What If You’re Not A Good Mom, But Nobody Wants To Be The One To Tell You?
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Photo by Mr. Right-Click
I don’t think, as some do, that people who blog about their kids are, by definition, bad parents. Obviously. Because, if I believed that, I wouldn’t be a blogger, or I wouldn’t ever blog about my son. I do believe that you can blog responsibly about your experience as a parent without doing damage to your children, and I believe it is up to the individual to decide how they are going to manage this. And, also, people who just want to find fault in every non-flattering depiction of parenthood they read should really just suck it. Because what world are they living in, anyway?
What does bother me, though, is the default assumption that one’s favorite bloggers must be good parents, regardless of whatever they do or say to suggest the contrary. That people seem to need to believe that so-and-so is a “good mom,” and that they need to pop up in comment sections asserting that the blog author is “still a good mom,” despite whatever happened, despite whatever cocktails they are always drinking, despite whatever resentment and annoyance they regularly express about their child, despite despite despite. Perhaps it is because they cannot stomach the fact that they would support and admire somebody that wasn’t a good parent? Or, because they don’t have anything else to say?
What if they’re not good moms, but nobody wants to be the one to tell them that? Or–worse–what if they aren’t good moms, but nobody knows what a good mom looks like anymore?
When Mini was a newborn, I breastfed him for about two months and we both had an awful time of it. He had all kinds of stomach problems, and it was very hard just to get him to nurse with any regularity. I had to use nipple shields to get him to do it, and trick him with pumped milk inside the nipple shield, and all the while he would turn red and scream in agony after a few seconds of nursing. I went to see a lactation consultant (yes we have these on the West Coast, we’re hippy dippy like that), who made me feel like even more of a failure for not being good at breastfeeding my son, and for using pumped milk sometimes, and for the nipple shield, et cetera. Eventually, Mr. Right-Click had to tell her–forcefully, in no uncertain terms, that I was not going to be breastfeeding anymore and to leave me the fuck alone and stop making me feel guilty, because we had discovered that Mini had a protein intolerance, and needed special hypoallergenic formula that cost $27 a can. The drama of the boob was my first bonafide failure as a mother, and it came so soon in my maternal career that I was certain I was destined to be a parenting disaster.
Before we figured the protein intolerance issue out, I tried giving Mini some soy formula because I thought the problem was the milk itself, that it was some kind of lactose intolerance. So one day, I gave him a bottle of soy formula, and OH HOLY CHRIST LORD did that go badly. I had to carry him into the pediatrician’s office while he was screaming his little head off, and he didn’t stop until it was totally out of his body, the poor thing. Also, remember that this was a period in which I had little to no sleep and was already beating myself up over failing at long-term breastfeeding. I sent a text to Mr. Right-Click in the aftermath of the soy formula fiasco, once I had calmed Mini down, that said:
I really hurt Mini with that formula.
But when I sent the text message to Mr. Right-Click’s phone, I accidentally sent it to my sister-in-law as well. I guess because I was so tired or something. Or maybe it was some kind of unconscious thing, I don’t know. So my sister-in-law calls and leaves me a message, in which she was very supportive, and said, among other things, “You’re a good mom.” I only bring this up because, at the time, so new to motherhood and my brain so fried, fraught with failure at breastfeeding–which in Southern California is indicative of not loving your child enough, basically–my thought was, “Well, how does she know that? I’ve only been a mom a few months and I’m already failing? What, exactly, is it, that makes me a good mom?”
Well, time would pass, and the drama of the breastfeeding failure would fade into the background, and I would learn that being a mother is fraught with choices about how to best parent your child, and that everybody has an opinion, and that there are no easy choices anymore. I would not call it wisdom, but I would call it developing a familiarity with the concept of things not always being able to go according to plan. Letting go of some control. Accepting that you will have to do things, sometimes, that you thought only a bad parent would do, before you were a parent yourself. Like feeding your newborn formula, which you swore you’d make it your personal mission never to do.
So I get that sometimes people want to be a little more liberal in their definition of what good parenting is. And, in general, I support this idea in its abstract form. This is why I don’t get all political about breastfeeding or even talk about it with new moms. Because it’s really not as simple as just-do-it sometimes. But when you’re having your lights shut off because you cannot afford to pay the bill, and yet you employ a nanny, an assistant, and a “home manager,” whatever the fuck that is, for $50,000 a year–don’t you think at that point that we can step in and say, in this case, maybe you’re not being a good mom?
Because not everyone is a good parent. Some people are naturally good at it, and others aren’t. Some might be OK at it under certain circumstances, and terrible in others. Some might be doing the best they can, and some might not be. And my version of the best I can do might not look the same as somebody else’s. But at some point, there are objective realities that perhaps we should acknowledge. And if not everyone is going to strive for them, that is their choice. But I don’t see why we have to pat them on the back for it.