Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bad Mothers or Just Different? How Living and Moving Overseas Can Open Your Eyes

Okay, I don't want to get into the pros and cons of breastfeeding verses bottle, or  family bed verses independent sleeping, or all the other issues that divide us as mothers.  What I want to talk about is how on this one night, at this one dinner,  nine women sat around a table and responded to the "confessions" of a mother of an eight-week-old baby with total acceptance.   There was no judgement, no condemnation, only phrases like, "Everybody is different," "You do what you think is best for the baby and yourself," "What works for some, doesn't work for others, "We're all doing the best we can," "Look at what our parents of the 60's did and we're okay."  The new mother's eyes shone with gratitude.  It was just what she needed after a "friend' of hers told her she couldn't believe what she had done and that she should have tried harder.  Her friend said that to her, a new mother.  A new mother.  And this woman apparently has children of her own who are perfectly healthy, behaved, balanced, intelligent and will be the next president, or Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela.  Right.

I know the statement by the "friend" is not atypical.  The majority of mothers know this.  Why is it that so many mothers are their own worst enemies?  By what standard are we judging ourselves and why?

One of the women at the dinner mentioned a book titled, Bad Mother: Chronicles of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace, by Ayelet Waldman.  I haven't read it yet, but from my friend's description and the Amazon Book Description, it falls in line with what I've been thinking lately:
In our mothers’ day there were good mothers, indifferent mothers, and occasionally, great mothers. Today we have only Bad Mothers: If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. Is it any wonder so many women refer to themselves at one time or another as a “bad mother”? 
In a video reading of the book, Waldman finishes the excerpt with, "Can't we just try to give ourselves a break?"  Last night, we gave that new mother a break.

What happened last night?  What is it about mothers of the nomadic life that might enable them to give other mothers a break?

Well, we've had to do things differently.  We play by different rules.  Who else has had to leave their home for 12 weeks to have her baby?  Who else isn't sure if her husband will make it in time to see the birth of his child?  Who else has to have their baby sleep in a pack and play for months on end?  Who else has to "make do" without a stroller until your shipment arrives?  Or at least a stroller designed to withstand potholes, nails, and no sidewalks?  Who else has had to schedule weaning, potty training, and then the transition to the big kid bed around moving and home leave?  Who else has to walk in front of your crawling baby at the playground in order to remove broken glass and other sharp objects out of the way?  And who else has to judge a playground based on whether the swings will withstand a baby body, the barbed wire is  intact and not flaying within child's reach, and the concrete slide isn't too high for you to help your child down?  Who else has to decide whether the trip to the doctor is worth the taxi ride without seat belts?  Also, so many of us send or have sent our children to school in armored school buses or know someone who does.  So many of us know someone who lives or has lived in a war zone.  Too many of us have lived in a war zone.  So many of us are three degrees of separation away or less from a victim of a terrorist attack.

Too many factors of our lives are out of our control.  But isn't that the truth for everyone?  No one controls her life.  As much as we might like to think we know the best way to do things, something falls into our laps that changes everything.  No one can know if everything will turn out like we want it to or expect it to.  No one knows when our time will come.  Maybe nomadic mothers know that life is out of our control more than most mothers.  

It shouldn't be that way.  It shouldn't take a developing country, a war zone, or a terrorist attack over your shoulder to give fellow mothers a break.  We, mothers, need to open our eyes.  Every single one of us is so different, our lives are different, our situations are different.  Let's support each other, accept our differences.  Let's give each other a break.  God knows we deserve it.


  1. Thanks for this! My parenting philosophy is this: Mentally healthy mom = healthy baby. If that means sleeping with your baby so you get sleep, then do it. If it means giving up nursing and pumping and switching to formula, then do it. And overseas, that means we have to pick our battles to stay sane. Sometimes that means riding in taxis with no carseats. Sometimes it means letting strangers kiss the baby. But in the end, it's worth it!

    1. Oh, I so totally agree! Across the board! If I had only known this with my first one. Oh well. He has turned out wonderfully; I'm still recovering (after 9 years!). Worth it? ABSOLUTELY! Thanks for commenting, Liz!

  2. Hi, you make mind blowing ideas and a spectacular article here. moving overseas

  3. Thanks, Jim! I'm not quite sure they should be mind-blowing, just forgiving. Parents are human too. Thanks for commenting!


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