An Open Letter: Everyone else isn’t doing it wrong

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This one’s for the mom who goes to dinner and wants to approach every family whose children are watching a screen.

Or the one who walks in and out of the grocery store thinking “my kids will never act like that.”

And especially to the moms who have ever written an online “open letter to the moms who do X”, this one’s for you.

We get it

No, really, we do. You are the bomb-diggity when it comes to momming. The world should revolve around your awesomeness. But the world is flawed so you take every available opportunity to remind us how wrong we are.

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Wait, no, that’s ridiculous

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When you see a mom with her kids in public, there are two ways you can react.

Solidarity. You are united in your mom-ness. Whether you have your kids with you or not, you know how hard it can be to drag them into a store or restaurant. They could act like perfect little angels or spawns of Satan all within a matter of minutes. But even when they’re angels, just getting them in and out of the car can be exhausting! I’ve hit my head on our car door 6 times already today. And that was just taking the kids to school.

OR

Competition. How does she/her kids compare to me/mine? Momming is a game that can be won only by comparing yourself to everyone else around you. It sounds like the odds would be against you but you’re the judge. You can make yourself look as good or bad as you want.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good* competition. But is it really that much fun if the other person isn’t in on the game? Solitaire is only fun for so long. Then it just gets, well, lonely.

*Good competition: If someone’s not crying, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s not that you’re wrong…

…but do you have to be such a jerk about it?

I don’t always disagree with what you have to say. For example, this blog post isn’t totally wrong. If your kids are on iPads all the time, they may struggle socially in the future. I’m also a big fan of babywearing, made all our baby food and continuously harass my family to recycle. But, like this mom, I don’t need those things shoved down my throat every time I open Facebook. We’re all doing the best we can and we need to give ourselves and each other a bit of grace in life.

But I want you to know that I realize most of you aren’t acting this way consciously. You don’t get up in the morning and think “how can I make someone else feel like crap today?” Most of you genuinely believe you’re helping people by sharing your knowledge and insight. Because when you know better, you do better.

The problem isn’t that you want to help. The problem is you believe you know better. What’s best for your family, doesn’t necessarily work for another family. There isn’t a right way and wrong way to parent. And even if there were, the 30 minutes to 1 hour you spent watching a family from afar does not define their parenting. To think it does is absolutely absurd.

You suffer from the same bias we all suffer from: illusory superiority. It’s a “cognitive bias whereby a person overestimates his or her own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other persons (Wikipedia).”

Did you know that 80% of people participating in a study about driving ability rated themselves as an above average driver (link to abstract)? That’s not statistically possible! But I can relate. How many times have you driven down the road and screamed “WHY CAN’T YOU PEOPLE DRIVE???”? The problems you’re having on the road can’t possibly be because of something you’re doing. It’s gotta be everyone else.

This superiority bias carries over in all aspects of our life. We have an over-inflated sense of the abilities we possess in everything we do, including momming.

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We all have this bias but some choose to advertise theirs more than others under the guise of “helpfulness”, also known as sanctimonious.

When you see another family and think “wow, that mom is doing it wrong” or “ugh, I’m a way better mom than that“, stop yourself and realize that is your superiority bias talking. And remember that you can’t rate someone else’s parenting based on a fleeting moment in time.

Surely you can identify moments where you weren’t at your best. Now would be a good time to give those you’re criticizing the benefit of the doubt. Whatever you’re witnessing may not be their shining moment as a parent. And they probably know it. Most people don’t need help finding their failures. They need to know they’re not alone.

If you’d like to avoid sounding sanctimonious in the future, follow these steps before speaking:

  1. Do not start any sentence with “I’m sorry, but…” ever. You’re not being clever. We know you’re not actually sorry.
  2. Think about whether your intention is to help the mom you’re speaking to or to make yourself feel better as a person. If your goal is to build yourself up, be careful. Sanctimonious moms tend to think the only way to do that is to tear the other person down.
  3. If you’re about to tell another mom a story about how long you breastfed, your organic food shopping, your thoughts on vaccines, how many baby showers you had, what you registered for, or any other personal topic, ask yourself if that story will benefit the listener in any way. What are they supposed to get out of it? Or is this another story to make you feel superior?
  4. Will what you’re about to say  likely make the other mom smile, think or cry? If your answer is “cry”, stop speaking.
  5. Try to recognize your bias before you speak. Your “right way” is not the only “right way”.

As a team of moms, we need to stop looking for ways people are failing and assuming the worst. The majority of parents out there are doing their best and want the best for their kids. We need to celebrate and recognize that about each other.

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If you’re not the intended recipient of this letter but want to make sure you stay on the right side of moms everywhere, check out A Manual for Visiting a Family with a New Baby.

If you are the intended recipient of this letter and realize you need a confidence booster, check out this post from Daily Mom.