It has been said before and it will be said again, but for those of you who missed it, women are their own worst enemies. Whilst I always had a niggling feeling that all was not great in the sisterhood, it was most apparent after I became a mother. The judgment, the snide comments, the comparisons came quick, laced with a film of superiority. Now, before the feminists chastise me for hating one of my own, let me state at the outset that I have great women in my life who have provided me support, guidance and great friendships. Now that I have provided a good American disclaimer, let me continue.
Once we started announcing we were pregnant, at the socially acceptable 12 week mark, our family and friends shared our joy and excitement. People asked how the pregnancy was progressing and, given the constant morning sickness I was experiencing, I honestly replied: “Awful.” I added that I did not enjoy being pregnant.
Now for those of you who are pregnant and feel this way, let me tell you this is not a socially acceptable answer. I was met with looks of “How could she say that?” or statements about the miracle of life.
All that is great and wonderful, but between the constant vomiting for nine months, the incessant peeing, the leg cramps, the backaches and the extreme exhaustion, excuse me for not being in awe of the miracle of life. Instead of the judgment or the gloating (“Oh, I didn’t vomit once, I didn’t even know I was pregnant, I carried a 20 lb backpack and did a full marathon”), what would be appreciated is some understanding, or at a minimum, a sympathetic nodding of the head.
There is often judgment passed on birth plans. Mine was rather simple: get my baby out safe, keep me alive, and when I can’t handle the pain, hit me with some good quality drugs! What I didn’t realize was there is a secret competition, with a huge prize given to mothers who have a natural delivery.
If one had endured labor without drugs, then one had extreme boasting rights. Somehow, a natural birth experience without drugs was more valid than one that used medications for the alleviation of pain.
Between you and me, there is no prize for pain, and, sadly, you don’t become mother of the year automatically! If that’s what you want to experience, kudos to you. But please don’t judge the rest of us that walk into the hospital demanding a hit of epidural before we check in!
In a time of extreme sleep deprivation and hormonal ups and downs, I would think fellow-mothers would be able to understand our plight the best.
Of course, there are a lot of questions, and, as we all know, no right answers. What works for your child may not work for others. And as new mums, we need to make sure we are surrounded by girlfriends who simply tell us what may work and then tell us to trust our instinct and do what works for us. I was lucky enough to have one such person in my life. She listened to me cry, offered some helpful advice and then, after what she deemed was an acceptable period of wallowing, sternly told me in no uncertain terms to do what made my life easier. She assured me that it would all be ok.
I think women somehow feel if they push what they did onto someone else, it validates the choices they made. So many of my female friends have confided that in those early years, they have been shamed for not breastfeeding, breastfeeding too long, co-sleeping, letting their baby cry it out, picking up their baby too much, not picking up their baby … I am sure we all have opinions on how a baby should be raised. But that’s all it is: our opinion. I am not sure how our opinion somehow got us a place on a judging panel!
They say when a child is born, so is a guilty mother. Truer words have not been said. As a mum, I have played on both teams. Let me clarify. Six months working full-time followed by being a full-time mother, I have lived through the delights and perils, and sadly heard the slurs and unfair judgment calls of both sides. And to be completely honest, I too have judged without truly understanding!
A life of a working mum is exhausting. I had to get out of the door with little or no sleep, look decent, sound intelligent at work, come home, squeeze in time with my daughter, do some household chores and all this while feeling a sense of guilt that I was not seeing my child enough.
A life of a stay-at-home mum is exhausting. I must function on little to no sleep, have little to no adult interaction, deal with a crying baby or energetic toddler all day and deal with household chores, all while feeling a sense of guilt that I am not contributing financially or that I am not living up to my potential.
As you can see, the common theme is guilt. Again, this is not a math problem with only one correct answer. Think of it as a pair of jeans. What might look great on someone else isn’t necessarily going to be as flattering on you. If working means you will be a better mother, then that’s what you need to do. This doesn’t mean that you don’t like your child or are abandoning your child. And being at home with your child doesn’t mean that you are one-dimensional or that you are not spending quality time with your child. What I know is every mother loves her child as much as you do yours and wants the best for the child. So let’s call a truce. How about we don’t pass judgment at the mum in the park who is on her phone? Maybe she needs a minute to herself because she has dealt with the children all day, or maybe she is checking her email because she is on a tight deadline. Whatever it is, I am pretty sure it is none of your business.
This lack of kinship between women isn’t limited just to the parenting arena. Having been part of the corporate world for a decade now, I have observed that women leaders fall into two distinct categories. There are women managers who push their female subordinates hard so any claims of partiality cannot be made. Then there are those managers who don’t take the time to cultivate and develop their female employees as they feel they too should pave the hard path to the top. Call me biased, but I have tried to stay away from female managers. Happenstance, however, proved me wrong.
Take my female manager, for instance. On the outset, she may appear harsh. She pushes when she needs to, celebrates my victories, and chides me for my mistakes and above all, takes a personal interest in my life. I am sure no MBA curriculum would endorse her “unique management style,” but her retention rate suggests otherwise. Obviously, I wouldn’t tell my manager all of this; someone has to keep her grounded. But I do wish other women managers would see that humanizing their role doesn’t make them any less effective or efficient. Given everything women juggle, who best to motivate and understand the conundrum than another successful woman?
Wouldn’t it be nice if women could truly be happy for the success of their friends and stop the constant comparisons, the negativity, the jealousy and yes—the downright spitefulness. As for me, I have decided to judge only unpleasant behavior and to surround myself with positive women. I understand now that we all have our ups and downs, and having a glass of wine and a few laughs with girlfriends makes everything better. Banding together as a sisterhood makes it so much easier to face the battle that is life!
Having said all this, I am only too aware that it is human nature to judge – particularly about things we care immensely about. And so, when I find myself judging, which of course I do, I remind myself of what really matters. So to all the women reading this, I urge us all to collectively put down the hat of judgment, the cape of negativity and our veil of acidity and let bygones be bygones. Let us band together, to face the real enemy … cellulite of course.
Anitha Chakravarthi is a full-time mum, part-time tax specialist and a displaced Aussie finally getting used to the uniqueness of the Bay Area. She has proclaimed herself a foodie to justify her eating habits and a compulsory runner to balance out her food passion.