The Maddening Mixed Messages We Give Moms

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I’m beginning to wonder how all mothers don’t go completely insane by the time their kids are grown.

I’m not referring to the mind-numbing effects of sleep deprivation, or the relentless noise and chaos of a house full of little people with no volume or impulse control, or the baffling, sanity-crushing things our children do on a daily basis. Those things alone can feel like enough to break you over time, but moms have been dealing with that stuff for millennia. I think women have evolved with some sort of psychic overflow valve that saves us from completely losing it over the normal craziness of motherhood.

No, what amazes me is how moms manage to do all of that while being bombarded with a constant barrage of mixed messages from society, experts, family members, and the internet. That’s the stuff that will lead you to the asylum. We have several decades’ worth of parenting “expertise” all written down and all of the world’s information literally at our fingertips, so we seem to have this subconscious idea that someone must have figured out the best way to raise a human being.

So we listen to parenting advice, even when it doesn’t make sense, and we pay attention to opinions even when we don’t want to. And often that advice and those opinions are at odds with one another. Modern moms get hundreds of mixes messages thrown at us all the time.

You’re going to have a baby? Make sure you have a natural childbirth. You’ll be more successful with that if you have a home birth, but don’t have a home birth because that’s what hospitals are for, and you don’t want your baby to die, do you? Don’t have a hospital birth, though, because pregnancy and birth aren’t illnesses, and hospitals are full of germs and sick people and MRSA. You don’t want your baby to die, do you?

Make sure you breastfeed because it’s the best, but not for too long, and don’t stop too early. And never breastfeed in public, but if you do, cover up, but at the same time, make sure you normalize it. If you can’t breastfeed, don’t feel bad, but good luck feeding your baby poison. But don’t worry, formula saves lives and the benefits of breast milk are overblown, but if would be better if you could dispense that formula right from your breasts, because skin-to-skin contact, you know.

Don’t let your baby sleep with you because they’ll form bad habits, but don’t let them cry themselves to sleep because they’ll never trust you again. You can let your baby sleep with you, but only in your room, not in your bed. But intimacy is important, so put the baby in another room. You’re too tired for sex? What’s wrong with you?

You should stay home with your kids, because why have them if you aren’t going to raise them? But you also should work, because how are your kids going to learn that women can pursue their career dreams if you don’t show them how it’s done?

Make sure your kids get the benefits of sports and music and camp and community service. Oh, and chores. But make sure you don’t overschedule them. Make sure they have ample time for homework, and make sure you help them with their homework, but don’t help them too much with their homework. And make sure they get to bed early. But make room for family time.

Make sure you get quality one-on-one time with your kids, too, because kids come first, but make sure you don’t play favorites. Make sure you get quality time with your spouse, too, because your marriage comes first also. And make sure you get quality time to yourself, because if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else? But don’t take too much time for yourself too often, because your kids come first when your marriage isn’t coming first.

Your house should be spotless and organized and well-decorated, because that’s what the houses look like on HGTV. But it should also be messy because your kids are making memories. Your kids’ rooms should be tidy and clean because that’s how they learn (life skills!), but you should really give them their own space and let them deal with the natural consequences of their own mess.

Don’t be a helicopter parent, but never let your kids out of your sight even for a second. But don’t put them on one of those leash/harness things either. They’re not dogs. Just glue your eyeballs to them. Oh, you have three kids and only two eyeballs? You probably just shouldn’t go anywhere, ever. Make sure your kids get out of the house though. Just don’t send them outside to play because your neighbors might call CPS.

Make sure your kids learn computer coding, because technology is here to stay. But make sure they don’t get too much screen time because screens melt brain cells after an hour or something. Give your kids a cell phone because we live in a terrifying world and they should be able to reach you at all times, but they don’t need a cell phone because we survived without cell phones while walking uphill to school both ways in the snow, dammit.

Give your kids limits, but let them make their own choices. Teach them independence, but make sure they know you’re in charge. Meet your kids’ emotional needs, but don’t coddle them. Be your child’s advocate, but don’t fight their battles for them. Make sure your kids feel confident in their abilities and comfortable in their own skin, but don’t praise them unless you praise them in exactly the right way using exactly the right words at exactly the right time.

Moms are given so many mixed messages it sometimes feels like our heads might literally spin right off our necks. Nothing we do is right. Everything we do is wrong, even if it’s the opposite of the thing we just did that wasn’t right. Moms can’t win.

I figure there are only two choices: Lose your mind, or learn to silence the noise. I mean totally and completely. Shut it down. Nobody knows your family and your kids like you do. Nobody has the right answers for you. We all need some help sometimes, but none of us needs this cacophony of constant criticism.

So ignore the thousands of voices telling you what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. Find what inspires you. Find what feeds your mothering soul. Find those things, and give them your full attention. Let the noise and the voices and the internet juries fade into the background until all you hear are the simple sounds of you and your family.

Only you can decide what’s right for you, and the only way to do that is to listen to your own mind and heart. Nix the mixed messages. Silence the noise. Save your sanity.