I am constantly worried that people are judging my children (and thereby judging me as a parent). If my baby is crying, I worry that they will judge him to be a bad baby or me to be a bad mother who is unable to soothe her fussy baby. When people ask, “is he a good baby?” I feel like they’re suggesting that if he’s not (what’s a good baby anyway?) that somehow he is defective or I am defective. In my mind there is a great deal of weight attached to well-meaning or innocuous comments or questions from strangers or friends. I’ve wondered for the past several weeks if Zoe’s teachers or other adults at school think she is neglected because her has rarely been brushed since her brother was born. Dad has been taking her to school each day so I can rest or nurse and hairbrushing is often one of the items that gets dropped from the morning to do list. Which is fine, in the scheme of things. She is dressed in clean clothes and she is fed and she usually brings her lunch. But still.
When I am driving and I do something I know is wrong, or slightly illegal, I often compose excuses or justifications in my head as part of imaginary conversations with police officers who might pull me over. I am sincerely repentant and simultaneously indignant about being theoretically called on minor offenses. I don’t think other people have these conversations in their heads. Do they?
I don’t know how long I have felt this shadow of judgment looming over me, but it’s been a long time.
One time at lunch a friend of mine–whose frankness and fierceness I admire and also am a little scared of–said she doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of her. She wondered, but seemingly without too much concern, if that was a bad thing. Instinctively, I think it is. But I am on the other end of the spectrum and that is a bad thing too. I think caring what other people think of you helps you be more compassionate and sympathetic, maybe more reliable. Who knows? But obsessing about what other people think and whether they are evaluating your every move is not helpful.
I’m reading the new book by Glennon Melton, the mom and blogger behind Momastery. Glennon’s whole thing is about how we, as moms, or really as humans, need to love more and judge less. She has plenty of personal history that would be easy to judge, and she freely admits where her faults and imperfections still lie. And she is so reassuring. Clearly this is why thousands of people read her blog and comment on her Facebook posts and show up at her readings. If she is such a mess and still such a wonderful person who is clearly trying to do the right thing, and often succeeding, and bringing so much love into the lives of people around her and the total strangers for whom she organizes “love flash mobs” to help in times of crisis, we must be all right too. Right?
When Zoe was born I struggled with feeling isolated as a new mom. Even though I had friends with babies, they all seemed to be far away. We don’t live in a neighborhood filled with kids. Everyone seemed to work. I went to Moms Club events but didn’t seem to connect with anyone or have the opportunity to have a conversation longer than a few minutes because of all the crying babies. I didn’t take a childbirth class or prenatal yoga class where I bonded with all the other moms. It wasn’t until Zoe started preschool at one-and-a-half that I felt like I started to make some local mom friends. Thankfully I am still friends with some of those moms.
But with one exception, none of them have newborns. And though I swore I’d do it differently this time, when you have a kindergartener already, it’s difficult to do everything you want to do. So I find myself again feeling kind of lonely at home, trying to balance relaxing and nursing and trying to be zen with going out and interacting with people to feel sane. Today at Trader Joe’s I wore Zeke in a baby carrier while I shopped. It took him a while to settle down so I was kind of jiggling and rocking as I pushed the cart along, and frequently slid my hands inside the carrier to adjust him to try to make him more comfortable. The whole time I was wondering if people were looking at me, if they thought I was doing it right or wrong. A few people smiled. There were a couple other moms wearing babies and one of them complimented Zeke’s hair. In the parking lot afterward there was a woman getting out of her car, right next to mine, who was carefully inserting her baby into a carrier on her chest, and then extracting her toddler from the car. I asked the mom about her carrier and we chatted briefly. She was friendly but clearly on her way to shop. Some part of me felt like saying, “hey we’re both wearing our babies and have two kids! Can we be friends?” But I didn’t. A few weeks ago outside the Giant in my neighborhood I was having a snack while Zeke slept in the stroller, and another mom on the next bench over was doing the same, with a baby who turned out to be just a week younger than Zeke. Before we walked away, I was tempted to ask for her email address so we could meet up at the park. But I didn’t.
In her blog post today, Glennon talked about going to the makeup counter at a department store and striking up a conversation with the makeup lady who ended up having an intense personal story to tell, which Glennon generously listened to and witnessed. I admire her ability to reach out to people–strangers–and make those connections. Sometimes I want to talk with someone so much but I can’t bring myself to do it. Or ask for a little–very little–help from a stranger. Today I took Zeke and myself out to lunch and while I ate my cheeseburger with one hand, I was cradling and nursing him in the other. I finished my drink and wanted a refill. There was a table of 8 women right next to me and I was tempted to ask one if she would mind getting me some more soda, but I couldn’t do it. She probably wouldn’t have minded. I would be delighted to do something like that if I were asked. But people don’t usually ask. Part of me was worried, I think, that people in the restaurant would be judging me, wondering why I was bringing my newborn to a restaurant, or why I was drinking soda while breastfeeding, or why I couldn’t take care of things myself. They probably weren’t. But still.
I’m trying to figure out how I can make myself reach out more. And wondering what to tell myself when I worry that people will judge me for reaching out. Who cares what they think? Clearly, I do. But why?