Time to lay down some realness on y’all: I’ve struggled a bit with Judgy Mom Syndrome. For someone who usually lives by a “you do you, boo” sort of mentality, parenting sure has thrusted me into this awful new world where since I feel judged left and right, I too contribute to the disgusting culture. Twenty months in, I’ve definitely learned some things, especially related to how I became a sanctimommy. This is how a judgy mom is made:
Step 1: Do a Thing People Judge You For
In my world, this was co-sleeping. I left birthing classes and the hospital with a packet that warned me about all the dangers of having a newborn kiddo in my bed. I never intended to co-sleep. After all, I’d bought that fancy Halo Bassinest that did all sorts of fancy things like swivel over my bed, vibrate to soothe the baby, and play sweet little lullabies.
I was warned of SIDS, of suffocation, of smothering my child, of the baby being smothered by my dogs or by his father, or of him falling off the bed. So naturally, terrified that my child would stop breathing in the middle of the night, I used that bassinet — or I tried. He would wake up a dozen times per night in that thing. And since he was an arm’s reach away, I’d grab him and pull him into the bed with me and nurse him.
In the beginning, I’d carefully lay him back in the bassinet after I nursed him back down, swaddled and cozy. And then one time, I fell asleep and so did he. And he stayed asleep. With my boob mere inches away from his face, he’d wake up only to nurse for a few minutes and fall back asleep, barely waking me. This sure beat sitting up and nursing him and disrupting our sleep 10 times per night. So I kept doing it. It was working for us.
I was still afraid of being judged. I’d see comments about how bed-sharing is bad — at best, it means I’ll have a 6-year-old in my bed, and at worst, my baby will die at my own hands. And the pediatrician always asked if my 3-month-old had his own dedicated place to sleep (and naturally, I’d respond “yes,” because technically, he did — not that he spent any time in it).
So I started to Google and find Facebook groups. Did anyone else do this?
Step 2: Find the Niche Mom Groups
I searched for co-sleeping and found dozens of baby sleep support groups — ones that claimed to be for people who co-sleep without judgment. I joined as many as I could (along with groups for breastfeeding, babywearing, attachment parenting, non-CIO, etc.) and found thousands of people just like me.
Let me tell you something about parenting: No matter what you’re dealing with, you’ll feel like you might be the only one. You’ll wish you had more support, but no one cares. And when you find a group overflowing with people who are doing what you’re doing, you’ll voraciously read everything they type.
It starts out innocent. You see people casually talking about how they’ve co-slept with all of their children with zero issues, and it’s been fine. Next, you’ll start seeing a few stray comments here and there about how people who don’t co-sleep must be so disconnected from their children (cue the eyeroll now when I look back on it).
It escalates. You’ll see large memes talking about how co-sleeping is best and how doing it any other way is just not responsible parenting. You’ll see imagery that depicts how we’ve evolved as humans to need to sleep in the same bed. You’ll find articles from scientific and medical journals that tell you that co-sleeping is just fine. You internalize it. You’re armed with the knowledge you need to win a fight the next time someone makes a backhanded comment about your kid making it to college without ever sleeping alone.
Now you believe that what you’re doing isn’t just okay, it’s the right way to do things. And you also believe that it’s “evidence-based.”
How quickly we turn from trusting our medical professionals to trusting randos on the internet.
Step 3: Judgment Day
At this point, I’d become a passionate and fearless advocate for co-sleeping, and babywearing, and breastfeeding, and extended nursing — you get the point). Part of it is education — you remember when you were “so ill-informed,” and you take it on as your personal pilgrimage to make sure every parent out there knows “the truth.” Part of it is a defense mechanism, a wall put up to protect you in advance from criticism. Survival, so to speak.
You comment on people’s posts and make sure they know the science-based facts. You share those memes with a total disregard for the other parents you have on your Facebook friends list who might have done something different that works for their family. You surround yourself with all of these people who just reaffirm each other’s opinions and build each other up, creating a hive mind where anyone outside of that is just plain “doing it wrong.”
Step 4: Recognition and Reconciliation
In my world, all of a sudden co-sleeping wasn’t sunshine and rainbows anymore. My son Henry was 6 months old, my back was starting to hurt extremely bad from lying on my side with him all night. He was waking up a lot more to nurse throughout the night because I was his all-night buffet. And I could feel my relationship with my then-husband deteriorating because we had no time for us to be alone together since I went to bed with Henry at 7:30 p.m. every night.
I started to freak out because the mom support system I’d built up around me were people who condemned wanting to do anything different. I started to try to find support groups for getting babies out of the bed, but it was at odds with another advocacy of mine — attachment parenting/non-CIO. I literally could not find a way to transition Henry into his own crib and get him out of my bed without violating some of these scientific principals I kept reading about.
And in theory, I wanted Henry in my bed. I liked the snuggles and thinking of him being all alone at night did make me cry — which is why the judgmental comments hurt me even more. It’s not like any mother goes into her decision-making with the intention of scarring their children for life. But if you talk about doing sleep training at all, you’ll hear that it’s not evolutionarily natural, that it’s going to scar your child, that it will affect them mentally, that you’re “choosing not to parent.” Basically, you literally can’t fucking win as a mom.
All of a sudden, you’re a hypocrite, and you don’t know how to reconcile this in your mom brain. You start to realize that you probably shouldn’t have talked about your parenting choices at all. Because real talk: No one gives a shit. You parent the way you want to parent, and they’ll do the same. Nobody cares if you co-sleep, breastfeed, babywear, sleep train, formula-feed, or give your kid Benadryl so that they’ll sleep on the plane.
Step 5: Healing
Luckily, throughout all this, I’ve had my favorite private mom group (aka my village). This group is the only one I’ve ever been in that has successfully created a truly nonjudgmental space, simply because they don’t let that shit fly. You can’t link WebMD or BabyCenter to back up your thoughts because they’re not reputable. You can’t say, “I heard from someone…” when you spew opinions — you have to use personal anecdotes or medical professionals’ advice only. And it doesn’t matter what someone’s posting about, you support them. You support them because we’re all going through our own shit. We all have completely different lives, different parenting styles, different number of children. Our family units look different. All of us love the bejeezus out of our kids and support each other through thick and thin.
Lately, I’ve done a culling on Facebook. I’ve left a bunch of the groups that were causing me to think negative thoughts about parenting choices. I’ve unfriended so many people, mostly ones that I met through these groups, because they tend to see things through their narrow lens. And even when they’re not straight-up attacking “the other side,” they’re posting memes that clearly take a stance that the way they’re doing it is the best way. I just have no time for that thinking anymore.
I breastfed Henry, but I weaned him at 13 months. He’s had formula and bottles. I co-slept, but I sleep-trained at 6 months. We babywear, but we’re in love with our stroller too. I’ve had him in daycare and with a nanny. We don’t watch TV, but he has a tablet for diaper changes and car rides. None of these things matter to anyone but me and my son.
It’s time we trust moms to be doing what’s right for their family and stop jumping down each other’s throat in an effort to educate. And watch the backhanded comments because those hurt the most.