For some reason, I open myself to a lot of criticism from the people in my life.
I’m not entirely sure how it got to that point. Maybe I overshare, as in I tell people way more information than they need. Or possibly I have let people believe that I’ll take it. (I think it’s a little of both.)
It’s always about the weirdest things too. Like who criticizes someone for bringing chips and salsa to a party? I’ve been criticized for that one twice (“Heather it is rude to bring something unless you are explicitly asked.”)
Every time I feel criticized or judged, I just stop doing the thing to try and make them happy. That doesn’t make me happy, but then neither does being criticized all the time. It’s lose-lose.
The ironic part about it though (and ironic is putting it extremely nicely), is that those people then turn around and do the exact, same thing.
The person who criticized me for bringing chips and salsa to a dinner brought a tray of dried fruit to a party we threw several years ago. She had not been explicitly asked. Unlike her, though, I didn’t give a shit.
I stopped talking about how much crime has gone up in my community, even though it factually has, because someone told me our town is great and I should be grateful and shut my mouth. Several people chimed in.
That person now – apparently – wants to move out of my town because of …wait for it… how much crime has gone up.
I stopped sending out handmade or paper birthday invitations for my kids’ things well in advance, and I just started texting everyone a week or so beforehand. Because I was told it’s a little much to expect people to remember things more than a week out. And because it makes people feel bad about themselves when I send out old fashioned paper, or homemade invites. Things I did of no consequence to others made them feel inferior.
In the last week we have received three handmade or paper invitations in the mail, all 8-10 weeks out, none of them for special occasion type things like weddings, all within this town. Two from people that used to criticize me for doing it.
It’s so not like me to do this, and yet for YEARS NOW it’s exactly what I’ve done. I started caring too much about what other people thought. And rather than blow it off and be me, I changed everything.
Only recently, I realized that the real crux of it all was when someone judged me up and down – publicly and without relief – for being a stay at home mom. And others chimed in then too. For the years that she and others openly went off on me about how stay at home moms are lazy and have it so good; after she in particular berated me for at least 15 minutes about how she could never do that and find meaning in her life (a sentiment many of the people I know, unfortunately, share), I started looking for a way to mediate that one too.
When the truth is, all these people are totally and utterly full of shit.
But this stay at home mom thing really hit me hard, and it’s taken close to six years for me to really and truly stop caring so much about all the comments and the bullshit.
I don’t know if it’s just here, in California, where everyone’s opening line at a party is “so what do you do?” Or if it’s an American culture thing. But every time someone asks me that dreaded question, and I respond that I’m “just a mom,” I get a look. A look and then a pause and then a “well…that’s OK…” and a swift change of subject.
The whole concept that someone who is just a mom is worthless and contributing nothing seems very foreign to me. Raising the future generation seems to be the single most important job on the planet. Without it, all the other jobs don’t happen quite as well. And sure, there are a lot of moms that do other things and are also moms, and they are great too.
But really now.
When I left graduate school in 2010, it’s true that I was planning to soul search and meditate and do all that hippy shit 20-somethings do when they find themselves and redefine their lives. But no matter how much I tried my hand at other things, the only thing that really seemed even remotely fulfilling to me was raising my kids.
Now, six years and a lot of criticism from the outside world later, I’m OK with that.
I have spent time and money and effort and stress and worry and a lot of heartache trying to do other things besides being a mom, though, all as a reaction to this idea that being “just a mom” is not enough. And at one point, I even tried to mom so hard just to prove that “just a mom” was OK because look at all this other shit I’m doing!
Really. Why do we have to keep justifying our existence and place in life?
I go without all the time so I can be “just a mom.” I have never been on an exotic vacation; in fact, since I decided to be just a mom we haven’t been on a vacation other than to visit family. I don’t get my nails and eyelashes and hair done as regularly as most women. I wear Gap Outlet-brand yoga pants most days of the week and carry a purse sold in the clearance section at Target.
My list of financial, emotional, and personal sacrifices is huge, much larger than the above paragraph. But do I or anyone else really have to list these things off to make things right and explain ourselves when people start criticizing?
And…if I – “just a mom” – or someone else – “a [fill in the career] AND mom” – wanted to spend to have any of those things, can we not just fucking do what we want without comment?
For years now, I have met that “just a mom” look and pause with my own self-criticism of what a mom should be. Every time someone questioned it, I responded with doing more to justify my existence. I baked more. I cooked more. One Christmas Eve, at my husband’s family’s annual Christmas party, I must have brought 10 desserts. Not one. Not two. Ten. (Okay probably five.) I handmade Christmas gifts that year too. Every. Single. Gift. Have any of you heard that joke: why buy it for $7 when you can make it for $92 in craft supplies? That year our Christmas budget was blown ten times over.
But I got criticized for it too. No one wanted my desserts. Other people wanted to bring desserts too and here I brought some and now theirs may go in the trash. Everyone thought I had done too much. It wasn’t said in a sweet, saccharin way either. It was seriously and tersely instructed: “Heather stop doing this.”
So I did. But now you guys get the conflict: if you are “just a mom,” you aren’t doing enough. If you are doing a ton of stuff, you are wrong and doing too much.
That’s when I started looking for things to volunteer in. So that when people said “what are you doing this weekend” I had a laundry list of busy activity, besides just taking my kids to tennis or making dinners and cleaning the house. And yet every time I was at one of those volunteer things, or sitting in a meeting for my volunteer work at the local art center or the neighborhood watch group, I could not stop thinking about the remorse I felt over missing one of my kids’ things. I didn’t want to miss their things or them to do this other crap. I still don’t. Yes, I want to do things for myself. Be in a book club. Get my nails done when they’ve just gone too far…
But otherwise, I really and truly want to just be a mom.
I also want to be who I am. When people ask what do I do, I want to say I’m “just a mom” and then talk about things that make me who I am other than that. And those other things are OK too…a philosophy graduate who still years after grad school reads voraciously and thinks about esoteric ideas while standing in line at the grocery store; someone worried about the crime fluctuations where I live; someone who makes birthday invitations by hand for her kids; someone who always brings a bag of chips and a bucket of salsa because a) it’s polite to bring something, and b) who doesn’t love chips and salsa? What I do does not define me necessarily, anyway. Being a mom and being unemployed by choice does not mean I lack substance.
It’s so hard to be a mom, whether you work or stay at home; and I think all the other stuff comes as an extension of that. You are held up to so much judgment and varying opinions, and suddenly everyone on the planet thinks they have the right to foist their comments and criticisms on you. Even people that aren’t moms, themselves.
Anything you can do, I can do better. Especially if I previously thought that what you were doing was wrong.
Here’s the thing: people like to judge and criticize, until they are in that position themselves. It’s like the old joke about how great of a parent you were before you had kids. In the last couple of years I have changed so much about who I am in response to people’s criticisms, and that was the wrong thing to do. Now the scores of criticizers doing those very things themselves makes that all the more clear to me.
Just the other day, I learned the most striking of news, that was like the ultimate moment of clarity which turned all of this on its tail: the person that used to criticize and judge and vehemently lambast me for being a stay at home mom …wait for it again… is becoming a stay at home mom, herself.
That was about the only wake up call I needed.