Why Are We So Worried About What the Next Woman Is Doing?

Like Britney, I did another “oops.”

I watched Parts I and II of the “Love & Hip Hop” Reunion Show for this past season.

So I was right there–chin on the floor–with hundreds of thousands of other viewers–wondering what the hell Amina Buddafly was doing, showing off a baby bump with Peter Gunz’s other baby-mama, Tara, sitting on an adjacent couch, nine months pregnant her damn self.

And I had so much to say, too–about how disturbing it was that these two women, who are clearly of age, and ostensibly intelligent, would continue to not only have sex but have children with this man that clearly has issues with fidelity, honesty, and sensibility (but certainly not fertility).

But I thought about it.

I stopped judging and making mental comparisons between their decisions and my decisions (“I mean–I would never . . .), and I really thought about why I was so invested in these women’s lives. These women that I have never met. These women that are not kin to me. These women that are grown and entitled to make their own decisions.

These women that have never asked me–not one time–to help them pay a bill or care for any of their children or give them any sort of help living their lives.

I realized then that this is what we do, some of us. We use social comparison to enhance our self esteem. We make decisions that we think are sound–that we think are “good”–and expect to be rewarded for these decisions in some way.

We build our confidence and concepts of ourselves on our ability to make these “good” decisions–on the foundation of all the “good” decisions we’ve made.

We get into this mental feedback loop of thinking “I make good decisions, so that makes me a good person.”

Then, when we see someone make a different choice–or an opposite choice–from one of ours–we secretly start to question the content of that “good” decision. Especially if that person seems to be enjoying a life that is as “good” as ours.

We may even get shaken by that–the fact that their “bad” decision hasn’t resulted in totally negative consequences. We may think “I did all of that [whatever ‘that’ is], and for what?”

We may even resent the person whose life we’re watching from a distance because he or she seems to be getting away with “murder” in a sense. Because even having made a “bad” decision, he or she seems to be doing all right.

And to process these emotions, we get self-righteous. We draw bold circles around them and slashes over them–make them into the “bad” group–so we can feel good again.

All of this to gratify ourselves. To cultivate some level of acceptance or appreciation of the amount of self-control, self-denial, work, and, yes, pain it took for us to carry through on our own decisions. To make these things feel like they were “worth it.” Particularly if we feel unsure that they were, in fact.

Let me give you a more specific example. I hate when people talk in generalizations, but I’m talking in generalizations right now.

So let’s take, say, women that shame other women for having abortions–something that happens all the time–especially on social media–in America.

Now, I understand men trying to force women to have children. And that’s not an overstatement. Approximately 282 new legal restrictions have been placed on abortion in the US since 2010, and the majority were proposed and passed by male political leaders and legislators. The rationale for this is arithmetic, not calculus: White men don’t want minorities to outnumber white people, minority men want their manhood reified in a society that perennially emasculates them, and powerful men want women in the traditional roles of mother and/or caretaker because it justifies the glass ceiling (mothers miss more work so they deserve lower pay and less power).

What I couldn’t understand–for the longest time–was women–people that understood how hard motherhood can be–begrudging other women when they exercise their legal right to opt out.

Notice, though, I used the past tense in that last sentence; I said “couldn’t understand. But I get it now.

Mothers are supposed to be paragons of love. They are not only supposed to love their children more than anything else, but they are also supposed to love motherhood more than anything else. That’s the ideal.

Our culture judges women that do not claim to adore motherhood, or do not seem or seek to excel at motherhood, as the absolute worst kind of women. They are even worse than whores.

Because we stupidly believe that having the anatomical capacity to mother means you should automatically have the emotional or psychological equipment, too.

We also pretend that a lack of money or support shouldn’t make a difference in how difficult motherhood is.

We know better–many of us from firsthand experience–but we still judge ourselves and other mothers by impossible standards because of what we’ve been taught (by religion, tradition, media, and other women).

All women are supposed to want to be mothers. So if a woman gets pregnant accidentally, she is supposed to see this as fate and go through with having the baby, willingly, happily.

Fuck what stage of life she’s in. Fuck how much money she has. Fuck the nature or quality of her relationship to the father. Fuck her mental or emotional readiness. Fuck her true desire to be with child or remain childless. Fuck her essentially. She is not important in this so-called “equation.”

It becomes about the baby as soon as the baby comes into existence. Never mind that the baby can’t even exist outside of the mother’s body before five or six months of pregnancy. Never mind that the baby can’t survive outside of the mother’s body for another two or three years without total dependence on the mother or different adult caretaker.

All women are supposed to want to be mothers. This is what a lot of women tell themselves.

And so, if they get pregnant accidentally, and in unfavorable or unfortunate circumstances, they go through with the pregnancy.

They fight through the myriad struggles of unplanned pregnancy or single pregnancy or high-risk pregnancy or teenage pregnancy or drug-addicted pregnancy or pregnancy in poverty or pregnancy by rape or reproductive abuse. And then they fight through the myriad struggles of unplanned, unprepared, or perhaps even unwanted motherhood. And then, either subconsciously or in absolute earnest, they want that effort to be rewarded. Perhaps they even need to feel rewarded.

I’m not judging here, either. I think all mothers want their parenting effort to be rewarded. And understandably so.

If you’re doing the job even halfway decently, it has to rank in the Top Five of the hardest shit you’ve ever done. It’s beautiful, but it’s brutal.

Women that are trying their hardest to be healthy mothers want that effort to count for something; they want to be recognized for doing what so many other women won’t do. They want some sort of light shone on them for embracing such a dire, endless, and so often thankless task.

Again, I get it. I’m a mother. And I’m one of those mothers. That wants to feel like I did a very important thing by having my baby. That I am doing something important and maybe even divine by raising her.

But I’m also a mother that pledged not to be disingenuous about motherhood–how hard it is and how encompassing it is and how–I’m taking a deep breath of apprehension as I admit this–troublesome it can sometimes be.

I used to have a blog on which I wrote strictly about motherhood, and, in a post from 2010, I said this:

Even though I am completely gratified that M is already showing signs of that she will be as bookish, inquisitive, and assertive as Mama Bear, the fact that she isn’t your typical two-year-old in terms of intelligence or force of personality is presenting challenges on two fronts.

One-discipline. Even though I can “talk” to her about what I’d like her to do (get into the tub, pick up her room, eat her veggies), and she nods and even repeats my ideas back to me, doesn’t always mean she does what I’ve asked. Because she is so keyed into her wants, so accustomed to having them met, and so fearless when it comes to pushing back against anything that makes her angry or uncomfortable, M is just as likely to not do what I’ve said as to do it. And sometimes her refusal just isn’t an option. And I have to act.

I am really ambivalent about it, but I do have to admit that I have begun spanking her when she flatly refuses to do what she needs to do. When there is room for choices or alternatives, I allow them, but when her safety (“Hold mama’s hand while we walk through this parking lot”) or well-being (“It’s almost 10pm. Time for bed”) are at issue, I make the call and require her to fall in with it. If she can’t be convinced, then I give her some good ol’ fashioned coercion. But I’m conflicted. I am.

One of the things I said to myself when I found out I was having a daughter was I would help her to discover, appreciate, and use her power at as early an age as possible. My early childhood was idyllic, but my preteen years and adolescence were marked by bullying and boy craziness. I was run by everyone and everything except my own wishes for myself and my life. I don’t want that for her.

I don’t spank often or for every offense, but each time that I do, I wonder whether I am inadvertently teaching her that her wishes will not or need not be respected. I worry that I am actually showing her how easily her power can be taken, and making it seem pointless for her to assert it. This fear, of course, is counterbalanced by the knowledge that she is a toddler and completely incapable of knowing all that she needs to do to remain healthy and even happy at this point in her development.

So even as the pendulum swings left then right, I can’t seem to move forward with any sort of certainty about how I should discipline my strong-willed girl. I continue trying to reason with her as much as possible, persuade her in the instances when I can, and nudge her in the right direction when she refuses to go on her own. But the fact that I am not convinced that spanking is the best way–her sweet little face crumpling in the aftermath–does make it difficult.

The second issue is linked to this one: toilet training. Even though I have been asking and urging and even sitting her down on her beloved Elmo potty off and on for the last six months, she has absolutely no interest. Even though she finds the mess and awkwardness of diapering “too yucky,” she still says “no, thank you” every time I invite her to skip it for a nice, sanitary sit-down on the throne. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when she so adamantly and politely refuses. Although, I must say, giggling is probably not the best response. I know.

All of the literature that I have read on the topic say don’t force it. Her doctor says don’t force it. But this voices of being drowned out by all of the old school black mamas in our lives that say a baby should be toilet trained by two at the latest. M will be three in August. We’re already getting eyes rolled and tongues clucked at us. She is oblivious, but I am feeling the pressure. And the expense of diapers, the inconvenience of changing someone as active and assertive as she has become, doesn’t make it easy to ignore the admonitions.

Also, I would like to put her in day care within the next few months. She needs the socialization. But I am afraid to make a stranger responsible for her toilet. I worry about everything from the person’s slovenliness to his or her pedophilia. Still, I think that going to school in diapers and seeing kids her age go potty might be just the encouragement she needs. Again, I’m stuck as to what’s the right move to make.

This last year has been the most challenging of our time together. My little baby has become a little person, and she is a strong one. I have had to learn to step back, shut up, and let her be who she is. Yes, this early. And I have also had to learn that even though she is bigger and more capable, she probably needs my guidance more now than before. These are the years in which the foundation for who she will be for the rest of her life will be lain. I want it to be sturdy and able to serve her well. I don’t want to smother her spirit with rules and rigid expectations, but I don’t want to give her the freedom to grow into a person that cannot function effectively in the various systems that make up our society. I want her to enter into these systems and change them, improve them, not become grist for the mill.

So I weigh these heavy decisions. I try to be wise and think forward. I try to prioritize her health and happiness rather than my own ease. I pray that I am doing the right things and that they are having the desired effect on her mind, heart, and spirit.

I know I’m blessed that these were the only problems I was dealing with at the time, but I think the sentiment is consistent and similar for all mothers.

We mothers–most of us–are breathing, sleeping, and eating worry about our children and striving to do the best for them.

The work we do as parents varies in its degree of difficulty depending on the unique challenges that our children face, but what doesn’t vary is the fact that it is difficult. It is work. And some of us really do struggle to do it.

And since that’s true, how can we begrudge those women that say “Not me” or “Now now”?

How can we say–in truth–that they are wrong to want to choose this work–or do it on their own terms–when it’s such crucial work?

I don’t think that there’s anything that women need more than the support of other women in this man’s world. This world that perpetually misunderstands and misconstrues what it is to be a woman.

I don’t think that there’s anything that women need more than the space to be themselves in this world that wants to dictate their bodies from hairstyle to toe nail color.

I don’t know why we need our decisions to be validated by other women’s decisions so desperately, but since we do, I suggest that we get what we need this way.

Trust the women in your life to know what’s right for them, and let them pursue that without censuring them.

Your religious salvation or whatever it is you hope to secure by making “good” decisions cannot be jeopardized by the actions that another woman takes for or against herself.

Feel, think, or believe what you want about abortion or polyamory or same sex marriage or interracial marriage or breastfeeding or birth control or spanking or cohabitating or whatever and live that truth out in your life.

Don’t inflict your emotions, thoughts, or beliefs on other women in such a way that it makes them feel bad about their choices.

You know how that feels–how hateful it is–how it sucks the joy out of you.

Don’t be that woman to another woman.

Be better than that.

And if you can’t feel good about your choices without belittling or deriding another woman’s choices, then re-examine your choices, because most likely they came from outside of you.

Maybe you did what you did because it was expected or you were pressured or scared to do what you really wanted or needed to do.

If that turns out to be true, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t get down on yourself. It won’t help.

Understand that some choices can be altered. Those that can’t be altered can be endured, especially with help. Help can be found if you’re honest about needing it and open up to accept it.

You know what I’m saying?

Be yourself, but let the next woman be herself, too. For the sake of sisterhood.

It cannot take anything away from you except needless anxiety over something that you cannot–and shouldn’t even want to–control.

It cannot stop you from doing anything except maybe staying stuck in circumstances that you can–and probably should–change.




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