Friday, February 1, 2013

Why we judge

I'm going to be brutally honest: I judge other mothers.

I do. I try not to, but despite my best efforts I still find myself comparing myself to others, and not in an approving way. It's usually in the can-you-believe-she-would-do-that kind of way that, despite never being uttered aloud, still has the power to injure and scar — both of us.

I don't want to think less of other mothers, especially because I know firsthand just how hard motherhood is. I also know that I have my own share of less-than-perfect moments, and I'm sure I've been judged in those times myself. Perhaps more contradictory, whenever I find myself mentally criticizing another mother, I am usually also silently giving her props for doing the best that she can and hanging in there. I am truly as conflicted as my thoughts.

I've been thinking a lot about why I do this, because I really want to understand how this keeps happening. Last year I made it my New Year's resolution to give other people the benefit of the doubt. Put simply, it was hard. I am nowhere near close to accomplishing this goal with any measure of perfection, but the pure fact that I worked on it the entire year round and made marked progress qualifies it as successful. I feel differently about other people, and I find myself being more kind than impatient, which is huge. However, this whole mommy-judgment thing I've got going on puts a serious kink in the works — but I think I may have it figured out.

We put others down in an effort to make ourselves seem greater. This is no secret; every armchair psychiatrist knows this. But looking further, I've found the reasoning behind it: We do not know how to properly appreciate ourselves, and we do not live in a society that looks kindly on this kind of behavior.

"Pride" is a dirty word in our culture. When someone is self-congratulatory, we have a slew of words for them, none of them positive. We call them stuck up, self-absorbed, vain, cocky, full of themselves, high and mighty, arrogant, and more. 

Somehow we have gotten it into our heads that the socially-acceptable way of speaking about ourselves is to be self-deprecating to the point of being self-defeating. We have been conditioned to be humble to the point of rejecting the slightest bit of praise and denying that we did anything special. 

And somewhere along the way, we believed it.

It seems so clear, then, why we judge others: It's the only socially-acceptable way of giving ourselves any credit. In fact, it's probably the only way we know how of saying anything good about ourselves — only we're not actually saying anything good at all. Instead of saying, "I love that I still make it a priority to get dressed and do my makeup," we find ourselves saying, "How can she go out in public looking like that?"

Think about it. When was the last time you said, "I was an awesome mom today"? Or maybe thought, "I worked really hard on this, and I want everyone to know how proud I am." 

But what about the last time you said or thought, "If she posts one more Facebook status about all the awesome-mom things she did today, she is getting un-friended." Or what about, "Who does she think she is, bragging about that? What, like she deserves a medal or something?"

More than likely, if you had any of the first set of thoughts, they were immediately followed by some version of the second, wherein you vowed not to be "that girl." So instead, your accomplishments went unnoticed, you went on believing that you don't contribute anything meaningful, and the next day you silently condemned another mother for her supposedly shameful actions in the grocery store while mentally patting yourself on the back for being so good at this motherhood thing — despite your own children whining in the shopping cart next to her.

It's a problem, all of it, and I want to make it stop. I'm not going to allow myself to be self-defeating anymore. I am going to be proud of my accomplishments, and I'm going to accept compliments — and I'm going to offer them. I am going to believe that I am a good mother/wife/friend/writer/all of the above and I am going to believe that others have that same capacity, despite whatever unfortunate moment I happen to catch them in.

Because it's not enough just to be proud of myself, though that's a really big start. I have to root for others, too. Only this time, I'm not going to be silent about any of it.

If another mother brags about something amazing she did, don't mentally roll your eyes; give her props. Then go tell someone else they did something great today. Then proudly proclaim something awesome you did yourself. Do the same the next day, and the next. Keep it going. It's the only way to silence the negative voices — the ones out in the world and the one in your head.

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