I don't consider myself a particularly judgmental person. I am opinionated, indeed, but not entirely judgmental.
There's a difference.
The opinionated mom says, "All mothers should at least try to breast-feed." The judgmental mom says, "If you don't try to breast-feed, you will be doomed to whichever circle of hell forces you to listen to David Hasselhoff crooning 'Muskrat Love' for the rest of eternity."
One day in the gift shop of a hotel I was visiting, a trio of boys were whining for "just one Snickers" before breakfast. "Well, OK, just one," their mom said, finally giving in. "I don't want you too hyper before breakfast."
And I couldn't help myself. I rolled my eyes big – really big – with the hopes that anyone looking in my direction at that moment could see just how awesome I am.
Oh my gosh: I acted like a "Sanctimommy."
I had first heard about this breed of mother on message boards. She's the type who snorts in your direction when you feed your daughter French fries in the diner, or who tsks you as you walk past her with your pacifier-sucking 3-year-old.
She won't hesitate to comment on your kid's lack of hat when the temperature dips to 59, or make a scene over the nonorganic produce in your fridge. She has read every baby book, and has decided that her expert of choice is the expert and that heeding any other parenting theories is akin to worshiping idols. Don't even get her started on the real hot-button mommy-war issues such as Ferberizing or circumcising or ear piercing.
I hate this woman.
And yet once in a while, I think I am her. Just a teeny bit.
I'm sure some degree of judgmentalism is natural, an easy way to level our own insecurities about the choices we make as parents. Well I can't be all that bad – my daughter might not own a winter jacket yet, but at least I don't let her go to the playground with snot running down her face like some people.
But when it's taken to the level that I took it to in the hotel gift shop – a big dramatic eye roll for the benefit of bystanders over a candy bar – well, that's just wrong. It's not who I want to be.
The best advice I ever got about parenting was from my own mother. She told me that every decision you will make as a parent is right, and every decision you will make as a parent is wrong. Once you learn that, you're golden.
And boy, she nailed it.
There is no one right way to do anything. In 50 years, medical experts might tell us that the levels of mercury and lead in our own bodies is so high that breast-feeding is actually far worse than formula. Science changes, parenting theories evolve, new experts spring up with ideas that we never considered before.
Which is partially why I get absolutely incensed when I see some of the Sanctimommies springing up on controversial blog posts or message-board forums, attacking others in the cruelest fashion under the protective veil of Internet anonymity.
I have observed the abhorrent "I feel sorry for your kids" response applied equally to working moms, single moms, and moms who feed their children American cheese singles. I've seen women (like me) who sleep-train their kids called child abusers. I have even seen a blog comment in which a woman insisted that those who choose to circumcise their sons deserve to have their children taken away. Taken away!
Where's the perspective?
Here's the great irony: The true Sanctimommy, the really sanctimonious, dogmatic, holier-than-thou, unyielding type – there is no breed of mother more deserving of an eye roll than she.
While the Sanctimommy is quick to deem others unfit mothers based on (really, in the end) superficial decisions such as the cleanliness of a child's nose or the YoBaby in the grocery cart, she's reluctant to look as closely at herself. At her own attitude. At what seems to me to be anger and angst and a general unhappiness directed at a world around her that she can't control.
Call me crazy, but I'd rather raise my kids in a happy, loving household with Dora the Explorer on the TV and Cheerios on the dinner table than to have them grow up in the presence of an uptight, judgmental mom with her shoulders up to her ears and no ability to distinguish the gray areas that comprise 90 percent of life.
And so I'm going to try and do better. When I find my eyebrows suddenly raised an inch above their normal resting position upon seeing a 5-year-old with a pacifier or a toddler taking a sip of her parents' Coke or a little boy sporting a mullet (this one is going to be the hardest) I'm going to remember my mother's other great advice: Will this matter in a year? In 10 years?
It won't matter to me, that's for sure.
But there will still be no Snickers before breakfast. That right is solely reserved for the pregnant among us.