Why do moms judge?

Most of us have been there. Remember that time, before having kids, when you watched a toddler throw an epic fit in the middle of a crowded restaurant, and wondered why his parents couldn’t control him? Or maybe you glared at a mom feeding her baby formula, judging her because she wasn’t breastfeeding. Maybe you have strong feelings about whether moms should work or stay home.

When I was pregnant with my son, I had a slew of ideas about the kind of mom I’d be. I’d breastfeed, cloth diaper, and work part time from home. My son would be a vegetarian until he was old enough to decide whether he wanted to eat meat, and he wouldn’t watch TV. I’d be patient and crunchy and present.

And then reality struck.

A difficult birth, months and months of punctured sleep, and a baby who wouldn’t stop crying.

I realized I had no idea what I was doing, and parenthood was far more complex and layered than I ever imagined. As I got to know other new moms, I saw how many different ways there were to parent. I met moms who worked full time, moms who stayed home full time, and plenty who fell somewhere in between, patching together a schedule that worked for their family. I met moms who breastfed for years and moms who didn’t.

There’s a universe of space between the parent I thought I’d be and the parent I am. Seriously, you could fit Pluto in there. That space is filled with all the things I didn’t know at the time – the intense, strong-willed personality my child would have, the way I almost lost myself in early parenting, the fact that pepperoni is one of the few protein-rich foods my son will eat.

With all the parenting ideals that I’ve dropped or compromised, I judge other parents less and less. And yet sometimes, I still find myself mentally criticizing others.

So why do we judge?

When I study the times I feel most judgmental, it usually has to do with some area in which I feel vulnerable. For instance, if I feel guilty for buying store-bought Valentines instead of crafting homemade ones, those parents who made elaborate Valentines could become an easy target of my judgment. Not because it really matters one tiny iota what type of Valentines our kids hand out – or even if we do them at all – in the grand scheme of things. But because when I feel insufficient in some way, I’m more apt to judge others.

Other times, I judge when I feel conflicted about something, when my instincts rub up against deep-seated beliefs, or something I’m trying to change in myself. I might judge someone who smothers their kids and says they don’t want to spend any time away from them, because though I know that for me, time and space away from my kids is healthy, part of me still buys into the myth that my children should be the planet around which I orbit, constantly, tirelessly, and to the exclusion of all else. And it’s easier to judge someone else than to sort through my own beliefs to find my truth.

Parenting is one of the least linear journeys I’ve ever been on. It’s full of zigs where I thought there’d be zags. I’m coming to accept that at the end of the day, if my children have food in their bellies, are relatively clean and know they’re loved, the day is a success. And unless I see you outright hurting your child, physically or emotionally, I’m going to assume you’re doing okay, too.

As parents, we need each other. Most of us are trying like hell to be good parents, despite the constant mixed messages we get about what makes a good mother. The last thing we need is judgment from other women – or ourselves. While I can’t stop all of the thoughts and snap judgments that burst through my busy brain, I can take the time to reflect on where they might be coming from, and assess whether there’s something within me that I’m feeling insecure or conflicted about. When I’m at peach with my own parenting, I’m much less likely to judge yours.