“I think I was too harsh with her?” a friend of mine asked after disciplining her daughter for misbehaving while we were out. The question was loaded. “It shouldn’t matter what I think. Do you think you were too harsh?” was the answer I quickly gave. Her face was puzzled. I knew she really wanted me to tell her that no, she hadn’t been harsh and had done the right thing. I actually agreed with her actions and explained in more detail to her why I reacted the way I had to her question. Why? Because I am tired of the judging.
The constant need to explain that to people who butt their noses in where it doesn’t belong. There is constructive criticism, and there is downright judgmental and cruel behavior. Most of it coming from fellow mothers, and I am tired of it. How can I teach my own child to not be a bully when we adults do it to each other over something as personal as parenting styles?
Every day there is another article out about how we parents are doing something wrong. Breastfeeding versus formula feeding. Cry it out versus co-sleeping. Vaccinate versus anti-vaccinate. Then there is spanking and the way to discipline. I think that everything has become a mish-mash of conflicting opinions as with the advent of social media, everyone can have a voice that carries far and wide.
While it is a wonderful thing to have instant access to so much information, for the mommy wars, it has several drawbacks. No matter the generation, the minute a person becomes a parent, the feeling of vulnerability is there. That is where the village would step in to help; close family and friends would help the mother and father transition into their roles as parents. I am sure there was a lot of unsolicited advice given, and conflicts therein as well. But the amount of interference was probably much different as everyone most likely knew each other.
In our societies now, we are often amongst strangers. In restaurants, at the park, shopping, riding the bus, etc. The people we are around have no idea about anything about us or our children outside of what they see in that moment. How on earth can anyone truly get an idea of a person and their parenting skills by judging that one moment? Then writing about it as so-called advice? But it happens, every single day. Sadly, even among those who know us but see us infrequently.
On one of my visits back to Michigan, my friend and I rented a room at a hotel with a water park to spend the night with our mutual kids, both the same age. It was a nice way to let the kids play while we could catch up, given that we only saw each other once a year if we were lucky. Everything was great until the following morning, when my then-3-year-old son started one of his epic tantrums that included throwing the contents of our suitcase all over the room. An old pro at handling him in these moments, I gave him two choices of a way out of his meltdown. I let it go for about two minutes, and knew from experience that it would just get worse. So, I grabbed him and gave him a little spank on his bottom, as I had threatened to do two minutes before. He shut up, and put on his socks and shoes.
The mood in the room turned remarkably chilly, and I felt my friend’s eyes bore into my back. What was the tantrum about? He couldn’t even remember, as most toddler tantrums tend to be for other reasons than what they actually start out screaming about. In my son’s case, I knew he was flustered and over-stimulated at having to share a hotel room with two other people. The whole night and day had gone so well, I knew that he was just at the end of his rope. We were leaving anyways, and I knew that once he was calm and in the car we could and would talk about it. My friend avoided eye contact with me as we loaded up our respective vehicles, said awkward good byes, and left. What in the world had just happened?
When I checked Facebook later, I was mortified to see her post several articles about spanking and how damaging it is to children. I sank into my chair. It was a major passive-aggressive attack leveled at me, and from someone I considered a good friend. It took me a while to analyze this, and piece together several things to make me heal over this issue.
First, my friend lives a very different lifestyle than we do. She works from home, travels little and indeed doesn’t go many places because her daughter is very active. So, her way of not spanking and her discipline style can easily be accommodated with her lifestyle. I have to travel with Eren, many times on plane trips lasting 15 hours or more. We live in a country where cars do not watch for kids on the street, nor stop for pedestrians. There are many safety hazards all around us here in Turkey. I need to know that when I say, “Stop!” that Eren will immediately listen and stop in his tracks. So far, he does.
While the cost of this may have been a few spankings, I would rather deal with the fallout from that rather than him getting hit by a car or getting lost in the airport by the mere fact he didn’t listen to me. I shouldn’t have to justify this to anybody. Nor should my friends have to justify their ways to me. I did see that friend again, but felt incredibly stressed. When I needed to discipline my son, even just talking to him, not spanking, I felt the need to pull him in the bathroom stall to converse in private. No telling what passive aggressive article she would feel like posting after this meet-up.
As people we will judge one another, but we have to learn to pause before making a full assessment. You don’t know someone’s journey until you have walked in their shoes. Especially with parenting. So I told my friend who was wondering if she was too harsh with her daughter that she doesn’t need to prove anything to me with her way of disciplining her child. She knows her daughter best, and she knows what will work best for them in that situation. If she needs my help, she only has to ask and I am there. It’s not something done for the benefit of strangers to either compliment or criticize.
Unless I see a child really in danger by being shaken or severely beaten, I mind my own business. Smacks to the bottom shouldn’t be something that alienates two moms that were once close friends. So often we think that just because something works for us, it has to work for everyone else in order to validate our decision. These attacks on one another are a mask we wear over our own vulnerability. For moms, it has the potential to tear us apart one friendship at a time if we let it.
Elle Loftis is an American expat, writer and mother living in İzmit.