Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion on how to raise kids. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting.
You may have heard us gossiping over coffees this morning as you walked in, wearing your new baby in a carrier, your eyes oversized and desperately scanning the busy café for any sort of potential adult interaction. But instead of inviting you to sit down, I averted my gaze.
“She wore a fedora to the mom meetup.” I ignored you as I shifted my daughter from one yoga pant-clad knee to the other, commenting on a new mom we’d just met.
“Seriously. It’s like a mom I met last week who wore heels. In the park. Did she get lost on the way to the club?” My friend grinned back at me, her own 3-month-old daughter sitting on her lap. Both of us were makeup-free, exhausted, and wearing clothes we’d slept in the night before. We looked the same, like capital M Moms.
And as the new mom left the coffee shop, a look of horror on her face, I realized that she had immediately pegged us as “mean girl” moms: the cliquey, judgmental type on TV shows like Odd Mom Out.
She was right.
And for that, I am so, so sorry.
When I became a mom back in May, I was expecting sleepless nights and an inability to fit back into my skinny jeans right away. What I wasn’t expecting was how much I felt like a college freshman all over again. The similarities were striking: I suddenly had a roommate who kept weird hours and was loud when I wanted to sleep. I spent days in sweatpants and flip-flops. I felt weird drinking a beer. And I was constantly meeting and sizing up new potential friends. My own friends were great, but the majority of them didn’t have children, so they didn’t get the sleep deprivation and breastfeeding insecurities, the thrill of an infant grabbing a toy for the first time, simultaneously feeling like yourself and someone you don’t really recognize.
That’s why when I took my daughter out in the stroller during the early weeks of motherhood, I was mostly on the prowl for new mom friends. Whenever I saw someone with a baby vaguely in the same age range as my daughter, Lucy, I’d pounce, firing the usual questions. (“Soooo cute! How old? Where do you live?”) From there, we’d make plans for coffee or lunch. I quickly found a weekly mom group and attended open-invite hangouts organized on Meetup.com. By three months, Lucy and I had a tight group of six or so moms and their babies. I clung to my clique, afraid to make new friends. It was like freshman year of college, when, for the first month, the eight people in my hall went to every meal and party as a tight little cluster. It was simultaneously reassuring and stifling.
But I felt like I belonged. I was especially suspicious when I met women who didn’t meet the description of what I felt a new mom should look like, the ones who wore mascara and had spit-up free shoulders. Because I didn’t care whether a mom breastfed or bottle-fed, coslept or cried it out, and our group was nonjudgmental when it came to parenting choices, I thought I was inclusive. But I wasn’t. I reserved all my judgment for a woman’s wardrobe.
Messy topknots and ripped jeans were, to me, a sign that we could be friends. Because I was insecure in my new role as a mom, I fell right back into my adolescent mentality for making friends: Establish a clique, then don’t let anyone else in. The additional scrutiny on appearance was also all about me. Postpartum, I didn’t love the way I looked — I missed having time to blow-dry my hair and get manicures. And although just a few weeks after delivery I weighed the same as I did prior to pregnancy, I wasn’t fit. I felt guilty that I cared about my appearance when I should be focused on my infant, so instead, I took my insecurities out on women who looked the way I wished I did.
“You know, she probably planned her outfit for the entire day,” my friend said about the fedora woman as we left the coffee shop. But my mind kept tugging back to the way the new mom’s face fell upon hearing our remarks. And I had the realization that it just wasn’t worth it. Spending a few minutes planning an outfit while feeding a baby wasn’t selfish — it sounded like a great secret for staying sane.
It’s a fact that moms crave social interaction. Women spend more time on Facebook immediately postbirth than they do at any other point in their lives, due to a desire for human connection, one study found. Other research shows that playgroups offer loads of social support for mothers. And I knew from my friends with slightly older children that the mom friends I made now wouldn’t last forever. After all, we really had nothing in common except for our babies’ shared astrological sign. But in the early days of parenting, that was enough.
So I decided to stop snarking on women. It made me feel better in the moment but worse about myself in the aftermath — and I knew it set a terrible example for my daughter. Which is why I’d love to invite you, new mom, into our group. And if you know a place to get an awesome fedora to hide the I-don’t-have-time-to-shower hair? Even better.