When the May 2012 issue of TIME Magazine was released, the cover photo of the mother breastfeeding her 3-year old caused an uproar.
I remember myself, childless, making some snide remark like, "...ha, if a kid is old enough to ask for it, they need to be weaned..."
Welp. Here I am, still offering my toddler breast milk, and she can most definitely "ask for it."
The whole point of this is not about attachment parenting, breastfeeding, or when it is or isn't the right time to wean.
The whole point of this is actually love.
I see moms making choices that differ from mine, everywhere. Sifting through bruised produce in the supermarket, hushing their babies in the back aisles of church, treading water beside me in the pool, documenting their day-to-day on social media; they are birthing, feeding, clothing, and teaching their children in ways that I wouldn't. And instinctively, (human-like, at best,) ugly judgements claw their way to the surface of my thoughts.
I seem to always excuse these feelings by saying,
"I'm all for breastfeeding, but it needs to be done this way..."
"I get bottle feeding, but only if it's necessary..."
"Co-sleeping is great, but only makes sense in these situations..."
"Screen time can be educational, but it should only be allowed at these times..."
"Pacifiers are life-savers, but they should only be used this long..."
Et cetera. Et cetera. But this, but that.
I found myself putting my support for others' choices in a box. I was only sincerely accepting the choices other parents made if it fit into my expectation of how they should be done.
"I am such an accepting, supportive woman....
but I am actually really not."
Truth be told, these judgements that rise up are only my own insecurities turning themselves inside out.
It is easy to say my profoundly studied, earnestly contemplated way is better than yours. It is easy to say my daughter is thriving because of the choices I have made as a mother. It is easy to say my way is the best way because my way has produced a brilliant, healthy, happy little girl.
It is hard being so passionate about motherhood, and believing so deeply in your intuition, only to say, I might just be wrong. It is hard to admit that my way is not the only way to produce a smart, happy, healthy, and thriving human being. It is hard to chase those judgments to the wayside, and tell them to take a hike. It is hard not to compare, to compete, and to keep tally, only to find yourself participating in a war you never agreed to be a part of.
It is hard until you have been the mom beneath criticism.
On a late night flight (the first of an international move) from California to Tokyo, I had the six month-old baby with the loudest cry on the plane, for the entire duration of the flight. The air pressure hurt her ears, and she wanted everyone around us to know it. People glared our way, mumbled disgust under their breath, and shoved their fingers in their ears. Their discomfort was clear, and I was mortified. I know they thought I should be doing more to quiet my wailing baby. I know that it didn't matter why she was crying, it was my fault because I was her mother.
I will never forget what happened when we landed. Two kind, older women who were sitting behind us -- witnessing it all -- stood up, smiled at us, and talked gently to my girl. I could feel love in their voices as they tried to get her to smile, and a wave of relief washed over me. They were only coo-ing at my daughter, but it felt like they were actually saying, "don't worry about them, you're doing okay."
And right there, before the slow herd of deplaning could begin, standing with my head ducked beneath the overhead compartments, pressurized air breathing down my neck, desperate to escape judging eyes and pity looks, I realized this:
When making an observation of other parents' choices, or deciding, even, to form an opinion on said choices -- I am either choosing acceptance, or I am choosing animosity. There is no gray area. The two cannot coexist.
We are all different, us moms, and the choices we make will reflect that difference. But in the end, we are all fighting the same fight, right? This motherly love stuff... it is universal.
I know this.
We all know there is no weight in our arms more ample than that of our children. We all know how it feels to have your heart leap into your throat when you hear the cry that means your baby has been hurt. We all know what it is like to have one arm welcoming the evolution that happens in our children as time passes, while the other arm is tugging back pleading with the years to slow down for just a second.
We all want our children to have full bellies. We all want our children to be safe, to be protected, to have a bed to sleep in each night. We want them to have opportunities to be educated, to reach their potential, to be healthy, to be happy.
We all want our kids to love, and to feel loved, authentically and abundantly.
And the only way to do that is to love.
I do not believe I can teach my children to love, completely, if I am simultaneously casting judgements on people who are no less deserving of mercy than I. And while I know there is a difference between an edifying observation and a callous judgement, there is little to no difference between making a callous judgement and being a bully. And none of us want to raise bullies.
So let us all join hands, Kumbayah style, and uplift one another instead of belittling one another. Let us celebrate our differences instead of criticizing them.
Let us teach our children to find unity in acceptance. Let us teach our children the significance in grace.
Let us teach our children that there is power in love.