Disclaimer: For simplicity sake, this article uses words most commonly associated with a female biological caretaker. This does not mean fathers or adoptive/foster/step parents do not feel the impact. Please feel free to imagine whatever role parenting may look like for you. Also, this reference does not in any way imply or excuse abuse or neglect in parenting. Abuse and neglect do have an impact on child development and behaviors and this article does not mean or intend to diminish those experiences.
Human beings are meaning making creatures.
Stop. Read that again.
Human beings are meaning making creatures.
What does that really mean? It means that at many times in our lives we become all wrapped up in a magical (and sometimes terrifying) three letter word. W-H-Y.
We want to know why the sun comes up, why cows make milk but pigs make bacon, why one kid looking at the other results in WWIII, and why our favorite sports team struggles to pull it together in the playoffs.
The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying.
We want to know why so we can know what causes things to happen AND be able to predict and control those outcomes. The "why" helps us feel safe.
Since the begining of classically known psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud, we come to the first easy target. If a problem is a people problem, why not go straight to the source and blame the human creator of these people. Hi Mom!
It is as if growing a human and then helping said human not die throughout childhood means a mom has magical powers that also extend to mind control and Jedi force to curb all those pesky uncomfortable behaviors.
Is the child a picky eater or having trouble getting along? Well perhaps the mother breastfed too little or too much, the stay at home mom was too accomodating and the working mom was too absent or vice versa. Even within moms themselves, we blame other moms when we see a child behaving in a way that leaves us feeling distressed, upset, or even inconvenienced.
Blaming moms for all their children's behaviors makes us feel safe.
We tell ourself "if we don't do it like that mom did", then our child could never possibly have that behavior that we aren't comfortable with or are embarassed by. By blaming the mom, we tell ourself that we are in control and that our kid would never act that unpleasing way. We lie to ourself so we feel safer in our families and our own little worlds.
The lie itself wouldn't necessarily be harmful to us in the moment because this magic answer gives us a sense of certainty. This isn't our problem and couldn't happen to us so no need to look further, just go about the day.
Yet this default actually really does hurt us AND the "other" moms.
These "other" moms are likely overwhelmed by their own kiddo now feel isolated and cut off from their supports at a time they are needed the most. They start to question their own abilities, even their own identity. A sweeping wave of anxiety and depression may begin to be regular visitors. And doesn't that just help us be the best parent we can be? Nope.
We have struggling moms drowning in the parenting ocean and we don't thrown them a life preserver because we are so afraid we just might fall in or get pulled down.
Then our bubble bursts and our child has a behavior or response that makes us uncomfortable. Susie slaps Jimmy. Kim says a cuss word in class. Joey sneaks out of the house to go to a party. Suddenly, our kid has a behavior we don't like and may not even be sure what to do. And then we fill in the parenting Mad Libs and it is all our fault. Enter the parade of parenting guilt, shame, overwhelm, and explosion.
Now we have children with behaviors we don't know what to do about---we feel we have lost control. Then we have emotionally overwhelmed parents we want to make ideal parenting decisions who feel like they have to wrestle for control or just give up.
There are no winners in this game.
Let's fix that.
The next time you see a behavior in a child (or adult) that bothers you, take a step back from the judging table for a moment. Instead of asking, "why does this kid think it's ok to act this way", change your question.
I wonder what this person is trying to gain from this behavior.
I wonder what need this person is trying to meet.
I wonder if this person knows how to meet this need any other way.
Instead of blaming the mom for this behavior, ask the mom if there is anything you can do to support her.
Sometimes she may decline or say there is nothing you can do. She may even say that what is going on is not as much of a problem for her as it is for you.
Maybe she is so happy that her child is making loud noises in public because her child has struggled to say or express anything verbally.
Maybe she just needs to be seen and acknowledged that sometimes parenting is really, really hard.
If you still have feelings about the child's behavior, then it is not about the mom anymore it is about what that behavior means to you.
Does seeing a child have a tantrum in a store stress you out because it reminds you of a time when you were a kid and didn't know how to tell your mom what you needed? Then when she didn't meet the need you began to believe that your needs didn't matter or that people don't love you as much............
That's right folks. When we have a button pushed about another mom or a child's behavior the reason it bothers us is usually more about us than it ever is them. So be kind to those other mamas out there, call your therapist, and be on the path to feeling safe without having to control the world around you.
When you heal yourself, the world (and mothers) don't seem quite so bad anymore.