I had just solidified my place in what seemed like a great mommy group filled with smart, professional women who regularly met at a neighborhood toddler play class.
As I positioned my son’s stroller along the back wall and leaned over him to unfasten his seat belt, one of the new moms in the group stood over us watching. Suddenly, she let out a horrified, "Please tell me that’s not Cheetos dust on your son's hands!"
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I felt a red hot flush come over my face. His little toddler paws were covered in the telltale bright orange powder; there was no denying what he’d been eating. I quickly fumbled for a wipe to clear away the mess, not to mention my maternal shame, and slinked quietly into the class, hoping I wouldn’t be cast out of the group as the failed mother who (gasp!) allowed her child to eat junk food.
Snide comments about your parenting -- what you feed your child, how you handle a public tantrum, where you choose to send your child to school -- can feel deeply personal and hurtful. If you are new to the job of mothering (or even if you’re not), you know that a well-placed criticism can cause you serious self-doubt about your parenting skills.
It’s the rare mom who never experiences self-doubt. It’s one of the occupational hazards that come with being a mom. So how do you know if you’re actually being a good mother? Figuring out what works for you and your kids and learning to trust yourself is the best way, experienced moms say. Here’s how to tune in to that self-confidence and own your Supermom within.
Parenting as a Spectator Sport
My Cheetos incident left me feeling inadequate. What kind of mother feeds her kid processed food that leaves an orange stain? But after the shame subsided, I was outraged. Who was this woman to openly chastise me for the choices I made for my son, no matter what they were?
"Motherhood has become like a spectator sport," Jen Singer, mom to two preteen boys and founder of MommaSaid.net, says. "People feel free to comment on other’s parenting skills. Throw into the mix the Internet and it all goes downhill from there."
Singer has written two books filled with real-world parenting tips -- her latest being Stop Second-Guessing Yourself -- The Toddler Years -- that use humor to remind moms they’re likely doing a better job than they think and, just maybe, we’re all taking ourselves a little too seriously. She says that today's bar for motherhood seems impossibly high.
Deborah Linggi, a communications consultant from San Diego and mother of a 5-year-old son, says the competition among mothers in some circles is palpable. "It used to be," she says, " that Supermom went to work and had kids and kept the house clean. Now it’s trickled into, ‘I breastfed until my kid was 20 and now feed him only organics, take him to piano, soccer, and oh, by the way, I’m a size 6 and my hair always looks great!’" The expectations for moms are unrealistic, she says. Yet we all know women who appear to be meeting them.
Singer suggests that moms looking to gain confidence about their mothering arm themselves with a dose of reality. Comparing yourself to that one perfect mom who seems to be able to do it all is damaging and not a worthy goal. "Supermom is faking it. She is very good at propaganda," Singer says. "The mom who looks completely put together and is baking 100 cupcakes for the school while running the fund-raiser and her own business is exhausted. She’s either employing some help or she’s about to fall apart. You don’t want to aspire to something that is impossible to maintain."