When a group of mothers come together, something incredible can happen. Women can find comfort and support. They can feel validated and loneliness can subside. Bonds can form. They can learn and teach and walk away more emotionally and mentally equipped to do the rewarding and exhausting work of motherhood.
I know because I’ve experienced it. I’m so thankful to have a community of women who, though we don’t share the same opinion on every subject, care about each other. Some of us work, some stay home, some bottle feed, some breastfeed, some seem to do it all and look great, some of us are struggling just to keep everyone fed and cleaned, but when we come together, it’s obvious that we appreciate each other. We work to find common ground even when sometimes that only consists of our good intentions and willingness to communicate.
But that’s not always what happens.
In fact, often the opposite happens. I know, because I’ve experienced that too. I’ve heard conversations become tense, hostile and communication shut down because someone is offended by another mother’s opinion.
I don’t even think it’s intentional most of the time. It’s just that so many of us have this automatic response to internally defend our choices when someone else states theirs and often those reasons come flying out of our mouths, but not always in a considerate way.
I think it’s natural to gravitate toward people who have common goals. There’s really nothing wrong with that. Some of the best work gets done when people figure out their common passion and combine efforts. We all need to feel like we’re not alone and know we have resources. Eventually, though, every pair of people will find an issue on which they hold opposing views. And once that difference is realized, the dynamic can change for the worse. Both sides may argue their point of view but what eventually kills the growth is the adamant demand: “Don’t judge me.”
I just have to say: It’s okay to judge.
Using good judgement is actually a life skill. We do it all the time. We judge the weather, the time of day, the produce at the grocery store, the tone of voice our boss uses when she calls us in her office, the safety of this gas station or that one when we stop alone at night… Practicing wise judgement is, well, wise.
And even in a group of peers, it is okay to consider their advice or experience to determine if it applies to me. This means that when my friend is going on and on about their new hobby couponing and all the money it’s saving their family, I can rightfully think to myself: Is this a good thing? Could I do this? Does this apply to me?
And even if I recognize it’s a good thing, it might not be something I can do. Or maybe it just doesn’t fit into my lifestyle. To be honest, couponing overwhelms me and I have too much on my plate at the moment to add it into the mix. But when I come to that conclusion, what I do not have to do is justify that decision by putting down my friend’s. I do not need to belittle it or assume that her circumstances must be much harder/easier/more desperate/less demanding than mine. Her decision to do something I will not is not a personal attack on my decision. I can still be interested and share in my friend’s success without feeling threatened or put down. I can acknowledge the benefit of her choice and still not see it as applicable to me.
The same can be applied to birth, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, staying home, going back to work, sleeping arrangements, budget tips, time management tips, cooking, crafting and a thousand other topics that apply to motherhood.
I’m convinced the thing that does the most damage in a group of mothers is not judgement, but rather the fear of being judged.
Because when we begin to fear that we are judged, we stop sharing. The oral tradition of motherhood is halted. We all retreat to our own corners, afraid to share or learn, determined to put on a face of a mother who is an island, independent and uninterested in our fellow mothers.
The fear is valid. We can all admit we draw hasty conclusions and make unflattering assumptions. But when we give trust, we get trust. It takes some vulnerability and some understanding to tear down the walls of fear. But mothers are good at giving grace to our families, we just need to extend that to ourselves and other moms in the same boat.
So, let’s use language that builds each other up. Instead of, “I could never do that,” let’s say, “You must have worked so hard. Tell me more.”
Instead of, “You should definitely,” let’s offer, “Here’s what worked for me.”
Let’s admit, “I’m sure I don’t know all that you’re juggling,” and “Only you know your situation and you are more than capable.”
The truth is, pieces of each of us fit into many labels and it’s good to find that common ground. But if a mother can wear the labels “compassionate,” “understanding,” “gracious,” “trustworthy,” I’m up for joining her tribe.