Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Chiasma of Judgment

Despite my recent accolade as a mommyblogger and my honorary degree from vagina university, I am still a man. That means I am pretty dense about some heavy shit, like all the fucking insecurity and the "judgmentality" among interacting parents (particularly moms). Despite all the shit that went down a few weeks ago and all the veterans of the mommy wars banging their tin cups all over the internet, it didn't really dawn on me until my wife explained it recently: "parenting is a really fucking hard job," she says, "one that certainly makes me insecure. So we all slog through this job wondering if we're doing the right thing and always feeling terrified that we're not, and then when we encounter someone who has done some other thing, made some different decision, we take that insecure energy and turn it into judgmental hate." Now that I fully understand this subtext, I have heard playground interactions and seen blog conflict where all this runs like electric current through every passive (or not-so passive) aggressive comment. It makes sense. For many of us this is the first time in our lives that our every decision affects the future of someone other than ourselves, and that's an enormous, uncomfortable responsibility. I was reading MamaC-Ta's post from a few weeks ago about all the hate she was getting for dressing her kid the way she wants to, and I really started thinking about how all this insecurity and judgment boils down to a relatively simple chiasma:

(1) Parent A makes an intentional values-based decision to do something (i.e. formula feed, co-sleep, cry-it-out, let her baby watch television, leash or spank her kids, or feed them junk food).
(2) Parent B makes an intentional values-based choice not to do the same thing, often creating a false sense of both insecurity and superiority in Parent B, who feels that it takes so much more effort and sacrifice to make the value-based choice she has made for her child.
(3) Parent B resents (and judges) Parent A for making the "easy" choice.
(4) Parent A feels the blatant judgment from Parent B, often creating a sense of guilt or insecurity for making the choice she has made. Parent A now resents (and judges) Parent B.

In any interaction, multiple values-based conflicts may exist at once, creating a tangled web of judgment and insecurity. Nearly every values-based parenting choice exists on a continuum between two dichotomous poles. Any time a parent takes a strong position or makes a particularly "polar" values-based decision (i.e. "No TV! Only wooden toys!" or "TV teaches my babies to read! They learn so much more from their leapfrog toys than they do from wooden blocks!") the judgment just becomes intrinsic to the choice. You really can't win, unless you learn to just accept that judgment and insecurity are a part of this process, and ultimately if you have a strong sense of personal values you just make decisions according to those values and try not to ignite the insecurities in the other side. Easier said than done.

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