Letting Go of The Mommy Guilt: Follow the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – OR – I don’t want you to judge me, so I won’t judge you.

Mommy Guilt takes a lot of forms. The last time I wrote about Mommy Guilt I called it a two-headed beast:  Judging Yourself and Judging Others. Today I’m gonna try to tackle them both. So what does this have to do with the Golden Rule?

When a woman becomes pregnant in America she is suddenly cast under the very harsh light of public scrutiny. While this scrutiny becomes (a bit) less harsh after the birth of her child, it never goes away. Television portrays idyllic parenting situations with idyllic children and idyllic mothers. Parenting magazines are the Mommy equivalent of Cosmo ““ full of impossible representations of someone else’s idea of perfection. No one (that I know, at least) can live up to the inhuman models for parenting that mothers are bombarded with by American culture… well-behaved, quiet, smiling, perfectly coiffed little cherubs in clean, matching, unrumpled clothes, neatly engaged in an educational activity lead by a mother, who is also perfectly coiffed and attractively attired, who excels at her chosen profession, has a sparkling clean home that a designer would envy, personally rewarding pastimes and a romance novel relationship with a supportive partner. When a mother fails to live up to these standards there is criticism–  sometimes subtle, and sometimes”¦ not so much. This criticism of parenting is so deeply set in our culture that we all learn it from a young age. How many of us, before we became parents, can remember hearing (or saying) something like, “She has NO control over that child.  She should really make that kid be quiet/behave,” when we were in line at the grocery store, trapped in coach, or trying to enjoy a meal? I know I can and have.

The problem comes when a woman becomes a mother. Now she is on the chopping block. A woman who used to be one of the critics now feels the Mommy Guilt that comes along with being one of the criticized. But the urge to continue to criticize other mothers doesn’t always go away.

Unfortunately, it’s part of human nature (or perhaps the influence of culture) to make one’s self feel better by pointing out the flaws in others. Some mothers feel the need to try to live up to the ideal portrayed by the media and culture. When they can’t, they feel guilty. To soothe that guilt, many mothers turn to judging other mothers. “Well, I may not be a perfect mother, but at least I’m better than her. I would never let my child leave the house dressed like that!” This is where the Golden Rule comes into play. And also this:

We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation.  Its one thing to feel you are on the right path, but its another to think that yours is the only path.  -Paulo Coelho

And this:

Circumstances cause us to act the way we do. We should always bear this in mind before judging the actions of others. -Thor Heyerdahl

And finally this:

Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house. 

By judging others, we contribute to idea that being judgmental is permissible and open ourselves to being judged in turn.

I continually find myself wanting to judge the other mothers I see in my life. It is not an easy habit to kick. I try to remind myself, though, that I wouldn’t want to be the one on the hot plate. Also, I don’t know the circumstances of the other mothers I meet, or their children. How could I possibly know where they are coming from or what they live with? It’s not my place to say whether they are “doing it right” or not. Conversely, it’s not their place to say whether I am either.

I don’t believe there is a whole lot we can do about the media’s portrayal of what the perfect mother should be. But we, as mothers, can do our part to stop the cycle of guilty judging by following the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you wouldn’t want to be judged as a mother ““ and really, who does – then don’t judge the other mothers you encounter. Maybe if we stop judging each other, then we can stop judging ourselves and we can all let go of some of the Mommy Guilt.


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