It's really easy, as a mum, to judge yourself on every aspect of motherhood. I know that I began watching other mums when I was pregnant in an attempt to gauge if I was doing the rights things - was I gaining too much weight, was I taking the right vitamins, would my baby be adversely affected by over-consumption of 80's music? When Jack arrived, I continued to measure Jack's and my progress by others - was Jack gaining enough weight, was I losing enough weight, were his developmental milestones being affected by watching too many 80's movies with Mummy? The judgements continued with every aspect of babyhood and childhood: did I introduce solids too early? Should I have encouraged him to roll over / crawl / walk earlier than he did? Did I stimulate his early vocabulary enough? Would having a baby sister born only 17 months after him affect either of them? Have I ruined my children by going back to work and putting them in childcare part time? How much television is too much? Should a two year old be able to recognise a DVD simply by looking at the spine of the cover? This is only a tiny fraction of the questions I have asked myself over the last four and a half years (and I do realise that my neuroticism is only too evident!)
If this isn't bad enough, I know that many mothers judge other mothers in a negative way. It's one thing to look at your own behaviour and try to be the best you can be; it's a totally different ball-game to observe a snapshot of another person and make a (derogatory) decision about their parenting skills. How many times have you heard a judgement passed in a mothers' group about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding? Or heard someone discuss another mother's disciplinary action (or lack thereof!) Or seen children's physical prowess compared (oh, so little Johnny isn't sitting up yet? Are you worried?? Epponnee Rae has been sitting up since she was four months old!) I know that I time my visits to the supermarket to minimise the chance of a tanty (from the kids, not me!) because I know the raised eyebrows will be worse that the tantrum itself. People already feel free to express their opinions on my small brood (gosh, you must be a busy lady! What's the age gap? Were they all planned?) and I regularly find myself defending not only my parenting, but my decision to have my children close together! Seriously, who are these people - the reproductive police?
Although I make a conscious effort to recognise and praise good behaviour in my children (as opposed to continuously jumping on the screaming / fighting / snatching / whining / flinging during day-to-day business), I rarely stop and think that I might not be completely screwing these kids up. Today, a lovely stranger made me realise that mothers judge other mothers too, but in a positive way. We had been to the doctor for Maisie (yes, again!!), and I decided to brave Safeway as we had no milk in the house whatsoever. I had Mais in the pram, Phoebe 'helping' me push the pram, and Jack trailing along beside. Jack and Phoebs had both decided to go out in their dress-ups today, so a lot of people were commenting on Superman and Tinkerbell. A lovely lady in her 70's stopped me in the bread aisle, and said "What beautiful children. I had three in three years, you know, just like you I imagine. You're doing a marvellous job, dear." And with that, she made my whole day brighter. Admittedly, she caught my children at a point in the day when they were (relatively) clean, quiet, and occupied in a task, so they must have looked happy and well-behaved. But what a difference she made to my mental health. Not only did she make me realise that for the most part, I'm doing ok, but that she survived, and so will I!
So next time my children are losing the plot in the fruit and veges section of Safeway, I will just smile serenely at the other mothers around me. I will not panic and think wild thoughts about the judgements being made about my lack of discipline. Rather, I will wait for the tantrum to subside, look one of the other mothers dead in the eye, and think, "Ha. It'll be your kids' turn tomorrow!"