Trite Stereotypes Plaguing Community in Motherhood

By Jillian Lankford

Dedicated to the Pod Squad

trite adjective (of a remark, opinion, or idea) overused and consequently of little import; lacking originality or freshness.

I have been lucky to experience motherhood under the brim of many different hats. Sporting the ‘working mom’ fedora, the ‘stay at home mom’ baseball cap, the ‘depressed mom’ hood, the ‘happy with everything mom’ beanie. Even the ‘do it all wring-leader mom’ cowboy hat. Each hat has a significant stereotype. Most of these stereotypes are outlined by tradition. Others have manifested from society’s insecurities and have been projected on to us in false advertisements. Leading moms to be under generalized and hyper specified. I ask myself, why can’t we just be moms? Why must we wage our looks and income, beliefs and privilege to be part of a motherhood community?

I have worn each of these hats and have found my needs are the same in every one of them. Two extra minutes in the shower, an uninterrupted night of sleep, an afternoon without tantrums, an extra cup of coffee, being able to leave work at work so I can enjoy my littles at home. In each hat my most desired need has always been the same; support. Look for the mom that says to herself “I can not be the only one feeling this way, I know other parents are knee deep in the chaos of parenthood and living in uncertainty, lacking confidence just as I am”. So why is fitting into a community of other moms/parents like, totally, a high school game.

Members of motherhood beware. You will be forced to rank other moms. Sizing up each other to dumb down motherhood for comfort and convenience. Desperately searching for enriching community and acceptance; unless you take a stand.

My often reserved personality has been triggered by the immature ways, I’ve noticed wearing these different hats, moms of every type have had fight to fit in. Fending off judgement and hoary traditions, and watching women from across the world stand up for change has influenced my personality to shift more into an unapologetic, no-nonsense role-model for change.

Here is what I think moms, and dads a like, should consider overlooking to build a better, more resourceful, and helpful community for the sake of our parental mental sanity and our children’s nourishment.

What We Look Like.

Short hair, frizzy hair, chin hair. Manicured, uni-brow, shaved legs. Chubby, tall, tattooed.

What we look like does not define us as mothers.

If you have dealt with discrimination, racism or classism then you might know how it feels to be excluded. For a long time a mom has been portrayed in mass media as a slim white woman in an apron standing behind a white picket fence, in front of a mansion of a house, kissing her husband good-bye, waving so-long to the kids on the school bus. In the last decade we have seen more moms in a variety colors, ages, weights, and circumstances in advertising. But advertising still doesn’t quite capture reality. In reality, most communities of moms look alike and it can be hard to fit in if you don’t share in the variety, or should I say, lack there of.

I’ve always been fascinated by the beautiful moms in church. They glow and glisten with kids attached to their legs and hips. I sit in awe intimidated by their perfect eyeliner, bouncy highlighted curls, and shining smiley faces. While I’m in the same outfit from the week before because the chaos of getting to church on time made me forget where I was in my three-week dress rotation. Nonetheless, behind those bouncy curls and eyelash extensions are remnants of stress and tears. One mom almost lost her life carrying her second child. Another mom has to live with the heart wrenching chance of losing another foster child to the system. If we can see past looks we may be able to see the souls of those who share in our walks of life. Had I not chosen to closet my insecurity and reject assumptious stereotypes, I would not know these beautiful, God fearing woman today. Their passion as mothers would not have rubbed off on me.

Your surroundings can very much decide what you may look like as a mother. It is easy to be blinded by how we are molded by the places we live and how much we inadvertently look like others in our community until we step outside of our comfort zone. Are you part of a group of moms that look alike? Have you considered inviting someone different to the group? Significant similarities we have with other moms are under appreciated and unspoken because we’ve been trained to use looks to decide who can belong in our inner circle.

The chubby mom may not have the self esteem to make eye contact with the toned and muscular mom. The white mom of the girl with straight blonde hair may find it difficult to relate to the black mom of the girl with braids. The Hispanic mom may not know how to start a conversation with the Arabic mom. But we have to start somewhere. These are some examples of the physical characteristics we have allowed to interfere with integrating our communities.

These tendencies are learned and have created a mirage of discomfort we as moms walk through unnecessarily. I am not saying we need to overlook or under consider the experiences others have had in their own skin, read Resolving My Childhood Identity Issues 25 Years Later: Welcome Halfie, but what we look like shouldn’t keep us from embracing those experiences either.

Step outside of your comfort zone and speak to the mom at drop off that doesn’t look like you. I’m sure she would appreciate a congrats that you noticed she finally got through her morning tear free.

What We Wear.

Let’s start with something all moms have thought about another mom at least once –

“How does she leave the house so put together every day?”

Outside of what Instagram feeds us and what magazines suggest to us, mothers do not have to dress a particular way to be moms.

First – the assumption. We are assuming she leaves the house every day. Second – the optimism. She looks good every time she leaves the house. Ask yourself, what does it matter? Some of us use this stereotype to knock ourselves down. Others are simply quite curious. Either way, what we wear as parents shouldn’t minimize our responsibility as mothers and fathers.

Maybe this mom had the best sleep she has experienced since becoming a mom. Maybe she needed a full face of makeup to feel herself for the first time in a long time. Maybe she threw on the only clean clothes she had and left the house in a rush, booty shorts and all. Maybe this dad is barefoot because he lost a toenail to a frozen turkey. It does not matter. It doesn’t change that he or she is a parent dealing with picky eaters and puberty all the same as the mothers and parents choosing to pass judgment.

A friend in The Pod Squad told me a local mom group held a strict dress code for play dates. Mothers should wear dresses or be ‘done up” to attend. Whether this is true or not, what a mom chooses to wear should be put through no such protocol, nor meet any type of criticism of the liking. We are wrangling attitudes, tantrums, sports, school, traffic jams, grocery shopping, birthday parties and holidays just the same as any other mom.

All the same, what children wear, or like in my house, how we let them choose to dress themselves, should have no influence on the decision to bring me into your circle.

back view of women sitting on poolside

“Who does she think she is showing up to the community pool in that swimsuit?”

Ummm . . . ready to sun bathe and swim, of course.

How Old We Are.

Good ol’ age-ism. It is not OK to ask another mom her age when you meet her for the first time at the park. How many kids she has had before 30 or how late she chose to have them doesn’t define her. Save that question for your first scheduled play date.

While knowing someone’s age may make it easier to merge interests it does not exclude any mom from the vigor of motherhood. It in fact exiles the young mothers and the old mothers from learning from each other.

I’ve had to sit and listen to coworkers criticize a subordinate for bearing a child at 45 years old. Most non-parents and parents in the discussion felt business would be better ran without her for two reasons. First, she chose to wait until 45 to have another child, so her decision making skills must be flawed. Second, she will be 45 with a newborn and will likely not have the energy to get the job done by company standards. If this is shocking to you please know these type of conversations happen more often than you think. If it isn’t, consider speaking up against ageism, especially as it relates to mothers.

At a ripe, almost, 35 years old I’ve been assumed to be the teenage babysitter to my boys and was even told I looked 25 by another mom at the park. Flattering, however, when we group moms into age ranges we are demeaning the struggle. That newly married 21 year old mom to be is having the same heartburn as that 40 year old IVF single mom to be. And they may have the same sleepless nights and agenda of milestones to look forward to when baby arrives. So it doesn’t matter how old she is, as moms we experience similar ups and downs and can learn from different ages if we choose to build range in our motherhood community.

Judging Us On How Our Children Behave.

Photo by Jillian Lankford

This is a good one. Because everyone does it. We all stare at the mom with the screaming toddler in the grocery store. A behavior well suited for a 0 – 5 year old who has been forced against their will to sit in an uncomfortable metal cart to pass by endless colors and shapes without being able to touch or smell or, by the last aisle, even ask questions on. As moms, how often do we cheer each other on when we pass through the aisles with more screaming kids than groceries in our carts? I know I do. I bow down and praise that mom then make funny faces at her kids so they give her a tenth of a second of a break from whining to they laugh and point at me.

This is also a good one when it is turned the other way. If a friend questions you on your child’s behavior, without malice or false intentions, how are you responding to it? Being an active part of a community means being able to listen and observe as much as we speak. Speaking from the heart can come off as judgmental but if we show a humble way to receive the judgment we can teach our community that it is ok to ask questions. The more questions we can ask, the more aware we will be to gracefully lead our children into broader spaces.

I have learned some truly amazing parenting skills by simply observing  and appreciating the differences each mom and family I know handles behavior. The good, the bad, the mischievous. How they choose to resolve sibling rivalry, toddlers eating woodchips or picking boogers, or better yet, deal with emotions. I have also learned to ask questions and take suggestions when I feel defeated by my own minions.

Had I judged a father on his simplistic way of correcting his child’s abrasive behavior toward other kids at the park I would have never had this conversation that enlightened me to my core. Children, toddlers especially, have intense, sporadic emotions. Their behavior cannot be assumed or planned. Their thought process and how they feel emotions is unrecognizable to adults. We assume as parents when we teach our kids the right and wrong way to behave they should get it. But their minds and bodies do not absorb these lessons like adults. Knowing this takes patience and different perspective. Sometimes, as this dad said, we have to consider what it is this child is trying to communicate. Children understand much more than we give them credit for because their actions are different from what society accepts as normal behavior. That abrasive behavior was not intended to be hurtful, it was the way this child was able communicate his feelings at that particular time.

A few weeks ago, my three year old insisted on throwing mud balls at me while we were exploring nature treasures and making mud pies. I asked him not to do that. He continued. We went back and forth until my patience ran out. I wanted to punish him so I pulled him away from the fun and sat him down. I asked why he continued to disobey. He said “remember yesterday (last year) we make snow balls and we throw at you. It was a fun day”. The logic behind mud balls is that they are very similar to snow balls. Why can we throw snow balls and not mud balls?

What We Do For Work.

What a timeworn tradition, asking one another what they do for a living? The first thing that always comes to my mind is “keep my family alive”.

“Must be nice to be a stay at home mom.” Said me never. If you’ve read Why I Hate Begin a Stay At Home Mom then you know how I feel about it. I was always quick to assume stay at home moms have the good life. They get to workout whenever they want. Bake, clean, and maintain a healthy amount of laundry. Go to all the fun kid gatherings and volunteer at school. This is such as tiny portion of the every day mundane cycle a stay a home mom has.

A working mom doesn’t have it any better. Grinding for the man or building a business from nothing takes time and commitment and a hell of a lot of patience with kids. And after the 40-50 hour grind, finding the energy and time to cook, clean, do laundry, shop and plan extracurriculars is another job in and of itself.

The grass always looks greener on the other side. Trust me I know, I am the one lurking around the corner thinking “if only I could get to the other side, life would be much easier”. Then I wake up.

What we do for a living does not change diapers. Both working parents and stay at home parents do, so lets respect that.

Being a mom isn’t meant to be easy. Enjoy your struggles for what they are worth and every moment for what it provides. Another learned lesson, bravery badge earned or special memory saved.

Just because we’re not the same doesn’t mean we don’t have similar stories

How We Earn Money.

Moms aren’t immediately blessed with a flow of cash post partum. Quite the opposite, first comes baby then comes the obnoxious hospital bills and always increasing child expenses. And if we aren’t sitting on a plentiful nest egg, trust, or six figure+ household income, money can get tight raising kids. So why do we shame other moms for using unconventional ways to pad their pockets?

I know the invites to join group after group of essential oils, children’s books, homemade clothing and home goods parties get straight up annoying but the hustle is for real. If you don’t have to worry about where you are going to find the money to buy groceries for dinner, then you are good, stay blessed my friend. But not every mom or family has it this way.

I know a few hustlers, I consider myself one and I’m sorry for sending you excessive invites to join my group, or to buy my repurposed clothes and accessories here on POSHMARK. But please, save your judgement for another day.

A good friend of mine can straight up turn trash into cash and was criticized for taking someone else’s unwanted goods to resell. As quickly as that someone threw it away, another mom judged my friend for flipping it. Little did she know it was to pay for groceries to get by for a few days.

What is the difference in taking a McDonald’s burger and selling it for an hourly wage? Or pushing a big company’s insurance policy to earn a commission? It isn’t education, most mom hustlerd I know have four year degrees and student loans. How we choose to earn as mothers should be appreciated and applauded because it ain’t easy being a present mom or dad and try to make ends meat.

Men as the traditional bread winners stress just as hard. They have been brought up to believe providing for their family’s needs is all on them. Just as company’s shame motherhood, traditional stereotypes shame fatherhood just as bad. Ain’t no shame in momma’s game but there also isn’t any in a father’s innocent truth. Some partners are putting their health and wellness on the back burner to fund their family’s success because they’ve been brought up to believe men put the food on the table, women just cook it. I’ve watched fathers live and breath only to b-line to a heart attack. If we can’t change how the world sees this right now then let’s be kind enough to embrace the different ways we each earn as women and men and support the hustle.

What We Feed Our Kids.

Photo by Jillian Lankford

In the same breath, food ain’t cheap. For the sake of all things holy can we pray in unison for grocery prices to stop rising?

Plus, who am I to judge? Dinner time with toddlers is a nightmare whether it’s from the freezer or home cooked. Sugar will be used as bribes to end tantrums for a moment of peace in most households. A kale and avocado smoothie in disguise still goes to waste from time to time in my home. I am just jealous you get to eat brownies and I don’t,

I am guilty of passing judgment here. Time and time again. Judgment in the form of a blank stares, side eyes and back handed comments. Yes, nutrition is nutrition but before we judge a mom for giving her toddler a brownie for lunch we have to exercise awareness. My knowledge of nutrition is different from yours. How I was raised to understand food is different from hers. What this family can afford isn’t the same as the nexts. Be respectful and consider all sides before you decide to exclude another mom from your community over the food she feeds her kid.

How We Teach.

Beliefs, morals, religion, politics, etc can be hard to appreciate when they differ from our own. We don’t have to accept some one else’s opinion but we should model a sense of understanding and invite opposition into our lives to better ourselves and families. Personally, I’d much rather have a group of families built by a breadth of knowledge and experience than a group that shares a sole opinion. How can we provoke thought and ignite change if we share every point of view?

I know my God and He is so good. I spread His word and His love by projecting His image through my kindness, patience and forgiveness. All three of which I desperately try to instill in my kids daily. When approached with a different perspective from another parent my feathers aren’t easily riled. Someone else’s objection to my beliefs, does not negate my values or their own.

I have a beautiful Muslim friend who by definition does not believe in my God. I have been able to learn from her spirituality to grow closure to my own Creator. Her devotion to her beliefs and how they must be represented physically, and her unbreakable commitment to routine prayer is pure inspiration.

Another friend chooses to study various religions in depth rather than align herself and family with any particular one. Her astute support for understanding the similarities in religion has taught me that spirituality is indubitably woven into our lives no matter who we are, where we live, or what we look like. Other families in the pod don’t teach religion at all.

Some of us believe in public education, some of us believe in hands on learning. I have a pod of families that teach their kids in many different ways and I have been able to pick and choose what works best for my family simply by appreciating this difference.

It may take more emotional intelligence than we have to look past the frivolous labels that define us as parents. Being willing to de-categorize our thoughts and opinions can lead to a more accepting and inclusive atmosphere of love and kindness, that we as a community, can blanket our kids in.

Thankfully I’ve learned to look past the stereotypes and have been able to build a network of parents; my support. I’ve mentioned my luck when it comes to the pod squad but it is clearly more of a blessing. We each look different, speak differently, and provide different outlooks on parenting, lifestyle, relationships, education and spirituality. Our main focus is the same, community-ing for the children and finding our own peace of mind along the way.

Building life skills at the park. Sharing book reviews and recipes. Listening, learning, and asking questions. I have opened my heart to receive what other moms and parents can offer. Not for what they look like, their salary, or beliefs, but how they can teach me to be a better person and continue to be better each day, all the time, for my children. I am fulfilled and hatless.

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