Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Family Criticisms: The Good Mother (TM)

It sounds like the typical baby bat cliché, "My parents don't understand me," you cry into your black satin pillow, mascara running down your chalk-white face.

There is this assumption, at least in the conservative part of the world from which I hail, that as you grow up you're to leave the trappings of your youth behind. Make that double time if you have kids. In my state, it is normal to be married by 18 and have multiple children by the time you're 26. Heaven forbid you have an interest in something other than your children or stamp collecting. You know, only safe, mature, normal interests.

I lived (shock and horror) with my boyfriend for four years before we decided to get married, Wiccan-style, at age 25. I had my first child at 26, and I was still sporting a nose ring and combat boots. I was hit hard with baby weight and postpartum depression, and quickly dumped my gothic attire behind me. Why?

  • Spit up does not sit well on velvet.
  • If it takes more effort to put on than yoga pants, it wasn't worth it.
  • Postpartum depression sucks; it makes you hate everything and makes even the simplest tasks so much harder.
  • Weight gain also sucks. It meant I couldn't fit into most of my beautiful clothes anyway.
  • Society told me I was someone's mother now. Mother's don't sport pink hair, nose piercings, and corsets, now do they?

After my husband and I nearly divorced, after a year and a half of therapy, I'm finally feeling like myself again. I've lost some of the weight I gained after the birth of my daughter, and while I'm nowhere near where I want to be, I can finally begin fitting into my favorite pieces again.

I gave away so much of my stuff to my younger, thinner, childfree friends, that I get to rebuild my wardrobe. I can't say I have any more money than I did in my early 20s, but I've certainly got more fiscal sense and can approach this new endeavor with long forgotten enthusiasm, much to the chagrin of my family.

My father is a judgmental person. He's racist. He's homophobic. He's bigoted. I didn't realize this until we became estranged. He and most of my family, save my brother and my mother, would mock, deride, and criticize everything I chose to wear. Most of my husband's family is the same way. They began to target my parenting, criticizing each choice I would make. I was told often that a Good Mother TM wouldn't wear black eyeshadow. A Good Mother TM wouldn't wear stompy boots. A Good Mother TM wouldn't wear that enormous skirt around town.

Once, my husband's grandmother said, "I bet she doesn't read [my son] real stories." The implication being that I only read my infant Dracula instead of Bernstein Bears or the Illustrated Children's Bible.

Even in my normal phase, I was often accused of dressing my children to suit my fancy. Mind you, my daughter wears a disturbing amount of pink and tutus because tutus are the bomb. My son rarely wears black unless he picks it out himself, and even as an infant the most "goth" they both ever wore was cute Halloween pjs with skulls and bats on them or those common "Rocker Baby" type outfits with guitars and drums.

As you grow up, you learn to silence your family's criticisms that play over and over like intrusive thoughts in your head (or else you attend a year of therapy to learn to do that). The people closest to us have the greatest potential to hurt us. We value what they say beyond the stranger on the street. We value their opinion, their love. It can be hard to push that aside and live life the way you choose, but it is necessary. You are your own person. You are NOT your family. They are not you. You are an adult now, capable of wiping your own ass and everything.

If I choose to dress my daughter in the pink spider jammies from last Halloween, I'm going to embrace it. She's adorable in them. If my son wants to paint his fingernails just like mom or wear a top hat like dad, I'm going to embrace it. Woe betide anyone who is cruel to my children when we walk to the cemetery to visit their uncle's grave.

Let it be known: even if you didn't express your goth side, the critical will always find things to criticize. In my normal phase this past year, I was criticized as much as I was when I dressed goth. It could be the way you gave your son a lollipop to buy yourself some quiet in the checkout line at the grocery store or the fact you barely have the energy to clean your house let alone your damn pigpen of a car. It could be that you feed your kid far too many chicken nuggets or too much organic fruit. It will always be something.

There is a difference between gentle criticism and unsolicited advice, and cruel shaming. You can't avoid the former, but you can and should walk away from the latter. You deserve to be treated better than that.  You cannot be a Good Mother TM without a little self-preservation and a lot of self-care.

My mother in law still complains about mismatched socks, but I think I can live with that. Guess what? If you're trying  your damned hardest, you are a Good Mother TM . Don't let anyone treat you otherwise.

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