judging by the present company

{photo credit: Laura Amiss}

A friend told me recently of a capital A awkward interaction with another mom at a park. My friend stood there as this woman unloaded judgmental comments about another (not present) mom who is, gasp, still nursing her 14 month old baby.

I picture my friend twisting her toe in the bark dust, because the same is true of her. And me. And hundreds of thousand other mothers of 14 month old babies (ok, mine is only 13 months. Time! Slow down!) and yet this mother at the park thought she was safe to condescend because my adorable, unassuming, sweet friend couldn’t possibly do this thing which seems so strange to this other mother. Only the crazies do that, and she’s clearly not a crazy, right?

It always makes me wonder, what are they picturing for “the type”? Volkswagen-van-driving hippies? Werewolves?

I’ve been in this exact conversation but with vaccination choices as the topic. Judgement and lack of understanding poured from women’s mouths as we set up for a mom’s group function – O, how red my cheeks got! Yet another friend has had this happen to her about her diet practices.

In each instance we stood there wondering: Do they know that it’s me they’re talking about?

But they don’t. In these situations, the speaker(s) have assessed present company and decided that they can safely assume no one here is in that other camp. No one here would nurse their toddler, choose alternate vaccination schedules, eat Paleo, hold politically liberal views, or be a Hunger Games enthusiast. (Ok so I made up that last one.)

I don’t care what the topic is, these situations can be such a good opportunity. Truth be told, I let my cheeks get flushed and was tempted to keep my mouth shut, but I couldn’t. It’s not that I leaped into indoctrination or even began to share my reasoning behind our choices, in fact, I’m pretty sure my head was spinning and I barely made a coherent sentence. But what I did do, at first timidly but then with more conviction, was let them know that their assumption about the present company? Was wrong.

Simply by speaking up and saying “I do that.” I sent her pre-conceived notions packing.

If the speaker has wrongly assumed that the people present are a safe place to dump judgement, what else could s/he be wrong about? I think it is a powerful message to share that the stereotype they have created is not, in fact, accurate. More powerful than laying into them with studies or facts or arguments, is simply the bold statement that their entire paradigm about the situation is flawed.

Then one can only hope that the first crack in their scaffolding leads to its crumbling – an inception of sorts. Not that the person would come to hold the same views they just judged, but that they would be able to accurately see the people and perhaps even the reasoning behind them.

Mamas, ladies, friends, readers (who are friends I just haven’t met yet): can I encourage you? If you find yourself in a situation like this, stand up and be counted. You don’t have to stand up and give a speech, you don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t even have to engage if the speaker questions you (but usually they are so completely disarmed that they retract at the mere acknowledgment), but you have been given a powerful tool. Use it.

Be an iconoclast merely by making your presence known.

35 Responses to “judging by the present company”

  1. tricia

    Wowza, this was an awesome post. It’s so hard to muster the words to say something when presented with untruth and normally I stammer around but then think of what I SHOULD have said hours later. This happens to me A LOT being a pastor’s wife, young-ish mama, and someone who has a lot of interests and desires that someone in my company might not suspect of me. Thanks for the encouragement to stand my ground. :)

    • AllisonO

      You don’t have to have all the right things to say (but hi, I totally finish conversations in my head later – “GAH why didn’t I think of that!?” :) ) just making your presence known is so, so powerful. Break those stereotypes, girl!

  2. Jo

    I do that too. 18 months and counting and Harper shows no inclination to stop any time soon. Speaking up is hard but worth it for all of the nursing mamas out there.

    Thanks for this.

  3. Hollie

    Great post!! I love this approach, I’ve never tried it but definitely WILL be when the next opportunity arises. Your point is perfect!

  4. mae

    Love the heck out of this. I find it astonishing the things that people will just throw out there in what they consider to be a safe environment because they assume since they like you, you must be exactly like them. Watching them realize you’re different and yet they STILL like you and that this might be the case with other people too?!?! Is amazing.

    • AllisonO

      Yes. This. “They assume since they like you, you must be exactly like them” and then watching that lightbulb moment happen. Love that.

  5. Marlea

    i have always wanted a volkswagen van! one of those new ones? so cute! so hip!

  6. Elle

    I love this post. I already anticipate that one day I might be a mama who finds myself in dire need of the inspiration and courage to stand up and be counted in the face of judgment, and I will surely, surely, think of this post as I force the words from my guts, my heart, my throat, “I do that.”

    And I anticipate that day because I’ve already been present for these judgmental conversations except I feel crippled and unjustified in speaking up now about something I hope to do someday if I’m lucky enough to be blessed with children. “You say that now, but just wait until you actually have kids.” “That’s so naive.” “Just wait, you’ll see when it’s your turn.” “You have no idea what it’s like unless you have your own kids.”

    And I don’t know what it’s like, can’t know what it’s like. Yet.

    But I do know and can know my values.

    Yet I still feel crippled by inexperience in these conversations. “I want to do that,” doesn’t pack quite the same punch as “I do that.”

    Any advice for me, mamas? Any advice for a someday-mama on what to say? I’m all ears.

    • AllisonO

      Interesting! That’s such a different situation. You might almost be more free to share information in this case, because you won’t come off as defensive or trying to persuade people – it’s just something you’ve come across when you’ve been reading. Maybe starting a statement with “I find it interesting actually, that some mamas choose to (fill in the blank) because of (reasoning). Definitely something I will be looking into more when the time comes!”

      • Elle

        That is a great point — I have the ability to present a different perspective without worrying about coming across as defensive. Thanks, Lovely!

  7. Vanessa @ Strickly Speaking

    I had this happen to me at a wedding.

    The woman I sat beside was pregnant with her first and I *mistakenly* thought we’d have heaps to talk about. Until she started bashing midwives and talking about home births and skin-to-skin contact like it was something only the “crazies” do. She was an anesthesiologist. (Which honestly made me laugh out loud at the irony. Let’s sit a home birther beside an anesthesiologist who personally thinks every expecting woman should be booked in for a C-section, whether needed or not.)
    I decided against speaking out in this case. Not because I was shy or embarrassed by my choices but because I didn’t feel I needed to embarrass or humiliate her. In this case, I assessed that she had her views and telling her about my choices would do zilch to change her mind at all and only stood to make the remainder (read: our entire night) of the reception extremely awkward.

    I’ve no qualms about standing up and giving a voice to a different side of things, but lately I’ve tried to assess whether it’s worth it or not in each situation and with each person.

    And I think confidence in your beliefs/parenting/birthing choices comes with time and there’s a value in listening – whether you agree or not. Everyone wants to be listened to. Ask clarifying questions. Sometimes questions are the best way to show someone that perhaps a particular view is faulty or plain-out wrong OR perhaps it can help reveal some faulty beliefs that we hold!

    And I’m done now. :)

    • AllisonO

      This is great, Vanessa. Good reminder that “everyone wants to be listened to”. It’s hard, I’ll admit, when what they want you to hear is attacking something you believe in, but your story and words are filled with such grace. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Molly @ Little Stories Everywhere

    This has happened to me so many times before in regards to breastfeeding. I certainly don’t hide the fact that I’m tandem nursing my 12 month old and my 2.5 yr. old, but I don’t wear it around my neck either.
    I guess I’m confused as to why so many people care so much about my personal parenting choices! It’s baffling to me!

  9. Nicole

    Isn’t it amazing how so many people have opinions and want to force them on other people? Our family are co-sleepers and I hear it from everyone how wrong it is and how I am ruining my kids.

    My own “best” friend laid into me one day about my vaccination choices and how what I do for my own kids is wrong, and when she’s a parent she is going to make all the right decisions for her kids…

    That’s right, you read that correctly, she ISN’T even a parent yet! But she feels she has the right to preach to me.

    I guess I am one of those lucky people, I will speak my mind in a heart beat!

  10. Maggie

    At the same time, others’ judgment does not give us permission to judge them or their decisions, either.

    • AllisonO

      Not at all! It shouldn’t turn into a them vs. us thing; that’s the mentality we’re trying to avoid. It’s not because the speaker may choose not to XYZ that I think someone should speak up, but simply because it’s an opportunity to bring truth and light to the situation.

  11. Kara

    I am SO glad you wrote this.

    Before I became a mom, I was placed in a situation where several women were joking about “those moms” who co-slept, wore their babies, did extended breastfeeding, etc. Not being a mother yet, I didn’t have much of an opinion on the matter because I honestly didn’t know much about attachment parenting or any style of parenting, for that matter. But now that I am a mom to a wonderful 4 month old, I find that I have naturally become one of “those moms” that were the butt of many jokes and criticisms.

    I’ve received the dirty looks at the grocery store when I wear my baby. I’ve had people tell me I hold my baby too much and that I am spoiling him. I’ve felt guilty about letting him sleep in our bed with us. Guilt!

    But we just need to stick to our values and what works for US and our CHILDREN. Thanks for reminding me that I need to not only speak my mind, but also be gracious towards those that have different parenting styles than myself.

  12. Megan

    Love this post, Allison! What sage advice for being of Godly character in awkward situations.

    P.S. My son nursed until 19 months and I loved every minute!

  13. Rin

    Well said.
    Btw I’m totally with you on the nursing a 14 month old.

    I also get people dishing dirt on Christians in my presence assuming that because I am not a raging lunatic I am not
    One. To my shame I find it too easy to let that one slide.

  14. robyn

    O, Allison. I like you. Thanks for this post. I haven’t had a situation like this recently, but I know that when I do have them, I’m usually too scared/lazy to speak up. Sometimes I do speak up (and I kind of surprise myself). But, I really need to be more consistent. I sometimes tell myself that plenty of other people walk through this world unafraid to be themselves and say what they want. Why should I be timid? I shouldn’t be. God didn’t give me a spirit of fear. Thanks again.

  15. Annie

    I like this. You are so right in that we do not need to give all the reasons and a speech. Just a simple, “I do that” will do. Sometimes it feels like I cannot say anything because I need to say everything. Thanks for this reminder!

  16. Lindsi

    I nursed my oldest for 20 months (was also 5 mo pregnant!) and my second for 22 months. I had one person who had a child the same age as mine say to me “I can’t believe you’re still nursing!”. I looked at her and said ” I can’t believe you’re NOT!” Totally shut her up :-)

  17. Jenny

    The world would be more interesting if all women were open to the choices others make and how it works for them. When confronted with a differing opinion, I often find myself saying ” I hadn’t thought that way before, I am interested to know what has brought you to that perspective?”. It can lead to some interesting dialogue and better understanding. My children are now all “launched” but when they were little I ran my own business successfully which allowed me the joy of working in something I love and being present for all of my kids schooling and activities. I can not tell you the number of times I heard ” if only the working moms would”… said to me, assuming I was not one just because I was at an activity. It was a good chance to practice learning and growing.

  18. Andrea

    Being a mother is one of the hardest things on earth to do when we consider all of the choices we have to make. I feel incredibly overwhelmed by it all when I try to start researching all of the “options” I have to choose from. I have more than once felt worthless as a mother because I had trouble breastfeeding, because I didn’t look into vaccinations before my kids got them, because I let my boys cry it out from time to time. I often wonder why women feel so apt to make judgments about anything that’s different than what they do. I suppose it comes from the attitude of “I am a woman, therefore I have an innate ability to mother, therefore all mothering must look like mine”. Thankfully, I was given some really, really good advice early on in my new-mother days: “Respond to and love your baby. Whatever you do, respond to him and love him.” I repeat this to myself when I feel like the black sheep. I repeat it to myself when I think someone else is a black sheep. I try to remember that all babies are different, all women are different, and that all I need to do is respond to and love my babies. Seriously, it helps when your cheeks are burning and your throat is tightening up. And, I agree, a simple admission that “I do that” is a wonderful way to show people that loving a baby looks different for every mother.

  19. courtney @ larking.

    Everything Andrea said. Being a mother is hard! Let’s start offering a helping hand to each other rather than the middle finger (because, honestly, that’s what it feels like sometimes). Great post! And such a perfect image to go with it :)

  20. JuiceBox2Go

    Yeah, I did that too! And I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I hope I get another chance to do it again. :-)

  21. Brandy

    Ha I am totally the one to speak up in this situation. Sadly, it is usually so I can watch their faces contort with the “O Really?…shit!” face. But more often than not, I even speak up for other people I know. “She doesn’t let her kid watch TV. She isn’t a saint” was a comment once. I then told them of a friend who had made it work with her family and how it was a reward for her child and how he didn’t stand around whining for TV all the time. That made her go “well that makes sense. I hadn’t thought of it that way” I am always the one of “do whatever works”. It is not to say I have judged someone either. There are some things I think are backfiring in some parent’s choices…but I never assume the person I am talking to is one way or another…just saying I wouldn’t do that particular thing. They can do whatever they want.

    Great post!

  22. Meredith

    I am sick to death of all the judgement spewed around out there! This post was so lovely and spot-on! I don’t even care what the specific issues are any more–just let me parent my kids and you parent yours. It’s so needless and exhausting to judge all the time…

  23. George

    Ah, tell me about it. I’m nursing my soon-to-be 17 month old. Also in public, whenever he wants some, really.
    And I live in a country that is much more pro public nursing, but many thinks mine is too big anyway.
    If anyone says anything, I’ll just (try my best) to say something like “you know WHO recommends nursing the first two years?”.
    I always think it’s fun when they realize I am one of the “crazies” even though I’m not, because I’m like them. And all. Their faces rock.

  24. Bill Olson

    I love your last statement. Of course, many women feel obligated that it is their job and duty to other mothers to advice them. However, many people still don’t realize that their advice can also be rejected and ignored. They might feel offended but they are not the ones at the receiving end.


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