I think as moms we can all recall a time when someone—friend, family member, random old lady in Target, or indie goddess on Instagram—shared some advice or judgement that made us get in our car, lay our head on the steering wheel, and cry. We do not cry because they were trying to help and it wasn’t received well, we cry because they aren’t listening to our hearts, our pain, our side of the story.
These ladies that tear our mama hearts to pieces in one sentence or post fall into three categories: Karens, Susans, and Jessicas. Oh, and a quick plot twist for my readers, each of you probably have fallen (or could currently be filed) into a category or two yourself. Lets learn about these ladies and how you can avoid becoming one.
Karens are only around to tell you what you are doing wrong. They are here to say things like:
“Did you really give up breastfeeding that fast?”
“Why doesn’t that baby have socks on?”
“I never would have let my baby have sugar so young.”
You know, really encouraging, build-each-other-up type of stuff. Yet somehow when Karen’s bob swings, your mama heart sinks a little as you wonder what of the awful things she said to you is true. Maybe I did give up breastfeeding too quickly. I mean, I could have pumped an extra 20 minutes every feeding to see if that helps. NO, MAMA. Stop. Is your baby healthy? Happy? Fed? Then you are doing fine! There are always going to be Karens around to tell you what you did wrong. What you could have done better. How THEY did things.
WARNING: You may be a Karen if you give unsolicited advice to random mamas passing you at the grocery store. KEEP IT TO YOURSELF. Unless some stranger looks across the baby food aisle and asks,”How old is yours and what did you feed them at six months? I’m so lost,” then grab those organic fruit pouches, smile at the fellow life givers on aisle seven, and MOVE THE HELL ON.
Susan’s are worse than Karen’s in my opinion. ANYONE can turn into a Susan in simple conversation. Your friends, sisters-in-law, coworkers, even your own mother can turn into a Susan in the dangerous world of small talk. I think that Susan doesn’t intend to be hurtful. She has a 50-year-old script (or a social media fueled opinion—Jessica, I’m looking at you) that they constantly revert back to when talking to mothers.
Susan: How is the baby sleeping?
Susan: Well, if you would let him cry, he would learn to self-soothe.
Susan: Is that formula?
Susan: Well, I read on Jessica’s facebook that breast is best because of antibodies and blah blah blah.
Susan: You know, babies that don’t wear hats get sick.
You get the point. Susan is just saying what she THINKS she is supposed to say or what she thinks you need to know. Here is the scary truth… we have ALL been a Susan in a conversation with a mom. Maybe it was before you were a mother and you didn’t know any better. Or maybe, like me, you became even more Susan-ish as your mom ego soared.
When I had been wearing my Super Mom cape around two months—well, let’s be real, those first two weeks I didn’t even wear a shirt and there was more than likely some type of bodily fluid on me at all times. Let me start again: When I had been wearing my Super Mom cape for around a month, I started into a conversation with a pregnant mom friend of mine. It went something like this:
Me: How are you feeling? That last trimester SUCKS, huh?
(Notice how I answered for her? SUSAN.)
Her: I actually feel okay. My feet are swollen and my back hurts, but it’s not too bad.
Me: OH, I WAS MISERABLE. But my second trimester was a dream.
Her: Oh yeah. Second trimester was worse for me, I was exhausted, but I was working more then.
(About this time I whipped a symmetrical, round, perky boob (RIP) out to feed my son.)
Her: Does it hurt?
Me: It did at first, but I think we are getting a hang of it. You’ll see when she is born. It’s not bad once you get the latch right. Make sure while you are in the hospital you talk to the lactation consultant as much as you need to.
Her: Oh, me? No. I’m not going to breastfeed. Straight to formula.
Me (Susan): WHY? You know, it is SO much better for her and it really isn’t that bad. Honestly, I think it is easier than washing bottles and SO much cheaper. Do you know how expensive formula is?
WOOF. Even just typing this, I want to call her and apologize one thousand times. See, it doesn’t matter what reason she gives for not breastfeeding, the ONLY loving response is to understand and listen to her. The only thing we as mothers want out of our mama friends is a no judgement zone. We are already getting all the nuggets of motherhood wisdom we need or want from doctors, Karens, and Jessica’s Facebook feed, we don’t need it from our friends too. That means ditching the Susan script and asking questions rather than giving advice.
How do we stay out of Susan territory? LISTENING. Ask people why they feel the way that they do. Open your ears and your heart before you open your mouth. Tell her how hard that must be or ask another question, and then—wait for it—LISTEN some more. Stop picking up your Susan script when conversation gets hard and empathize, relate, and validate.
We all have that one woman (or multiple, in my case) that we follow on social media that seems to have it all together. Their house is clean despite the four kids under six, they have the BEST eye for vintage furniture, and all of their children wear perfectly clean, neutral linen rompers.
Listen, we all put the best of our worlds on Facebook, Instagram, whatever it is. No one is posting pictures of the pile of laundry that has been growing in the bathroom for two weeks, a video of the fight you and your husband had about the dishes, or the trendy boomerang of your kid spitting up all over the already stained t-shirt he ran around in all day. Social media makes us WANT people to WANT to have a life like ours.
Here is where Jessica starts getting tricky, though: when we see her life and start to dislike ours. When instead of seeing the inspiration behind that beautifully color-coordinated Instagram, we let it breed discontentment in our hearts. We start to think, Well, Jessica can keep four kids clean, has a tidy house, keeps stains out of linen rompers, has time for a date night, makes individualized organic sack lunches with reusable bags, and has time to take the dog for a four mile run by herself. What is wrong with me? Why are the dishes piling up? Why does my baby always seem to have some mysterious food item on his face? Why am I not good enough?
Ever heard a Susan say, “No one is going to love you until you love yourself”? Or something like that. Well, social media will ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS make you feel like a bad mom if you do not learn that being a good mom is not defined by the pictures on your feed. Only you can define what a good mother is. No, really. Sit down and write out what being a good mom is to you. (Do this without the help of your social media.) Here is mine:
Kind, even when it is hard.
Empathetic, even when it seems trivial (I know you want to play with the kitchen scissors and it makes you sad that you can’t, but you are one and you will most likely impale yourself and die).
Playful; I want to play every day, not looking at my phone and handing toys back and forth.
Focused on what I need to do to give him the best life possible.
Purposeful, using each day to its fullest, thanking God for the blessings, and teaching about our Savior at every opportunity.
Your “Best Mama” may look completely different than mine. It might be a paragraph or an essay, a scribble or a feeling. But no two will look the same. And no Jessica can take that from us. Also, I am not my best mama every day or even most days some weeks. We are human, innately broken and sinful, and perfection is not obtainable. Learn to let things go and just try to check a few things off your list each day. Wake up the next morning and try again!
(My one disclaimer: There are some basic rules to being a “good” mom. You know, like not being a trash human. Shouldn’t have to spell it out for you.)
We as mommas want people to connect with us. We want someone to validate us and our parenting choices, to tell us that this is just a season and life will get better. We don’t need any Susans or Karens to give us advice or let us know what we are doing wrong. We do need Jessicas for inspiration and good tips, but never to take the place of Jesus, the only person we should be striving to be more like.