Monday, October 12

When I See A Mother, I Will Assume

When I see a mother
who shouts at her tantruming child,
who ignores whining,
who says something hurtful,
who bottle-feeds,
who grabs her child a little roughly,
who admits she can't wait for school to begin,
who hires a childminder for the weekend,
who sticks on another DVD,
who quietens her child with sweets,
whose child always seems to be crying or whining,
who reprimands the smallest 'bad' behaviour,
who smacks her child on the hand,
who uses time-out.

I will assume
that she is a good person,
that she doesn't do this all the time,
that she might suffer terrible guilt,
that she is going through a tough period,
that she adores her child,
that she desires to do better,
that she is already doing the best she knows how,
that she might have been at cracking point,
that she has little support,
that in other areas she is amazing,
that she is amazing most days,
that her choice might be what keeps her sane,
that her tactic might be saving her from doing something worse,
that this is just one moment out of many.

When I see a mother
who is patient,
who listens,
who repeats requests as many times needed,
who is calm,
that carries, breastfeeds, and co-sleeps with her baby,
who has a gentle response to a conflict,
who sits calmly with her tantruming child,
who seems unfrazzled by whining,
who plays endless games and does endless crafts,
whose child is quiet, content, 'well'-behaved.

I will assume
that she has challenging days,
that she may have had the background to support her mothering style,
that she is having a good day,
that she is supported at home,
that she has a supportive community/extended family,
that she is a natural mother,
that her child is rarely challenging,
that she has a happy and stable life,
that her child has a quiet/sunny/reserved personality,
that this is just one moment out of many.

A mother who makes a 'good' choice might be
a natural mother, she might be strong, mindful, or spineless,
she might have a naturally deeply patient personality
or avoids confrontation and intense emotions...
I have no way of knowing.
A mother who makes a 'bad' choice might be
suffering from PND, have unresolved childhood issues,
be a deeply mindful and spiritual person, believe in the parenting of her parents,
be making the perfect choice for her family...
I have no way of knowing.

When I see a mother
I will assume
that I have no way of knowing who she is
or who she will be.

a) please read the above c a r e f u l l y
b) it's not a poem, just my thoughts

As a summing up...
We can too easily feel superior. Despite our many mistakes, we judge a mother doing something 'wrong' (in our opinion) as a bad mother, without having a clue to her state of mind, history, regular days. We also quickly forget our own less than stellar moments.
When we see a mother having one of those days - send out an energy of loving support to her. You know you need it on your tough days.

The second part is about not feeling like failures ourselves. I hear mothers online feel inferior because so many other mothers blog about their crafty days and learning and loving together. We forget what we see are just glimpses. And she may have all kinds of support and resources we don't. And that mother has tough days too.

* I wrote this from the perspective of how and what women generally judge. 
What I list as 'good' & 'bad' choices are not necessarily how I evaluate them.


  1. man who knew i was a bad person for using timeout instead of beating or yelling at my child. geez amazing how judgemental we are, huh

  2. Wow, Mon, that is amazing. I absolutely love it. You have just...said it all. Brilliant.

  3. Courtney - you're not. That's my point. I hope you got that?

  4. i guess i read it too quickly but yes i get it now sorry about that. its so hard these days to not feel people are judging us for every little thing we do. i guess i took it as it being bad and i must have issues guess need to read slower!!

  5. lol, glad you rechecked. :) Yes, we are being judged. I see it every day online, unfortunately. That's why I wanted this out there.

    I think it's perfectly right to question methods, philosophies, but not people. We judge parents at the drop of a hat.

    The first part is about not feeling superior, the second about not feeling inadequate.

  6. and we never know what type of mother's we will be until we are one xx beautifully written , thankyou x

  7. This is perfect. :) Thank you Mon.

  8. Hmmmmmmmm....once again..brilliant.

    I think this all ties in with the idea that's been circulating both in my head and in the bloggy community (well, the patch I frequent, anyway) of the need for women to support one create an atmosphere of nurture rather than one of My-Way-Is-Better/Kinder/More Effective-Than-Your-Way. We are hard enough on ourselves without having the judgment of our Sisters cast down upon us....

    Anyone for a commune? :) Hmm...I said that in jest but y'know.....*grin*


  9. Wonderful again...I KNOW I have had mothers look at me as both 'types' of mothers myself, that I have in fact been both, in good and bad moments...also, I was just thinking about this this weekend when talking with my mother-in-law, who raised 6 boys - now all fascinating and very different men - using parenting techniques that make me cringe...but they ALWAYS knew they were loved, and this seems to have transcended everything's a bit ineffable, this idea of 'good parenting'...

  10. Brilliant and beautifully written. Some of those "bad" things I did purposefully - eg bottle feeding - and I was a good person because of that, rather than despite that. Some of the things in the "good" list I see as negative. We are all so different and so judging each other is ultimately unworkable. Thank you for writing this lovely piece.

  11. You had me on edge, ready to defend... excellent post. I think you could write a very thought provoking book on this topic, Mon.

    I couldn't agree more with Mel. Once again, I think that women have a tendency to waste so much energy trying to be better than, rather than helping each other to be happy, effective, evolving individuals.

  12. Mel - an atmosphere of nurturing is just the thing. Like Ruth's red tent, and more.

    Lisa - I can't help wondering at such stories. And I bring it up in conversations/forums/lists etc, how many wonderful and well-adjusted people were spanked, etc. (Doesn't mean I advocate any particular approach and I AM against spanking as an effective discipline technique), but I use it to make a point - that we can get overly hung up on methods and then judge accordingly.

    For example, my neighbour mentioned gently slapping her daughter's hand to deter her from something.
    I gently asked if it had worked and then carried on talking
    a) because the mother seemed to want to discuss it
    and b) non-judgementally, knowing she was doing what her mother had done to her and couldn't think of another way.

  13. Sarah - I agree totally, it's all down to perspective.

    Also, I wrote it from the pov of how we generally judge, rather than what I believe to be 'good' or 'bad', hmmm, hope that comes across. :)

  14. oh BRILLIANT. my especial fave - When I see a mother who is patient etc, I will asume.. that she is having a good day.

    Love it! people sometimes (not always, but hey, at least it is sometimes) ask 'how are you always so calm?!'
    my reply?!
    'I'm not!'

  15. 'Tis good to see this. Lovely. There's been few postings 'round the traps of late around parenting, theories and judgement, (yay!).

    I made the mistake recently of trying to stimulate debate around this topic, (well this was my intention) by playing devil's advocate but I'm so dismayed that I was taken so literally. Which is entirely my miscalculation regarding tone. I thought of just opening an academic-y blog and doing it strictly within that framework. There are a whole set of taboos around what we can and can't say about parenting and mothers in particular, and a whole raft of solid reasons why this has come to be this way, but it can be a bit of a Holy Cow we can't touch for fear of offending, or being seen as unsupportive or judgmental.

    As women we do need to support one another and not judge. But for me, I also want to be challenged and question my parenting choices, and look into the heart of both my choices as an individual and into an evolving and adapting culture I live in, and identify emerging patterns and movements. Particularly in terms of feminism and motherhood. Well, that's where I'm coming from anyway...
    Er...sorry to clutter your blog, goes to show you the level of dismay I am still feeling : )

  16. I had been blog-hopping recently and was centred around certain unschooling blogs. I read so many posts that exclaimed 'poor kid' that I just felt so disheartened at the lack of compassion.
    That's what sparked off my post.

    And yes Doc, as you know, I'm a questioner and examiner. Problem is, that many seem to think that questioning, examing, discussing means militancy, judgement, and drawing a line between them and others.

    It's one thing to question a method, even find it horrifying. It's another to judge an individual as 'bad' because said method.
    Not to repeat my post, but we just have no idea about that person and the WHY behind what they've done, that moment.

  17. I love this. We all make mistakes, noone knows who we really are just from one moments interaction.
    In a way there is nothing wrong with judgement, just what we choose to do with it; whether to put negative feelings with that judgement or to let it go and accept that everyone in the world comes from a different place and is probably doing their best for where they have come from.

  18. Beautiful and heartfelt post. We have no way of knowing other Mothers...and we should not judge for this reason. I have my days of being "good' and "bad." Mothering is the hardest job for me. I have little patience and even less support. So some days can be really really hard. Reading this was good for me today. Thank you!

  19. Thank you for posting this Mon! It's good to be reminded that we should assume to not assume. I think some days I'm super and other days I'm still learning. I wonder if anyone is really super mom "all the time", and if? Seriously though, I wonder how some children are so calm, while others are average tots? Is it the mothering or the child?

  20. The first two stanzas, I like. I try to assume good things about parents who are perhaps having a difficult moment. But the next two don't set well with me. If a mother is being kind and nurturing to her child, I want to think, well, I don't know, something positive. See what I can learn from her.

    But what about the mothers who struggle on a day-to-day basis from unresolved childhood issues, and though they have bad days, they press forward and be the difference that they want to see? They seem patient on the outside, but they are ready to scream on the inside? That despite being unsupported, she makes wonderful choices for her children and then cries alone in a closet? The one who plays endless games with her child because her child IS challenging and needs constant interaction?

    Don't get me wrong. I see the point of your poem. And a lovely poem it is. But I wanted to cry because it still makes me feel all alone. I try so hard to keep myself together for my child so that he doesn't have to have the kid of childhood that I went through. When people see my "well"-behaved child, they think I have it easy. BUT I DON'T! It's so hard. I feel like I could easily look like the mother in the first stanza, that's what kind of mothering my background and circumstances have prepped me for. Yet, fortunately, there is something inside me that is able to push the crap out of the way (as it keep trying to topple back onto me). Somehow, despite all the crap, I am able to mother in an intuitive way, and treat my child the way I feel he deserves to be treated. I don't even know how it is possible, but I do know that I cannot know someone else's circumstance and have no right to judge.

    Baby's calling, gotta go...

  21. Hey Lisa,

    I'm sorry you felt bad (although when we are trigegred this way it's an opportunity too, right?).

    I would say that the mother you describe (sounds like me) comes under the second part. Just because things look good, doesn't mean everything's perfect, as well as things are 'good' because she has support, whatever.

    The point of what I wrote doesn't conflict with what you're saying at all.
    Don't assume. What you see isn't the whole picture.

    Like you say, others might see a 'good' moment one day but have no idea how much work you put into it or how much inner struggle you have.

    Hopefully, as mothers, we parent for our children, not to gain approval or sympathy from others.
    I doubt anyone offline has a clue about my inner struggles, because mostly they see me dedicated to being at home and being content with my decision. They see a fairly quiet and content child. They don't know about my struggles for space, or hear her whine and tantrum.

    But I don't have anything to prove to anyone. Their misconceptions make no difference to me. If what you're saying other people's opinions/views/stamp of approval makes a difference to YOU, and that that desire causes you inner conflict, then that's an issue that could be examined.

    For now.... ((hugs))

  22. Very interesting! You´re great at creating interesting texts to debate and reflect upon.
    I agree with the notion of feeling and being judged all the time for maternal issues. But, isn´t this happening with all the people, not only mothers? Altough is true that we as a society and individuals are very demanding to mothers, we, as mothers do the same among us. And the worst judgement of me as a mother is mine.
    Motherhood is a sacred mystery.
    Let´s not feel guilty, but blessed to carry this sacred task of childbearing and let´s remember we are all doing the best we can, and keep trying to express our inmense love for our children with all our imperfections as well as our gifts and richness. Let´s be kind to ourselves.

  23. YES! That's my perspective here, everyone judging mothers, but especially mothers judging other mothers.

  24. It really took me awhile to wrap my head around this and to find the true meaning everyone else here seems to "get". I am happy because my child is happy. There are those parents I see that seemingly do everything by the "Good" book but whose children throw tantrums, get into all kinds of "trouble" and make me grateful for my little "angel". Sure he's not an angel all the time but in comparison, I am one lucky Mommy. I wonder sometimes if there is a perfect formula and how much a child's disposition or moon sign or whatever factor into his/her "personality". How much is parenting and how much is nature?

  25. Hi Jenn,

    The point is, just because another child IS having a tantrum, we ought to support rather than judge. We have NO idea why the child is doing what they're doing, or why the mother is behaving in a particular way in that moment.

    I am grateful for my tantrum-throwing, spirited, high-needs, very vocal child.
    I am one lucky mama. :)

    And yes, the nature-nurture issue is relevant. I mentioned it slightly.
    A Virgo boy is likely to be quiet, reserved, non-conrontational.
    An Aries girl (mine) is likely to be spirited, agressive, demanding, and LOUD. :)
    No child is 'better' than the other. And likewise we can't judge parents by their child's behaviour or how they deal with it that moment.

    People who have 'easy' children often feel they have it 'better'. Or that others are doing something wrong, or what they do is so wonderful because obviously it's what they do that poduced that child. How can we know?

    Some people who have it tough but have a content child, then think, 'look at me, how amazing I am for managing', how little other mothers must work at it.

    it's too easy to feel superior.

    And then there are mothers who struggle, some a little, some a lot, some alternate. And they look at calm happy fulfilled mothers, and/or calm babies and feel like a failure.
    they don't take into account the child's inherent nature, and well, everything else and more that I mentioned.

  26. hey Mon, wonderful! thank you. i thought it interesting your comment re unschooling. i don't want to make too many assumptions because i may have misunderstood the comment, but one problem i have with the label "unschooler" and being identified with it is the seeming lack of compassion that i have witnessed from some unshcoolers for other parents. because like you said you just never know what kind of day the parent in question has had.

    thanks again for writing and posting this.

  27. Yes, it's just a label and 'some of my best friends are unschoolers' chuckle
    I think it's just that we're more likely to find inflexible attitudes in the more extreme methods/philosophies.

  28. Mon, this is really good. I read the first paragraph and I was trying to figure out where you were going with it (almost fearing it was another one of those judgmental types you're talking about) and it was very comforting and healing for me to read through. The idea that someone might be giving me some extra love and support on a tough day feels so much better than feeling judged.

    I also have a strange relationship with the unschooling community. On one hand we are philosophically aligned in regards to living and learning, but on the other hand I have found myself not wanting to be labeled among them due to how they treat newcomers and those who ask questions or are transitioning in. We were life learners before we found the label and though sometimes I am so happy that there is community out there for support I do shy away from officially joining the label.

  29. Thanks for going into this in more detail Mon. This is such an interesting topic of discussion. Like you said, the bottom line is, we shouldn't judge each other and we really don't know, do we?

  30. It's funny..I find myself judging the mother in the grocery store who is yelling at her child. Then the very next time I go to the grocery store with my child, she pushes me over the edge and I end up yelling at her. Karma? Maybe.

  31. Mon, I am about to completely take over the comments here, I hope you don't mind. Last night I was actually sobbing as I wrote the last half of my comment. I can't explain why this has caused such a stir in me, but it definitely deserves some looking into, and I am grateful for anything that inspires introspection. My mind was churning last night as I lay in bed with my squirming baby, and I couldn't wait for the opportunity to write out my thoughts. I do imagine that many mothers who judge others do so as a response to feeling judged themselves. I am normally a very non-judgmental person, always looking for the good in others, usually giving them the benefit of the doubt...but when I became a mother, I heard other parents saying negative things about the types of things I was doing as a parent, and it set something off in me, some sort of defense mechanism, I suppose. Once I realized how judgmental I was being, I set myself on a quest of sorts, to try to understand why mothers made certain choices, and when I did not understand, simply not to presume.

    I don't feel that I am looking for a stamp of approval--as much as I enjoy approval (if they approve the same things I approve of myself), I do not make my decisions in order to gain acceptance of another. I make all my decisions for my child, regardless of what anyone thinks. I just feel lonely in my struggles, as though no one understands. I believe there are mothers out there, much more than there appears to be, who have inner struggles despite their outward calm appearance. But how can we possibly know? How can we know that the person we stand face to face with is experiencing doubts, guilt, anger, overwhelming love, joy, or whatever it is? We all like to wear masks on our faces to protect ourselves....

    Anyway, these words came to me. I realize you were already saying this in your poem, but for some reason it didn't come out strong enough for me:

    But when I see a mother
    whether she is ignoring her crying child
    or quickly swooping him up in her arms...
    whether she carries her baby constantly
    or regularly puts her down...
    whether she is scolding her child
    or taking the time to calmly explain...
    whether she seems content to nurse her children all day
    or seems to push them away...

    I will assume
    that she has inner struggles
    that she is trying her best with what she knows
    that she is probably tired
    that she has both strengths and weakness
    that she wants to do better
    that she sometimes feels guilty
    that she loves her child
    that she loves her child
    that she loves her child.

    I won't presume to know
    whether her child is challenging or easy-going
    whether her needs are being met
    whether she has had good role models
    whether she is emotionally healthy
    whether she has other challenges
    whether she is happy with her decisions as a mother.

    She is a mother.
    That's all I need to know.

  32. There's nothing like reframing something to make it real and authentic to ourselves. That's a lovely version.

    I'm alone here as far as my mothering is concerned, for a while not so long ago, I was entirely alone. But it's not an issue for me. I understand how tough it must be to want that particular support, and not have it.

    And you ought to know by now, look around here, you're not alone. ;)

    p.s... as an aside, I realised earlier that a few readers view my post as a poem. Had to laugh, 'cause it isn't, and as a poem, it sucks. lmao
    What you write goes out there and then belongs to the reader.... :)

  33. Oh Mon this is a lovely and very important (to me anyway!) post.
    I just spent ages typing a response and lost it and now I'm too tired (bedtime!) to type it all again so I'll just leave you with the last sentence I wrote:
    When I see a Mother, I see Myself.

  34. For some people, that's how they write poems, maybe that's why. It's like a statement in the "form" of a poem.

    Anyway, yes, I really did have trouble with the lack of support in the early months, but when I found online support, it really helped me feel like I wasn't alone anymore. It's been so much easier since, but I'm not fully recovered, I guess. Old feelings have a way of rehashing themselves, I suppose to help us resolve them.

  35. Mon, You have motivated me to start journal/blogging about this subject. It's a big one for me - not just as a mama - but more so because I am a mom. I want my child to learn how to constructively deal with judgment better than I did! Anyway, I linked to your site; hope that's okay.

    Talie & Lisa - love your versions.

  36. This is beautiful. And funny - I see myself in both kinds of mothers. Which makes me happy and makes me feel normal. Yay. Thank you!

  37. This is wonderful, I am writing my PhD on exactly this topic of women amongst women...very nice to read all the comments and to be reassured that yes, this is a very important topic that needs to be talked about.
    Thanks again for the inspiration Mon

  38. Now that's a thesis I'll be interested in reading.

    Talie - so annoying isn't it? And yet, your single sentence says it all.

  39. Oh, thank you! And thanks to Lisa & Talie for the additions. I so hope this is the response I receive the next time my spirited child throws a public tantrum! I think, though, that not caring what other people think starts with not judging myself because of my child's behavior (or my response in some cases), with being kinder to myself as a mother and allowing myself to get it wrong sometimes. And then, as you write, extending that same grace to others. Thanks for the reminders.

  40. Hi Mon: Thank you for your poem. This poem really helped me. I know that it's not the best thing for me to do, but I constantly label myself as "good mom / bad mom" (mostly bad mom), when I know that it's not useful or loving to me. I love the way that you reframed these labels.

  41. Beautifully written. Thanks for the acceptance and the reminder. Powerfully supportive.

  42. cypress sun Look foward to reading your own thoughts on this.

    Janice - that's so great it helped. You're right on in that those labels are not loving to us.

    Welcome Monica. :)

  43. I do think it's ok to judge people, without doing so I would most likely have abusive and unsupportive people in my life. Hitting and grabbing a little too hard or saying hurtful things are abusive behaviours...

  44. Hey I missed this post!! So I'm glad you linked it in your latest one.
    Yep, can never, ever assume eh...
    Background SUPPORT I really do believe contributes to the 3rd stanza mother.

  45. Wow, I loved this post when I first read it and have just now read through all the comments... Wow.

    I wrote a personal essay called "The Other Mother," and it appeared in Brain, Child magazine last summer. The essay was sparked by a family clay class we attended, where another mother consistently spoke sharply to her young son. The essay covers my process of realizing that there really is no other mother.

    Finding compassion for her actually helped me find compassion for myself, and seeing myself clearly spurred me to see that "other mother," in whatever form she appears, more clearly.

    As Talie says, "When I see a Mother, I see Myself."

    Thanks, Mon, and everyone, for this discussion!

    Oh, btw, check out these posts:
    Lay Off the Parents Already!

    The Ritual, Tribal Abandonment of Mothers


  46. Oh, hey! I just remembered that my essay "The Other Mother" was reprinted online this month by the Portland Family Magazine...

    if I may be so bold as to offer a link:
    The Other Mother, page 15. :)

    I remember you asking if it was possible to get Brain, Child over there... This version is slightly different, but here it is!


  47. That was simply beautiful! *smile* It may be an old post, but I plan to tweet it. It's to honest and pure not to share!

  48. Beautiful - something I try to do, fail more often than I want to acknowledge, and and grateful when I stay aware and awake enough to remember.
    Absolutely beautiful!

  49. I see that comment moderation is on because I'm incredibly late to this post, but this is SO perfectly said that I had to comment with my thanks.

    So, thanks! :-)

  50. Tears came as I read this and I don't know why.
    If the world were built of this compassion... If I were always this compassionate to others.
    Sometimes I build an idea and that seems more important than connecting with and loving others just as they are.
    Your beautiful poem will resonate with me for a long time.
    Oh, and I've subscribed partly on account of it &;P

  51. this is beautiful. hope you don't mind but I just had to re-post it in my blog. I need to show myself this compassion today. Thank you, thank you Universe for guiding me here!

  52. thanks for reminding me of this post!

  53. just read this first i could feel myself getting kind of defensive + then the message revealed itself as i read on. i wish i could have read this early on when i first became a parent. lana was an "easy" child + i often congratulated myself on my newfound parenting skills until boop! fordy came along + challenged everything i thought i had learned about parenting. when he was a toddler, he could literally bring me to my knees + i often felt like a single mother, with a hubby who traveled a lot, was going to school + working many hours + no family nearby. we weren't without memorable + tender moments, but it was sometimes very stressful. so thank you for the beautiful reminder to try to understand + reach out to mom's who may be having a hard time. sometimes a kind word + a smile go a long way :)


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