You ask me if I had a C-section or a natural delivery. Didn’t you want to try a VBAC? you ask. You find out if I bottle or breast fed, and if I gave the baby a pacifier. On her very first day? You want to know if I cloth-diapered (and ask with your eyes if I preferred to clog up landfills).
I try to answer casually, nonchalantly, but I see it. The quiet judgment. Or, sometimes, the not-so-quiet comments that you slip into the conversation.
You want to know about how much screen time I allow. How often my kids are allowed a treat and how many grams of sugar it contains. You raise your eyebrows ever so slightly when I mention that I fed them chicken nuggets for dinner. No, they were not made from scratch and no, I didn’t check if it was made by a non-GMO company.
You ask about baby “enrichment” classes and after-school activities, about her socializing skills and his reading competency. You want to know how their elementary school rates in the system and finally cave in to your curiosity about how they did on their standardized tests. Did he make the swim team? Did they make the cut?
Or are you really asking if you, dear mama, make the cut?
I know what you’re doing, but I still get a little prickly. My answers are defensive. I try to justify myself, throw in a self-deprecating joke or two. Like I need your thumbs up. Like my validation comes not from the raspberry-scented hugs I get at bedtime, but from this game we play.
Who are you kidding, mama? Do you even believe the perfect mom exists out there? We all know that perfection is a never-ending chase after the wind.
What if you ask me different questions instead, questions that change the narrative.
Ask me if, like you, I’ve been overwhelmed. Undone by the raw emotion of it all. Unsure about how I could survive the next day, or even the next hour.
Ask if, like you, I’ve been desperately lonely at times but also wanted everyone to disappear so I could have just five minutes alone?
Find out if, like you, I’ve felt like the worst mom who ever lived because she said something she could never take back. Find out if, like you, I’ve need to get on my knee, look my child in the eye and say I’m sorry.
Find out about the inexplicable joy that comes from watching perfect baby eyelashes resting against soft cheeks.
Find out about the bubbling over of contentment that comes from wrestling with my toddler on the rug or watching her play in the sprinklers.
Ask how proud I was when she stood up for her friend who was bullied or when he picked that bouquet of dandelions for his mama.
Ask about my struggles and joys and fears and failures.
Give me the space to be vulnerable. Give us both the space to be honest enough to rewrite the story, to find a more refreshing narrative of this shared journey of motherhood. Where we stop guarding our camps so fiercely, where we step out of our boxes to say “me too,” where we give up competing for connection.
Let’s ask questions that really matter.
How are you doing today, mama?