I had many nights of wondering how, how, how am I going to do this because, frankly, I felt like there was this little guy counting on me and I had no clue what to do to be his mom.

So what happened between now and then (besides being too tired to worry about what other people think)? I suppose I have climbed the mommy learning curve...but it's more than that. For better or worse; and whether true or not: I have developed the belief that I am a good mother. This is in the face of much damning empirical evidence to the contrary: My eldest subsists on air and water alone; my second-born wears clothing that bares his brother's name and I would be hard-pressed to find one item I have actually procured solely for him; tonight I rocked my youngest to sleep to my version of "Cause I Got High" ("I was gonna learn a lullaby, but then I got high...") And that's just the tip of the you-so-crazy-mommy iceberg...

But it's true. I feel like I'm good at this thing. And I feel as if my kids are lucky to have me. Isn't that egotistical? ("Jack" please don't answer that, it was rhetorical). Here's why: I enjoy them day to day, and I think they enjoy me. I can vividly remember when D was about 18 months old and when I was still getting the hang of the whole "motherhood" thing. The days that I felt I had "done good" were pegged with some activity that I could hang my hat on: Today I took D to the museum, or today D and I did 8 puzzles. It was how I knew to mark time and mark progression: Through accomplishment. These days it is different and that is how I know that I am different. How I feel as a mom is not based on where I took the kids on a particular day but rather what sorts of moments we shared, and--alert: cheesiness to follow--how they, especially my eldest who obviously is the most cognizant, look at me at the end of the day. Today we didn't leave the house. We didn't go to the park; we didn't do any crafts; and D did not learn how to do calculus (damn him!). At the end of the day, when I tucked D into bed, he looked me in the eyes and said "Mommy can I have a hug, I am a very lucky boy." I of course died. He went on: "Thank you so much for laughing with me today we are so funny."

I mean: COME ON...!

Don't get me wrong. Some criticism still burns me to the bone. When my husband tells me something he thinks I am doing wrong with our kids (and when, after days of pretending I disagree with him, I realize that he is right...) I feel a sort of disappointment with myself that is actually physically jarring. Same with my sister; same with my parents; same with the people I am lucky to call my friends.

But the lesson that has come from being able to process, filter, and move on from much of the criticism that motherhood intrinsically invites into your psyche? Being able to shrug off the stranger telling you your child looks jaundiced (yes that happened); the old lady whispering to you that your son shouldn't be out in the 80 degree Berkeley weather in "just that shirt"; the waitress attesting that "nursing 2 years is really the only way to go"?

"Wowza"--myriad thanks to my children. Liberation is mine.
22 comments:
Preeti said...

Adorable story about your son! It's amazing how true the cliche is: "Kids say the darndest things"!

Anonymous said...

In addition to all the horrible things "they don't tell you" (how hard nursing is; how your body never really goes back; how terrible twos are really terrible ones, twos, threes) is stuff like this; I felt the same way right around the time my daughter could start talking to me and we developed or started to develop an actual "relationship." It makes so much sense to me now that I needed that to feel like I was doing a good job--AND enjoying it. But boy those first years were hard.

Anonymous said...

What an idiot "Jack" is! The judgment mothers get NEVER ends but it's alway ssurprising to me to see how severe it can be, often over something insignifican or non-existant as the case may be!

Seema said...

Great post. If we didn't filter out some of the criticism we face we would all feel hrorible about ourselvrs!

Uma said...

this made me think of the new article on breastfeeding that everyone is talking about(how it isn't as "medicinal" or "better" as we've been made to believe). i couldn't nurse for a variety of reasons and the criticism i was heaped with was just horrible. not constructive t all. now i think i could "shrug it off" but i couldn't then thank god that is a skill we learn!

Anonymous said...

i so can relate about equating activites with good parenting! so much of it is peer pressure no? many of my friends are already loading their toddlers schedules with classes and playdates on top of preschool. and its not bad--but i just cant keep up.

Anonymous said...

People are always going to judge. The "thick skin" approach is the only way.

Ayesha said...

Haha, knowing Deepa I bet the days without activity are few and far between BUT I do appreciate the point which is that the activities are not necessary. Good post D!

J.T. said...

i completely relate to this. it's not like i don't want to keep trying to be the best i can be (which holds true for being a mom, an employee etc) but i have tried to filter out the noise of criticism too. they say your 30s is when you become "comfortable in your own skin" which seems to be true for me.

Anonymous said...

excellent blog....us working moms read this as a sense of comfort during our useless meetings :)

Jackie said...

To support Jack for a moment: I do think that mothers who have children for the sake of having them would serve their kids by putting them in babycare. I know someone who has three daughters and she is the coldest mother I have ever seen. She IS selfish. She is bitter. She is jealous of her daughters--and they are not even teens yet. there are bad mothers out there, you know. And the ones I have come across are the ones who spent most of their lives as single or professional women in the center of the attention and now cannot figure out how to let their children take center stage. Come on, you guys, you know what I am talking about. I cringe for the children.

lyvia said...

Advice for the new moms out there:
The people who criticize are the ones who are insecure! I think they need some sort of "validation" that their ideas are correct, that they are good mothers. That's why they are always pushing so hard for others to agree with them. That's why they are so defensive if you chose to do things differently.

If your kids are happy and healthy, you are a great mommy! "Good mommys" are not measured by how much you talk about them at work, how many activities you enroll them in, how much "organic" home-made foods you prepare for them, or how long you breast-fed! (jeez!)

Ina said...

Wow does that exist? Moms who are jealous of their babies? I suppose I see it amongst friends and their mothers once in a while now. But babies?!? What on eart is there to be jealous of!!

S. Khanna said...

Well said Lyvia, I totally agree. But it took me a little while to feel that way. THere is this idea that a new mom needs all this advise all the time. It's crippling!

@Jackie: I suppose you are right, women who have children from the wrong reason are pboably not going to be very good caregivers. But I am not sure there are that many women who fit into that category? Most women I know are constantly trying to juggle everything and some days are better than others. Im just saying itss rare that there is that "black and white" negligent mom, so Jack's criticism seems harsh.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Lyvia above. One of the best lessons I have learned is that there is no "right" way to be a "good mom." In fact the term "good mom" ecnompasses so much soas to not even mean anything in my humble opinion.

Sara said...

Great quote up top on criticism--very true.

Anonymous said...

Now I have "High" stuck in my head, thanks for that...!!!!

Anonymous said...

great story!

Archana said...

Awesome post... seriously awesome... and that's coming from a sleep-deprived, working full-time, breastfeeding mom of a 6-month old. Reading your column over these six months has been a joy - and reminds me not to judge myself as harshly as others might... Keep up the good work, mommy! :)

Anonymous said...

Such a great post. In addition to reminding us to cut ourselves a break it focuses on the little things our kids do every day, things we gloss over in trying to be all the things we want to be, thank you!

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