One of the things I used to love about girls friends, is that unlike most males, they simply offer support rather than try to fix your problems. Most men are more goal-oriented. When I come home with a problem, my husband tries to help solve it. Most of the time I appreciate this, but over our 8 years of marriage, he has also learned that sometimes all I want is for him to listen. Women, generally speaking, are good at listening and providing support or encouragement without necessarily dispensing solutions. Or so I used to believe. But since I’ve become a mother I’ve discovered this tendency to Mommy Solve all problems. When I mention my daughter wasn’t sleeping through the night yet at 9 months, I was inundated with ways to make it happen. When my daughter first started showing interest in the potty at 18 months, every mom I knew had an opinion about whether I should start full-blow potty training, or ignore the interest and delay until she was closer to three. Except for a few rare cases what I didn’t receive was support, or at least not without advice attached. Then when I didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t accept said advice, the support began to evaporate. Why does becoming mothers make us less supportive of each other as women?
Every new method and book has moms in a tizzy other whether we will accidentally mess our kids up. Today’s young mother seems to have little confidence in their own instincts, trusting the experts more than themselves. One of the things I love about the theme of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) this year is that it emphasizes our own innate instincts as mothers. They call it Mom Sense. Common Sense + Mom Instinct = Mom Sense. I’m not saying books and advice aren’t helpful, but I think we forget that for centuries women parented based on the support of their mothers, grandmothers and larger community of women, not child psychologists. Yes, there were bad mothers then, there are still bad mothers now, in spite of all the supposed modern resources at our disposal. I too often hear the phrase, “It takes a village.” But I don’t see a village. I don’t see mothers banding together and supporting each other. I see experts, and even government, telling me they can raise my child better. I see moms criticizing each other’s parenting methods and gossiping about the moms who won’t use the current “approved method” feedings, diapering, discipline, etc. This is not a village of support. We have fostered an atmosphere of competition not cooperation.
I’m working on training myself not to become part of this trend. Things like asking open ended questions like “How is breast feedings going? Or “How is the baby sleeping” rather than “Do you have a feeding schedule yet?” or “Is the baby sleeping through the need yet?” Then whatever the answer, I try to offer encouragement and support, even share my own difficult experiences. I offer advice if it seems to be desired, but mostly I’m trying to keep my mouth shut and listen. I remember being the first time mom who just wanted someone to listen. Not to judge or solve, but to encourage me that I was doing just fine and that eventually things would get easier. We so quickly forget what it’s like to feel insecure and uncertain that we allow ourselves to fall into criticism and judgment. If we are willing to close our months and open our eyes and ears we can still make “the village” a place we all want to raise our children instead of a cloud of critics and cynics.