Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Judging Others -- Or -- The Flip Side of Mommy Guilt

B-Mama had a great post regarding one aspect of what I was planning on touching on today. It is all too easy for us Moms to feel serious, burdensome guilt. It is a tremendous tactic of the devil.

On the flip side, it is also so easy for us to judge others. The ivy league competitor in us has always had a means by which to compare ourselves with others. Test scores, grades, athletics. We could always see how we measured up with others. I am often uncomfortable without feedback, without knowing how well I did something or getting a pat on the back.

But what a far cry this is from the Christian way of life! We have but one judge and one savior and must seek to do everything for His glory.

I don't think I realized how quickly I could pass judgment until I became a mother and felt the Mommy guilt myself. I had a mental list of "things I would never do" with my kids. (Ha, all seasoned mothers can laugh at such a thought!).

The biggest shock to me was being unable to nurse my babies despite extreme efforts to do so. Before babies I was trying to decide if I would EVER give my child a bottle or a binky. It was a hugely humbling experience not to have these choices. However, I felt so judged by other mothers every time I had to feed my baby a bottle in public. With my first baby, I would find a way to work it into the first 2 minutes of conversation that I couldn't nurse so that I wouldn't be deemed a "bad" mommy. With Jack-Jack, it was a huge mortification for me not to justify myself to other moms and to try to humbly give my silence to God.

I recently met a sweet woman at our new parish who managed to work into our conversation after just a few minutes that she and her husband had been trying to have a baby since they were married, but it was not God's will yet. It was so painfully obvious that she was afraid of being judged by me, a young Catholic mother.

Several weeks ago I read this passage in In Conversation with God (the series Mary Alice mentioned recently):

"The person who is always seeking the approval or applause of others can easily deform his own conscience. The rule of action then becomes what people will say, rather than the will of God....the first thing we have to do with our actions is to please Christ...human judgments are often wrong."

How true this is! Last week I was complimented leaving the Blessed Sacrament chapel around 10am for bringing my two boys. Little did the woman know that far from being the recollected and sweet mother that she was imagining, I desperately needed to make a visit as I had already spent the early morning yelling at a grumpy toddler and feeling sorry for myself with my husband out of town and was just trying to get my day back on track. Our judgments are often wrong.

St. Paul tells us that, "I will not even pass judgment on myself...The Lord alone is my judge." So often we want the admiration of others here and now! Fernandez reminds us of how the Gospel reading of the Pharisees tells us, "The have received their reward." He goes on, the Pharisees, "got what they wanted: a glance of approval, a gesture of admiration, some words of praise. And shortly there would be nothing left but dust, and nothing at all for eternal life. What a terrible failure to lose so much for so little!"

We must be so mindful of our intentions. There is nothing wrong with making a fancy birthday cake or using baby sign language as long as we can sincerely say that we are doing it not to show off, but to glorify God through the service of our family. (This coming from a former cake decorator!) We must not compare ourselves with or judge ourselves against others. But rather, let us encourage each other in our unique circumstances, with our unique gifts, to "do everything for the glory of God."


B-Mama said...

Oh Texas Mommy--great thoughts! You've touched on the sinful flip side to my own personal mommy guilt, my mommy pride! Ouch!! :) Isn't it amazing how the two go hand-in-hand? And how desperate we are as mothers to have positive feedback in some way, shape, or form? That is definitely a struggle of mine as well... Lord, help us!

4ddintx said...

Is there some way we, as mothers, as followers of Christ, can encourage one another in our parenting? I've lived both sides of the guilt--I've had plenty of judgement in me for others (and eaten a lot of crow!), and felt lots of guilt because I don't measure up. Wow! I'm really going to be praying that I can be encouraging to other Moms. True encouragement in Christ HAS to cut short the attack of Satan on us, doesn't it? Bring us into closer relationship instead of build walls?

Thanks for the timely posts...all three of these have been food for thought.

Mary Alice said...

One thing that I have found is that God has a sense of humor, or that pride goes before a fall. Almost every time I have internally judged another parent, I find I am very shortly made more sympathetic by my own similar shortcoming, or my child falls into the same behavioral trap.

Right Said Red said...

Great Post Alicia. I really struggle with judging other mothers. I tend to make snap judgments about things, so I definitely assume the worst of other people when I should be extending mercy and giving them the benefit of the doubt. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to give your babies bottles in Catholic circles--and that is so unfair considering that you went through so many more sacrifices with all the pumping than any of us nursing mamas!

I experienced something similar to you after we lost our daughter Therese. After losing our first baby at full term, I felt very insecure in strong Catholic circles to have no visible children for the first 2.5 years of our marriage. It was definitely humbling to have others think we were without visible children because we wanted it that way.

On the other hand, I think there is a fine line to walk between encouraging others and also having strong beliefs in what are "good" ways to parent your children. For example, there are certain parenting techniques that I strongly disagree with (such as saying no to your child 20 times with no real consequence)...but its hard to balance judging the parenting technique vs. judging the particular parent in question. I think a general rule of thumb for me is that when I am around other mothers who share my Christian values--I try to ALWAYS give them the benefit of the doubt. I don't always succeed at this...but I'm working on it ;-)

Kat said...

I've been reflecting a lot on these issues of "mommy guilt" and "mommy judging" over the past couple of days - thanks so much, B-mama and Texas mommy, for leading us to think about these isseus.

I have a feeling that one of the reasons that we mothers deal with these issues is, simply, because we want the best for our families. We think so much about the details of family life, and because so much of parenting is trial and error, it is inevitable that we are going to look back and feel that we've made "mistakes" along the way. Also, spending all day with small children can be very emotionally and physically draining, so it's no wonder that we lose our cool once in a while. I think that every mother has irrationally yelled at her children, only to feel terribly afterwards - I agree with you B-mama, the key is to humbly apologize to our children and push forward!

With regards to judging others, isn't it amazing how easily it can happen?? One thing that I realize is that when parents are out in public with their children, they may not be disciplining their children in the same way as when they're at home, for a number of reasons - maybe they don't want to make others uncomfortable by making a big fuss, or they're just trying to survive this trip to the grocery store, etc. I have a friend who does the opposite - she is constantly yelling at her children in public, lecturing them loudly, making a huge deal out of everything, and I don't think she even realizes how uncomfortable it is for the other families, in part because all of the other kids are confused and a bit scared by this particular mama! I think that there is a way to discipline your kids in public more subtly, so I'm not suggesting that we let our kids get away with anything and everything when we're out of our homes...I'm just trying to make the point that the bookstore, or the grocery store, or even a playgroup, are not the best places to get a real feel for how others discipline their children.

Anonymous said...

Texas Mommy, I can really sympathize. I was unable to nurse my child for more than a few days (even though I literally had dreams about it while pregnant). I pumped for a few weeks, and then used Similac. I was able to breathe a bit more easily when a counselor whom I was seeing told me that her husband, a Caltech grad, never had a drop of breastmilk in his life. Bottlefeeding my child was a humbling experience for me, but that must be what God decided I needed at the time. By the way, I am a Princeton grad also, and I am thrilled that all of you have found a good sense of community in each other. I graduated in '97, and I have to say that life at Princeton was quite lonely for me.