After weeks of incessant rains and brooding clouds this spring, I joined a group of women on a blissful, sun-splashed patio. Joy in overdrive. No signs of fleece or fireplace hugging anywhere.
From all appearances, smiling and greeting one another warmly, we could been celebrating a promotion or maybe a birthday. Clink the cocktails. Cue up the singing.
But we had gathered for another reason: to talk about that often-taboo topic: how horribly harsh women can be to one another. One by one, these women, most whom I was meeting for the first time, talked about their experiences. Even with the bright sunshine, dark clouds hovered.
Here’s just a few things they shared. In their own words:
"When my son was born, I really wanted to breastfeed, but I was physically unable to. And the 'breast-feeding Nazi Moms' made me feel like I was the most horrible person that ever existed because I couldn't breastfeed my child. It was hard enough. I was exhausted, and my son would not latch on. Dozens of women came into my hospital room pressuring me. I am still traumatized. I won't get over it. It felt like such a betrayal, and that judgment from other women started right from the beginning."
"In my world, it's about the gossiping. Women never say things directly to you, but there are always little groups gossiping and saying horrible stuff about someone's marriage secrets. Or they shun and don't talk to someone who used to be in the group or was promoted. The shunned women aren't invited to luncheons or walks. They aren't talked to or acknowledged. You can feel the tension. It feels icky, like high school."
"I have a 7- and 3-year-old. I think it's so hard. Before I was a mom, I felt I was confident and didn't need friends as much. But when I became a mom, it's like having a whole new vulnerability and walking around inside out in a way. I like seeking connections with other moms, but there is so much instant judgment. I talk to everyone and try to spark up a conversation with a potential 'mom friend,' like at the playground with our kids, but there's often no reciprocity or little response. And it's so cliquey. There are the hipster moms or the moms whose kids always play on the slides. As a mom, you really need community with other women, but it's so hard to find."
"When I told other Moms about my struggle to do the right thing and find the right formula for my newborn, they would say things like, 'Well, first of all, you're poisoning your child….' I am still pretty upset about it."
Why in the World of Wonder Women Like Us do we come down so hard on other women? Why do we judge other moms when we most need empathy, friendship, or just basic kindness? Who understands what we’re going through more than another mom?
Who, more than another mom, knows what it’s like to read the same book, over and over, to try to soothe a teething, cranky toddler—when you're longing for 30 minutes of adult conversation and a glass of wine with another mom?
Experts say we all judge. It’s human nature. We all snark, gossip, and sometimes hang out in Jealousville.
But, diva drumroll, if we recognize that behavior and choose something far greater, that’s when great things happen for all women, as I write in my new book, Mending the Sisterhood & Ending Women’s Bullying.
In working on this project over 16 months, I met an amazing number of powerful, wise, and compassionate women, who give me so much hope for all of us. And yes, I also heard an unfortunate mother lode of women vs. women stories during formal interviews or informal barbecues, baby showers or cocktail hours.
Some women said that, even years later, they were still reeling from having their parenting choices shredded by another woman. Or mocked by an entire group of moms in the cul-de-sac or office cafeteria. Why do we do this -- to each other?
But yet, in spite of these accounts, I have huge hope women are writing a new and exciting chapter in our sisterhood. Because I am also hearing from women, here and across the world, who are declaring, “Enough” to the wars and the wounding. Because we all deserve better than this. We are better than this.
And, for the love of all things that make women so amazing, we want better than this for ourselves and the girls coming up behind us. Because the world is calling us to do great things together.
I’m seeing women everywhere increasingly speaking out to end the judgments, shaming, and meanness that hold us all back. Or shutting down the gossip fests and mean-girl drama to instead boldly advocate for gender balance and parent-and-women-strong policies at work.
And that is a powerful turning point. We can all be part of this turning. And work to lift up one another, knowing that when one of us soars, we all soar. When one us has a Great Mom Day, we all do.
And when we cultivate the soul factor, not the shame factor, we all become more successful as moms, as women, as human beings.
In that spirit, can we cheer for the amazing women of Connecticut Working Moms? They declared an end to the mommy wars “cause seriously, people, the world needs more love and less judgment," as a CTWM’s photo campaign states.
CTWM images of moms have gone around the world. One mom holds up a sign saying, "I'm breastfeeding my two-year-old." And next to her a mom holds a sign reading: "I chose to formula feed from the start."
Other photo pairings: "I work outside the home," and "I am a stay-at-home-mom." Or, "I give my children mostly organic food." And, "I let my children eat fast food."
You get the diva-awesome drift of this. It's wonderful and busts the whole judgy dynamic wide open.
We all do the judgment thing. We've all been there. Now, it’s time for all of us to do the empowerment, lift up, and champion-other-moms thing. That's the conga line I want to be in!
Let's stop judging, but start loving, as CTWM Founder Michelle Noehren says in my book:
"The only choices we have control over are our own. What another mom chooses is her decision—who are we to judge that? And when you really think about it—what's the point? It feels so much better to treat people kindly with loving intentions than to go straight to a place of judgment. We should be supporting women's decisions instead of critiquing them and making snap judgments based off our limited knowledge of other people's situations."
Love. Love. Love that. And love will always get us farther than judgment.
Love/Moms Rock! Susan Skog, Author of Mending the Sisterhood & Ending Women’s Bullying