Bunnies or Goldfish? My Choice Is Not a Criticism of Yours

Do you ever feel like motherhood is a competitive blood sport?

— -- Editor's Note: This originally appeared on the blog Mom Upside Down, which takes the form of a correspondence between two mothers on opposite coasts as they navigate parenting. Natalie Ward is a mom of two from Seattle, Washington.

Dear Courtney,

Do you ever feel like motherhood is a competitive blood sport? Do you ever feel like the other moms are constantly watching you from the corner of their eye, checking out your stroller, your diaper bag, your discipline, your kid’s snacks and clothes and toys and, and, and.

I feel it. All the time. And I’m totally, 100%, over it.

Until I realize I’m not. No, in fact, sometimes I’m an active participant, in an almost subconscious way.

Example: Not long ago I was on a zoo date with another mom and her two munchkins. At lunch I pulled out juice boxes for my kids; she pulled out water bottles for hers. Immediately I felt self conscious. I began to stumble around and explain, “I probably should make mine drink water too. We don’t do juice often, but we had these left over from that party… actually my kids almost never drink juice; I know it’s just full of sugars. Just on special occasions…” I felt a need to defend myself and those dumb juice boxes lest she question my family’s nutrition. A little part of me worried those water bottles made her better than me, and I made the (stupid) assumption that she would judge me for that juice.

You know what they say when you assume. (Makes an ASS out of U and ME– in case you don’t know :) )

Then it happened again at the pool, only in the reverse. Bugaboo really wanted a bikini, but she has a long torso, so when she tried one on, the distance between the top and the bottom was like a mile of exposed skin. There was something about it that looked really inappropriate, waaaay too sexy for 4, so I said no. I bought her a tankini instead and told her she could have a “real” two piece when she’s older. The first time she wore it to the pool she was crazy excited, and while I smeared sunscreen on her, she jabbered the whole story to the woman on the next chair. No sooner did Bug finish her tale then the woman’s daughter walked up sporting an itsy bitsy, teeny weenie, purple polka dot bikini. The woman looked at me and started yammering on about how conflicted she’d felt when they bought it, how her girl had really wanted it, and didn’t I think it was cute and not too revealing?

I wanted to scream from the roof tops, “My choice for Bugaboo is NOT an implied criticism of you and your choices! You shouldn’t feel bad. You do not owe me an explanation! I am no better than you. Your choice is yours; my choice is mine.”

Today at the park, I had a conversation about this post with two other moms. They both agreed there’s an unspoken competition among mothers; they both had examples of times they felt judged or criticized because someone else was doing it differently. One of the women commented on the range of parenting in Seattle (and probably everywhere), and she confessed she keeps both Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies and Goldfish Crackers in her house; which snack she packs is determined by which friend she’s hanging out with. Utterly ridiculous. Except when got home, I realized I have both too!

So right now, to you and all other parents, I want to say this: as long as you’re not harming your child or doing something illegal, you don’t have to defend your parenting to me. Do you feel good about your decision? Or did you feel good, until you saw that I made a different one? If yes, then stand proud in it. Give your kid juice. Let her wear a bikini or eat whatever cracker best suits your family. Do not feel bad or judged or critiqued because my family does it differently. Chances are we also have different histories, values, goals, relationships– we’re making our decisions from different places.

In our family we buy organic milk and non-organic strawberries (even though I know they’re one of the dirty dozen); we don’t spank; we go to church; we keep our midriffs covered; we eat some refined sugar; I breast fed– and used a little formula, we use disposable diapers, we’ve been to McDonald’s, more than once; I made my own baby food; we never used a toddler bed or safety rails, we started time outs at 18months, we eat gluten, I buy all my kids’ clothes on clearance or second-hand; I don’t work outside the home; we may send our kids to private school (even though I was a public school teacher); someday we may let our kids dress up like cowboys/girls, revolver and all, and I honestly, seriously couldn’t care less if my kids eat bunnies or goldfish– if you really think about it, both are a little creepy!

If you do something different; I just want you to know, I’m cool with that. No judgment. No criticism.

These are my choices; I feel good about them, and I’m done defending them. I encourage everyone else to be done too!

****Update**** There is a sequel to this post. You can read it here.