During the lead-up to having my first child, I asked lots and lots of questions. I wanted to hit the ground running as an excellent mom. At the time, I didn't know any new moms, so I asked the old-timers. "Don't worry, you'll know exactly what to do," they told me. Well, that was a big fat lie! Perhaps in the same way we forget the pain of childbirth, we forget how difficult every stage of parenting is as we pass into the next phase of difficulty. Either that or these more experienced moms were trying not to freak me out... which is what I did anyway.
When my breast milk didn't come in immediately, I worried I was a bad mother. If my baby's little nails ever scratched his little face, I beat myself up for waiting too long to clip them. And then, at four months of age, my son began a nightly two-hour crying spree. Nothing could stop it. I fed, I paced, I sang, I rocked, I fed, I paced, I sang, I rocked. Even my tried-and-true method of turning on the hair dryer, which for some strange reason had always calmed him, failed me. I was lost. It was around that time that I was introduced to my first online mommy message board. I was really excited. I could type in my questions and hear from all kinds of other women with loads of advice and support... or so I thought.
Amidst the women genuinely offering information and tips on wailing babies and other DEFCON 1 situations lurked a sinister mob, hell-bent on making snide comments, passing harsh judgments and taking pleasure in knocking down other women.
"You're feeding your baby formula? What kind of monster are you?"
"I hope you can sleep at night knowing that you're causing irrevocable damage to your child by letting him cry it out."
And God forbid you mentioned you had purchased a Bugaboo stroller; the mob would descend and quickly eviscerate you.
Fortunately, I am now surrounded by warm, intelligent, empathetic women who serve as an invaluable source of strength for me. It makes me sad to think of new nervous moms reaching out for sanity, only to be hit in the face with this snark-fest. Sometimes, you don't realize how important empathy is until you're face to message board with those who lack it.
As I raise my own daughter, I try to pay particular attention to fostering her sense of nurturing, empathetic and generous feelings towards others. You'd be surprised how far silly, seemingly trite sayings go towards that effort: "It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice;" "Life's not a competition;" etc. I'm not saying you have to litter the house with needlepoint quotation pillows, but... it really is "nice when nice happens to nice."
The other part of the lesson is to stand up for others when they are being wrongfully attacked. There are a multitude of snarky websites that purport to stand up for women, when in fact they only criticize and hold others to impossible standards. Their critiques usually smack of bitterness, rather than a pure desire to improve conditions for women.
My 5-year-old daughter came home from school last month and said she no longer wanted to wear pink because a girl in her class had told her that she hated pink and that it was too girly. My first instinct was to have my daughter tell this budding fashionista what she could do with her critique... but luckily, I've learned to ignore my first instincts. I told my daughter it was a shame that her classmate couldn't enjoy all the wonderful colors out there in the world. Then we made a list of some wonderful pink things: puppy bellies, cotton candy, strawberry ice cream, piglets, roses, bubble gum...
Let's teach our daughters to celebrate other women's strength, success and happiness. Let's not limit their options. Let's teach them that when they make decisions in their lives, they should make them based on what's right for them. Our dreams should never be hampered by fear of what others may think.