Last week, mommy blogger Kara Gebhart Uhl issued a public mea culpa: she published a blanket apology for judging other moms before she had kids of her own.
Uhl recalled her smugness with humility in “Apologies to the Parents I Judged Four Years Ago,” which ran on the Huffington Post:
I thought things like I would never have children who would behave in such a manner in public. Or, Doesn’t she know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV until the age of 2? Or, How can he possibly be feeding his children that crap? Has he not read any of Michael Pollan’s books?
And what’s worse, now that I’m a parent, I realize internal smugness isn’t so internal. As a parent, I know when I’m being judged. I can sense it, even when nothing is being said out loud. It’s in the look. The double-take. The whisper to the companion they’re with.
As a matter of thumb, saying “I’m sorry” often serves to defuse a situation. But in Uhl’s case, her acknowledgment that she had looked down on a mom at Kohl’s pushing a screaming toddler, a friend who let her kids overdose on Nick Jr. and a parent at the park who hadn’t packed “an organic, free-range, all-food-groups-represented, no-dessert lunch complete with sandwiches cut in cute little shapes, who instead fed your children chicken nuggets, cold French fries and (gasp) chocolate milk” opened the floodgates for a nation’s worth of maternal angst.
More than 1,700 people commented on Uhl’s post, including one mom who wrote:
I have 4 children and feel I have been an awesome parent. There are times i feel I have also been a terrible parent. We all have — and if you don’t believe it, just wait till they grow up and tell you about it. As parents we all do the best that we can for our children, with what we know and where we are at the moment…I don’t have time to focus on other parents’ shortcomings as I am too busy trying to correct my own. I think many people would do well to do the same.
It’s hard not to judge others. More often than not, though, might our judgments be rooted in our own insecurities? We all want to be good mothers, good parents. But what defines a good mother is pretty subjective. Does it hinge on buying organic apples (they do, after all, top the list of the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen”)? On signing our kids up for Kumon? On leaving our precious bundles with nannies instead of dispatching them to day care?
Few have tapped into this vein of thinking like Valerie Stone Hawthorne, a mom of 3½-year-old twins who just happens to hold a doctorate in cancer biology and cell biology and who is pretty handy at making wickedly satirical videos lampooning modern motherhood. In 2010, her cartoon “Why I Can’t Make Mom Friends” tackled the same phenomenon to which Uhl has pleaded guilty. “She struck a nerve because everyone has thought like this,” Hawthorne says of Uhl.
At the time, I described Hawthorne’s clip like this:
In the video, two moms meet at the playground. One, a mom of twins, shares that she stopped breast-feeding after a month because it was too difficult. The other, a mom of three, responds: “That is a shame. Your poor children.”
“They are just fine,” replies the first mom. “They are in the 90th percentile for height.”
“Mine are in the 95th,” counters the second mom.
As an earnest new mom, Stone Hawthorne would troll mommy message boards only to get beaten down. “No matter what I was doing it was always wrong,” she says. “You know, if you don’t hold your child a million times a day and attend to his every need, he will grow up dysfunctional.” A researcher, she read scores of baby how-to books to determine the “right” way to raise her children. What she’s discovered is that there is no right way.
Uhl has discovered that same truth. Eventually, one hopes, we all reach that point. But not many of us have the chutzpah to pen a public atonement.