In over 13 years of motherhood, memories linger from sunny days in the park or on the floor of a grocery store, discreetly pulling up my top to breastfeed my baby or toddler. We could go unnoticed, given the wink-wink from approving bystanders, or the wrinkled nose from the offended.
I lost count of how many times I was drawn into conversations about how the way I chose to feed my babies was either a fairytale or a nightmare for them, and questioned about why I hold my child in a baby carrier instead of a baby carriage. As a breast-feeding, attachment-parenting enthusiast, my willingness to engage in those discussions was an opportunity to shed light on my beloved parenting philosophy.
Parenting roles vary from family to family. It’s hard for some to accept that motherhood is fulfilling in itself and I’ve encountered criticism about mothers without careers ranging from mild to the extreme. I have also shouldered tears from my working-mom friends who shared a lot of the same mommy angst and then some.
There’s no monetary value on the work a parent does in a lifetime and the promotions and salutations must come from within. I mostly felt accomplished, proud, and happy, but honestly sometimes I felt isolated. First time parents luxuriously dwell on the dilemmas of breast or bottle, cloth or disposable. Those conversations in the park about first foods and first steps are long forgotten as we quickly move on to questions about choosing schools, appropriate reading lists, boys and girls, birds and bees, smart phones and internet exposure.
I’m relieved that any desire to influence others with my devout style of parenting completely vanished in my earliest stage of motherhood. For years I endured an inner voice extremely critical of my every action and held myself to standards a fictional Supermom couldn’t emulate. I learned to keep my specific parenting opinions to myself.
Eventually I mastered the art of laughing off the Mompetitors; the play-date extraordinaires and art project champions, the muffin bakers, and the working moms who did it all and had sparkling clean houses too. I strive to raise my children lovingly, protectively and religiously, hopefully guiding by example with acceptance, tolerance, and kindness.
Parenting is a sacred and challenging task. I have failed many times and this isn’t a term paper I can crumple up and start over. I know I have to pick up and start with a clean slate almost everyday. Forgiving myself is a lesson I’m still teaching and learning, and hoping to expose for my children to see and know.
Nobody is asleep at the wheel here. I’ve read lots of parenting books. We try to combine living in the modern world while staying centered on the path of Torah and mitzvot. I know I’m not alone with the nighttime panic attacks, periodic distress, and at the lowest point, wondering if I was the worst mom to ever live. As a mom, I know I’ve made many mistakes and I’m bracing myself for the future blunders. The constant fact is my kids know I love them no matter what. We’re trying to raise them knowing that it’s our job, as parents, to give them all the tools and information, and enforcing boundaries, and guidelines so they will be prepared to make their own decisions in the future. When my kids tell me, “But all the other kids do it…..” I try not to respond with judgement. Every family does what’s right for them and this is what we do in our family.
Fathers and mothers, we bear the brunt of so much pressure. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning and until we fall asleep, we think about, plan, and worry about our children. Each of us agonizes and hopes that we’re doing it right. Working parents juggle responsibilities outside of the home with the guilt of what they’re missing at home. Stay-at-home parents feel the unrelenting stresses and sometimes loneliness of full-time parenting. Some of us chose our position and some of us feel our roles were chosen for us. Some of us have regrets now and perhaps some of us will only know regret in the future. It’s rare that a parent can be so completely sure of a choice or a decision until we are able to look back on successes or failures.
What I really want to say is, no matter what we do or how we make choices, when it comes to parenting we are all guided by the same thing: love. What parent doesn’t love their child? We also deal with reactions from our family, community, and society at large. Every person has an opinion and every choice has a consequence or an outcome that we may only know in many years down the line.
I used to think there was a right way but the more experience I gain, the more I realize that there are many ways to do it right. There are a few options for making mistakes and even more ways for a challenge to work out for the best. As I mature in my motherhood, I no longer feel pressure to try to be “Supermom” because the truth is that “Supermom” is always going to be a huge failure and a poor example for her children. I see the guilty twinge in my friends’ eyes, and I wish I could show them a view of the unconditional love that they have for their child/ren. If we could only see how great our love is, what it really looks like, we could all be better parents and at the very least, each of us could be a better friend.