Someone Else’s Experience Isn’t A Judgment Or Commentary On Yours

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Alev Takil/Unsplash

Has it always been like this? Is this a result of the rise of social media—this petty ugliness between moms? Or were our mothers and grandmothers just as catty and competitive and willing to cut one another down for being different, but it just wasn’t blasted on IG and FB?

Well, regardless of when or how it all started, this is how it is now, isn’t it? Celebrities go through it. And regular moms like us go through it. You can’t celebrate pumping a full bottle of milk without someone accusing you of shaming women who don’t breastfeed. You can’t talk about how hard sleep training is, even though you believe it’s what you and your baby need, without someone blasting for you being cruel and neglectful. You can’t talk about your son breaking something in your house and making a joke about being a “boy mom” (even though maybe you only have boys), without being accused of sexism because “girls break stuff too!”

Listen, we know.

We know our fellow moms on this motherhood journey struggle to breastfeed or choose not to breastfeed. We know sleep training isn’t for everyone. And we know that lots of girls wrestle and rough-house and destroy the house.

We. Know.

Sometimes we are just telling our own stories. That doesn’t mean we are negating your experience. In fact, we encourage you to tell your story too — there’s a place for all of us at this motherhood table. Breastfeeding moms, formula-feeding moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, “girl” moms, “boy” moms, moms of both, moms of children who are transgender or nonbinary. We all deserve a place to tell our stories, whether to vent or just find solidarity in this sisterhood.

We aren’t trying to take away from your story by telling our own.

I’ve been a stay-at-home turned work-from-home mom for over 10 years. I’ve told stories of having a gifted child and a feral child who destroys everything in his path. I’ve talked about fighting stay-at-home mom depression, of struggling to breastfeed and eventually having success in breastfeeding, and the emotional end of that era for me. I’ve talked about being a mom to boys and a mom to a girl and what that has looked like for me. I’ve written about the SAHM life and the WAHM life and marriage and family and baby days and toddler days and everything in between. I’ve admitted that I struggled to potty-train all of my kids for a variety of reasons and that it damn near broke me. And I’ve opened up about what it’s like to have a child with life-threatening allergies and watch him go out in a world that isn’t peanut-free.

Most of the time, I read responses like, “I feel ya!” or “Been there!” or “Thank you for telling this story. It makes me feel less alone.”

Sometimes someone will say that they’ve had a different experience: “I potty-trained using the 3-day method and it worked!” on a post where I lamented that I’ve been wiping butts for a decade and see no end in sight.

And having someone comment that their experience was different is completely fine, and in fact, one of the greatest things about social media —the ability for moms to have a discourse about how our stories are all unique to our own families and circumstances.

But the problem arises when one mom tells a story that differs from another, and someone feels insulted. Like, because you choose to breastfeed at the zoo, you’re somehow spewing negativity and judgment at the formula-feeding mom at home, when really maybe you’re just feeding your baby while your toddler looks at elephants.

Why do we do this to each other?

Which one of us wrote the book on motherhood? I know I sure didn’t. I screw this shit up all the damn time. My kids eat way too much junk food, and I’m too busy and too tired to fight them. Their rooms are a mess, one of them called the other a dumbass the other day, and I’m 99% sure we are waaaaaay overdue on well-visits to the pediatrician. (But hey! They got their flu shots! See? I’m not a total disaster.)

My point is, my story does not negate yours. If I talk about how my 6-year-old breaks shit (including his own face and body) jumping off furniture and throwing balls through windows, I might make a joke about being a “boy mom.” That doesn’t mean girls don’t do the exact same thing. My daughter happens to be more docile. She spends her days happily crafting and couldn’t care less if she ever throws a ball again.

I’m not saying “all boys” or “only boys” at all. I am simply talking about my own kid and what it’s been like for me to raise a feral raccoon.

I also often talk about the struggles of stay-at-home parenting. This one makes my head explode, because, without fail, the comment thread becomes a brawl over who has it harder—stay-at-home or working moms. At no point have I ever (or will I ever) say working moms have it easy. I know they are up before the sun, running every second of the day, and operate on a level of exhaustion and caffeine intake I probably can’t imagine.

My story is simply my story. I know that other moms like me struggle when stuck home all day with babies and toddlers trying to crawl back into their uterus. I know because I lived it for a very long time. So when I talk about the isolation, or how hard it is to go entire 8-10 hour days without talking to or seeing another adult, or the depression that can set it in when you don’t have time to shower, or wonder why you should even bother when a child is just going to spit up in your hair in 10 minutes, I am not trying to discount the life of another mom who leaves the house every day for work.

It’s not a competition.

My story doesn’t undo anyone else’s. And it isn’t a criticism or even a commentary on anyone else’s.

And the thing that sucks the most is when a post meant to provide comfort and solace to another struggling mom ends up causing a comment thread clogged with negativity and cut-throat nastiness among parents who really should just lift each other up or mind their own business.

So how about we don’t do this anymore? How about this instead? If you see a post about homeschooling or dealing with toddler tantrums or where to buy the best organic produce, and you happen to not homeschool, or not have a toddler, or not have any interest in organic produce, maybe just recognize that this particular post isn’t tailored for you? That it likely has value to other moms who are living different lives and making different choices?

And, on the other side, if you’re like me, and you really don’t do the organic thing a whole lot, and your kid is a hot mess at Target chucking a shoe across the aisle, also remember that not every mom is in our boat either. Organic mom isn’t necessarily insulting our choices if she posts about homemade baby food. That’s just her life and her choice. And a mom whose kid is totally well-behaved isn’t always saying we suck. She might just have a different kid, and that’s all.

Social media doesn’t have to be a toxic dumpster fire. But it’s up to us to make that change. If someone blatantly calls you out and says you’re a shitty parent if you don’t use cloth diapers, then yeah, I get it if you go off. But more often than not, parents are just trying to tell their own stories, forge a friendship, or at least feel less alone in this sea of uncertainty we’re all swimming in.

So here’s my truth: I breastfed. If you didn’t, come sit with me. I go to church. If you don’t, come sit with me. I rarely wear makeup and I live in leggings and sweatshirts. If you spend an hour getting ready every day and wear real pants that button, come sit with me. My house is a trash-heap. If yours is clean and your shoes don’t stick to the floor, come sit with me.

Because even though we are different, I think we could be friends. (But seriously, my kid really might break your house, so just come here. It’s safer.)

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