Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Momness Part 3: Why is this Happening?

In this post I will be copping to some character flaws (schadenfreude, mostly) in order to make my point clear. I ask you not to judge, but you will. That is what this post is about.

Why is there less camaraderie, tolerance, encouragement, and support among mothers than there really ought to be? We're all just here doing the same stuff and only in slightly different ways. When I am out somewhere and my child is dressed and wearing shoes, did you know that if I see a disheveled child going barefoot I kind of like it because it makes me feel like a good mom--a better mom? That's not good. I don't really care about the barefoot child because going barefoot isn't the end of the world. Sometimes I'm the mom whose kids wouldn't wear shoes that day. I always hated it when people gave me grief over my kids' pacifiers. I think our longest went for almost three years. (There. I've said it.) Why do people care if my child has a pacifier? Do they really care? Are they really worried? I don't think they are. And yet, when I see a 4 or 5 year old with a pacifier I think to myself, "Hmmmm. That's a mistake."

Of course there are true mistakes to make in parenting. And maybe having a pacifier until the age of 5 is one of them. But why do we care what other people are doing with their kids? If it were really out of concern for the well-being of that child then it's great and nice. That does happen. But I think most of the time we notice and comment because it makes us feel superior. But I don't know why. Men don't seem to do that about fathering. In fact, I know that Christian has never EVER felt bad or even thought about what other people (except me) think of his parenting. Formula. Nursing. Cloth diapers. Homemade babyfoood. Lessons. Co-Sleeping. Epidurals. Tantrums. Allowance. Time Out. Sugar. Naps. None of it.  And when our kids throw fits at church or misbehave he certainly gets mad and doesn't like it but not because he is embarrassed. His self-worth is not all tied up in having a Christmas photo where everyone matches.

I also know that while I get really great advice from close friends and family and even blogs and books, I am a better mother and a happier person the less I care what people think about my mothering. Because so much of it is unhelpful since not everyone knows where I'm coming from. For example, people have a hard time with my weird and shy kids--especially when they were younger. But they don't know that as difficult as someone like, oh, my son Ben, for example can be, I would rather deal with him than an obnoxious, loud-talking show off. Well-meaning folks think I'm trying to solve one problem but really I'm working on something else. Has that ever been the case for you? It's like how I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's book about eating only local food in season and I'm thinking oh, honey--I'm just trying to go through less than a box of ding dongs a day.

And then there's the explaining, the defensiveness, the treatises on blogs, the self-congratulation, the posting of menus, the bragging, the nit-picking, the sideways glances, the expectant look I get from a stranger in line when they see my daughter hit me and I think, "Ugh. They are expecting me to discipline her in a certain way," so I engage in "loud parenting" to show that I'm a good parent but if they weren't there I would do something entirely different. It's weird, isn't it?

Do we do it because we are insecure? I am guessing that's why. I also postulate that culture, society, and religion has put mothering on a pedestal in a way that they haven't done to fathering so when we are bad at it or do it in our own way there is a LOT at stake. If being a mom is a divine calling (and it is--I do believe that) then having shoes on your kid in public can take on some crazy significance. It's hard to take it seriously and not judge other people. Maybe we put so much thought and effort and concern into it that it really throws us when someone decides making homemade baby food isn't really worth their time. Maybe?

I just wish people would validate me all the time for all the great things I do and give me a break when I'm lazy or tired. That's what I want. And surprise visits (with no expectation that I will have showered) with a big--no a HUGE--Diet Coke from Sonic from people who think I'm funny and smart is also what I want. But of course, we've all sworn off of soda in order to run our marathons, haven't we.

56 comments:

  1. I just finished "The Help" this morning (after ignoring my kids for 2 days so I could get through it) so it's on my mind. I just realize that I had/have a lot in common with those white women who accepted cultural, social and racial biases and supported them. I don't treat my maid badly (she makes well over minimum wage, okay?) but I certainly make prideful assumptions about people in my social circle while concurrently longing for acceptance.
    (I'm shaking my head at myself because I have no resolving statement.)

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  2. This is what we all need to hear. You have said it so beautifully.

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  3. Holy Friggin Crap! I do not kid when I tell you that like Beth, this morning I have been ignoring my beautiful children to finish "The Help"....what a small judgemental world we live in eh? Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, AGAIN, that your opinion is like my own (only more beautifully dressed in linguistic majesty). And, it's true...it's ALL true, every word you write. Bless and at the same time, curse you for your expository genius...... :)

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  4. I don't know why we do it, but we all do. Even when I'm trying really hard not to do it, I still do it. Don't ask me.

    I do know this however, I became a much better mom when I quit trying to be "super mom". (At least I think I did...did I?)

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  6. I love this post because it's so true.
    It can be hard to remember it though when I'm blindsided by others' snarky comments or those snarky comments embedded in my own head. My biggest weakness is a compulsion to discredit other parenting styles inconsistent with my own (when I should just do it my way and be fine with it).

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  7. I think women in general are more judgmental and prone to comparisons and insecurity than men are. We take things personally that shouldn't be personal and we worry more about what other people think.

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  8. You wrote this so beautifully! I have made a point in the last year to tell my friends what great mom's they are and the things I admire.

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  9. I don't know why, but I think insecurity drives most women's rude, mean, pathetic behavior. This especially applies to comparing ourselves to other mothers. Men do not have this problem, I 100% agree. Why is there this disparity between the sexes? I wish I knew. I think this is why everyone told me when I had 3 boys in a row how much easier they are to raise...not when they are young and beating each other up. But, because they grow up to be (somewhat rational and not overly self-concious or emotional) men.

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  10. Outstanding post. Wish I had read it when Heidi was two. I love your blog.

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  11. well said.

    my first is not even a year old, but it surprises me how much i do this to other moms. i'm not a nasty person - i promise! - but i'm very tempted to judge others' parenting. i'm trying to work on loving others first, so i don't have time to judge them (the exact mother theresa quote escapes me). it's such a broad goal, though that i am working on narrowing it down to specific thoughts/actions.

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  12. It just seems to me that in a society that values mothers and motherhood less and less, those of us that have chosen that path should be each others strongest supporters. Let's be better.

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  13. Mothering is just so darn hard! If the way we're doing it isn't better than someone else's way, then why are we working so hard at it! That's how I always feel anyway. Of course, the truth is, most of it is hard, and we always think maybe some other way would make it less hard, if also less rewarding. And didn't you know that you have to run marathons to make it to heaven? And take amazing photos, and sew all your kids' clothing from thrifted t-shirts, and have your freezer full of ready-made meals, and make your own yogurt? And swear off gluten?

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  14. I just need your address. I can't run a marathon - and I'm sure there's a Sonic somewhere between your house and mine.

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  15. Very interesting. I have thought about these things myself and I like where you're coming from.

    And since you already assumed I would judge...

    I am interested in the dichotomy between the diplomatic opening statement "We're all just here doing the same stuff and only in slightly different ways" and the...less so...closing statement "We've all sworn off soda in order to run our marathons, haven't we."

    I am interested in that in particular because I have been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately.

    It's likely by design that the difference between those two lines reflects your (and my...and I'm guessing everyone's) desire to be recognized for the great stuff and given a break for the less impressive stuff. And not judged negatively for either.

    By way of confession, currently I am writing this comment at the table while my kids and I eat cereal for dinner. I like to be able to admit that kind of thing to my friends and receive empathy (if not validation) for that choice, although I realize that it is kind of a terrible motherhood moment.

    I guess I'm more likely to get it from friends than from bloggers or strangers, because they know me. They know I love my kids and that my husband is never home to eat dinner with us. They know that the majority of the time I read to them and talk to them and feed them nutritious foods. And hopefully if I hit rock bottom and was truly neglecting my kids, they would kindly call me out on it.

    Likewise, true friends can sincerely rejoice and congratulate other moms when they accomplish something great or even just manage to put together a great-looking outfit or room, without being bitter or snarky. I think that's because real friends know both sides of us. But strangers only see one side at a time, whatever side we choose or are forced to present.

    Of course your post is not necessarily about friends vs. strangers. I even judge my best friends sometimes and they judge me. I definitely think that we all judge for lots of things, whether thinking that someone does something worse than us or better than us. I personally struggle to find a balance in what I want to present to others about myself: somehow I guess what I always want to show/fake is that I'm cool, but not too cool.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

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  16. Yes to this post.

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  17. Hey, good stuff. I'm thinking about it. I linked to you on my blog so I hope you don't mind if all my peeps start harassing your brilliance.
    Thanks for the post.

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  18. I think it is weird of me that there are parts of parenting that I am not very concerned with (well dressed kids, timely potty training, chore lists for example) and when other people ARE concerned about those things I think they are the weird ones.
    I like it best when I am too happy doing my thing to care what anyone else is doing.
    My best friend parents all kinds of different from me, and I judge her all the time- thinking "I would never do it that way." but her kids are pretty much my favorite kids in the world besides mine, only whenever they have a problem I think it's because of her parenting "mistakes," only when my kids have a problem I think it's because everyone has problems.
    Obviously I need to straighten out some of my thinking. Thanks for the words, lady.

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  19. I like to tell myself that the skinny marathon-running moms with well-dressed infants and homemade bread are all just one step away from nervous breakdowns. But you are totally right: really I'm probly just lazier than they are, and spend my free time lounging in my bed and eating cookies. We all are just keeping sane in our different ways.

    And I'll admit it: my baby, who just turned one, has only worn shoes like three times. All to Church. He wore them last week because his feet were dirty.

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  20. Here is something that I have noticed. If I take the kids shopping, I am a hero. I once took the kids to Noodles and Company alone and the person who took our order brought us all free Rice Krispy treats and told me I was a good dad. It was awesome. Women who see me alone with the kids act like I'm amazing -- not because of anything specific that I am doing, just because I am doing something. I never see women treat women with kids that way.

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  21. Almost all of my Facebook status updates are admissions of how I screwed up that day as a mom. I cannot believe the response I get from people telling me how refreshing it is to hear the truth every once in a while. I'm not afraid of being judged and decided to no longer be embarrassed by my kids, either (I have a couple of the loud, obnoxious ones and you just learn to get over it). It has been very freeing and allows me to do what's best for my individual kids and to heck with everyone else.

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  22. Love this. Well, I hate that we do this, but love the way you pointed it out. And I agree that it is insecurity in a job that is a divine calling and sincerely the hardest thing anyone could attempt to do well. Really, I think being a truly great mom is harder than any other job--president of the US included. You are responsible for so many aspects of another human being's experience here on earth. It's intimidating! Who isn't messing up their kid(s) in some way? I think most of us, despite efforts, our kids are just as imperfect as we are..

    I agree we should support each more and judge less. .

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  23. My son used pacifiers till he was 4 and then we bribed with a bike to get him to give them up (worked brilliantly.)

    Beeswax, I never even buy shoes for my kids until the winter after they have turned one. (shoes and ties are to be avoided until absolutely necessary.)

    Christian, that is soooo wrong. And I've seen similar things happen to my husband, sometimes by me.

    Being a mom is hard and scary. FACT.(oceanology) Hypothesis- Deep down we are terrified we are doing it so wrong that there will be eternal ramifications. Thus the need to tell ourselves we are at least doing it more right than that other person. Ironically making us less right then we were two minutes before thinking it (or oops, saying it in front of my impressionable kids.) But, there is always repentance and tomorrow. (until there's not.)

    Also, my home ward cook book from the 70's has a whole section on Gluten recipes. Gluten Meatballs, Gluten Curry, etc. Just sayin...

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  24. When you get old like me, you think about all the stuff you did wrong.

    So try not to do anything you might regret.

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  25. Great perspective. I absolutely agree... all except the coke part. And I don't even drink diet. I drink the hard stuff and love every single sip. If I'm out with a group of girls that all order water cause soda's so bad for you, dude. I order my coke and love it all the more! See, I run so I CAN drink coke. But not marathons. Cause I think that's a little crazy.

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  26. Kacy, I'd say there's a distinction between the various levels of judging, critiquing, analyzing, or simply observing. As humans, we have no choice but to make basic judgments, and on that level we're just fine. However, we're better served when they don't escalate to the level of petty criticism.

    It's very healthy to be recognizing that another parent is doing something differently than you would, and in many cases it's also evident that your way is more beneficial for everyone involved, while in other cases your bias might be clouding your assessment. Some things have good ways and bad ways, while other things are a matter of preference. It can even be hard for men to tell the difference in some areas.

    We are supposed to assimilate information. But it's how we process it that can lead us to finding fault with others in places that aren't all that significant or in our purview. It can be a delicate balance to maintain.

    We can look at someone else's situation and determine whether that meets our standard, providing we don't take it a step further and try to compare ourselves to others and feel like we're better (or worse) than they are. For all we know, we could just be at different places in life than they are. Some are heading in a positive direction, and others in a negative direction, and others kind of waffling. We might notice those things too. But if we don't plan on actively helping them, it probably doesn't do much good to trouble ourselves over their methods, because dwelling on it can puff up one's own pride.

    OK to think about, not OK to agonize over. And this is all assuming a perfectly neat little world where things occur in a consistent fashion, ergo your mileage is going to vary. Anything less than 300 pages on the subject would have to be considered Cliff Notes.

    Ultimately, this is a male's way of saying the nurturing instinct is good to hold onto as it pertains to your own brood, and it will naturally spill over to other people's broods, but just rein it in as it does that so you don't spill too much and you'll be just fine.

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  27. Brilliant Kacy. Loved every word of it.

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  28. I judge moms who are different from me because they are clueless morons, and I judge moms who are the same as me for being judgy harridans. It's a lonely, miserable life and I hate it.

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  30. I find every single post on your blog to be very insightful and painfully familiar. I agree with several of the comments that the driving force behind this kind of behavior is probably insecurity.

    Thanks for always making your audience stop and think. You are an incredible writer.

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  31. Okay, I've been blog stalking you for awhile now and I'm just going to say it, I love you. it's true. ; ) you are hilarious, insightful and so real, and an amazing writer to top it off.

    Anyway, totally agree with this post, I've been thinking a lot about this lately and have been getting so annoyed at blogs for putting up their perfect false front and making me feel bad for being a normal, imperfect mom and wife. So thanks for addressing this and summing it up so beautifully.

    btw, my brother is Chris, works for your husband, that is how I found out about your blog.

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  32. My dad used to take us to the grocery store a lot, so I guess people thought highly of him. However, he regularly had one of our pet rats on his shoulder the whole time so that may have canceled out the impressive parenting effect.

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  33. Loved this. Holds true for a mother on the other side of the pond as well. And I do post menus, hahaha. Thanks for stopping by in my sea of selfpity. I need a community like yours to get my comments going! Now I have to go google ding-dongs. Sounds dirty, but that could just be me.

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  34. "I am a better mother and a happier person the less I care what people think about my mothering." Yeah, that.

    I actually used to think I was a really, really, REALLY excellent mother, because my first three kids turned out pretty well. And then we had Josh. And he is a monster. I love him, but it's true. It used to be that we would go to the grocery store and people would say stuff like, "your children are so well behaved" and "what a darling family" and I would feel pretty smug and self satisfied by the time we got home. And I TOTALLY judged moms who had misbehaving kids, but tried not to show it.

    But now Josh is throwing his shoes at me and hurling himself out of carts and lying down in the middle of the cereal aisle and people give me either the you-clearly-suck-as-a-mom look or the clearly-slightly-pitying-trying-to-be-empathetic look that I used to hand out like candy.

    Karma SUCKS.

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  35. Such a great post! One night, I actually lost sleep because on of my daughters' 12 year old friend gave me a snarky look at a school function. I worried over it! I spent quality time worrying over how to win over affections/approval from a 12 year old!!!! The next day, I laughed at myself and have been working hard at changing these insecure behaviors. Why do we need to feel accepted by our peers, our children's peers, our social circles, o
    ther circles???

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  36. I just want to go to lunch and talk about this! I think it's hilarious that the main point I'm taking away from it is, "I need to be more like Ben!" He truly does not care. Awesome.

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  37. That post took me back to a scripture I love where the people are said to not have a mind to injure one another but to live peaceably. This scripture always makes me think of us as women. We always seem to be in some big competition and I think, wouldn't it be better just to support and love each person for who they are not just try to one-up them? But yet, it goes on and almost all of us are guilty of shaking out head another person or judging. It is a hard habit to kick. Try to not do it at all for one day..I have and it is very eye opening and helpful in changing ourselves.

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  38. Sometimes, when I'm out with the kids all by myself. People bring me cash. One person even brought me some frankinscense. Frankinscense if you can believe it!?

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  39. I wish I had the patience right now to find the clip from Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me where Paula Poundstone takes on the guy who writes the books about how all our commercial foods are evil (you know the guy I'm talking about, right?) (I also wish I knew whether to put the final parenthesis before or after the question mark there. I think about things like that, more's the pity.) Not that I like Ding-Dongs. Just today my 7-year-old and I had a conversation about her liking of and my disliking of Ding-Dongs, and I had to explain to her what wax is so she would understand my opinion of Ding-Dong "frosting." (Not sure whether that period should go inside or out of the quotation mark. I know the rule is different in England than America, but can never remember which is which.)

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  40. [Blogger doesn't like my long comments and makes me break them into smaller segments.]

    My husband also gets treated like a hero when he takes our kids out in public, which I don't begrudge him, but do envy. Once in a while I get kind comments about my kids from strangers and I eat it up. And I used to get even more positive attention in the CA Bay Area when I only had two kids, which was already a huge family. But I got a lot more positive attention in the more ethnically diverse and economically depressed area where we would go to buy our groceries than in snobbier, expensive-groceried, zero-populationist Berkeley.

    P.S. At first I thought my word verification said "obestie" which meant I was your bestie, but then I realized it said "obsestie," which probably means something like that I shouldn't comment way after midnight on April Fool's Day.

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  41. I logged on to criticize your parenting today at lunch when we got to witness "The Three Faces of Ellen", but your post here has put me in my place. HA. Really, what I got most out of this post is that, instead of a proper lunch date, next time in town I am just going to crash your house with a giant Diet Coke and a box of Ding-Dongs. In my pajamas. Then you'll REALLY love me, and I will be declared the BEST STALKER EVER rather than getting arrested.

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  42. The best mothering advice ever given to me by my mother..."No one gets into bed at night and thinks about anybody but themselves and their own. Let go of worrying about what anybody else thinks of you, your kids and your parenting because at the end of the day, nobody really cares but you" Thanks Mom. Freedom to be myself starts with me.

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  43. I agree with everything about this post...Except if you're going to Sonic get me a Diet Ocean Water instead of the Coca Lite. One of my top 13 blogs of all time

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  44. I am nothing if not contradictory. Perhaps that has nothing to do with mothering, but it sure explains buying organic carrots and peanut m&ms at the same time.

    This is a perfect post on Momness.

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  45. I certainly don't have any answers, but WOW I love this post.

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  46. I once heard Sister Hinckley say that if she had to pick what age to be forever and ever she'd pick 50.

    She said that in her 50's she was able to let go of comparing and judging and get down to the business of living and loving.

    So hey! I'm only a decade away from letting go of my insecurities and jealousies! That's good news!

    It also means I'm a whole lot closer to being a good mom than some others I could mention ( :> tee hee )

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  47. Anonymous7:46 PM

    you are my favorite blogger right now this very mintue. I am so grateful to whoever led me to your blog. you say exactley what I want to say and so much better than i ever could.

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  48. This post is awesome.

    But... I am really missing the Bachelor posts. How would you feel about me sending you a list of all the shows I watch, so you can watch them too and then write funny summaries?

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  49. I appreciate that your love language is surprise diet cokes and boxes of ding dongs. I think more moms should stop pretending it's not theirs. Does that sound judgemental?

    This is a wonderful, meaningful post. I really want to start pretending like I'm 50 and I don't care when I notice how others see me mothering. I appreciate your REAL advice and perspective because I know you in real life and you are a great mother and your kids are really exceptional.

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  50. My quandary is this: deep down, I know I'm a good mom but deep down, I also know I am a bad mom sometimes. I get curious about how I measure up to other people because I want to know if I'm "normal" - if I'm normal then my kids will probably turn out okay with everyone else's. But what if I'm not normal? What if I am actually doing things that are off the charts ridiculous and damaging? I should want to know that, right? And how else will I know that if I don't observe and make judgment calls on how other people are doing it?

    You're right though, because the more mistakes I see other people make the better (more "superior") I feel. It's the same reason I can't take my eyes off the Bachelor, 'cuz at least I'm not THAT crazy (desperate, shallow, self-absorbed, whatever).

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  51. This, because I am having a Monk moment, and I wanted to push your comments to an even "50".

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  52. You are destined to write a book.
    I am destined to read it.

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  53. What about this: My husband gets HIT ON when he takes the kids somewhere by himself! So, not only do we judge each other, but apparently some women are complete tramps, too!

    Also, my sister-in-law babysat my three children for a weekend once, and weaned my youngest of his pacifier (he wasn't even 2 yet), because it had been bugging her. The next year she threatened to potty train him, so I hurried and did it. I didn't even want to. So why did I cave? I am weak and worry more about what other people think than what I think. The clincher though, is that her kids are OUT OF CONTROL (no, seriously, the kind where she is sending them to specialists), and I never interfere or tell her what she should do (even when she asks for advice, because I learned a long time ago that she doesn't really want advice, just validation). Maybe I'll start. But not to be superior, just to even the playing field.

    I don't like soda, but I think that if men hit on me when I was out and about with my children, I would feel validated. And creeped out.

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  54. If only I had read this seven years ago....

    You are such a wonderful writer. If I were there, I would pat you on the back whilst giving you a Diet Coke and a Ding Dong with my other hand (I have man hands).

    Thank you for being so awesome.

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  55. Anonymous12:00 PM

    Kacy, how much do I love you? A lot. I just recently found your blog and it makes me happy (and I am not someone who reads blogs). You are fabulous and I want to be just like you when I am a mom. No kids yet, but as a professional, Mormon woman who has been married for over 9 years, the pressure is on. I feel the judgment and I am resisting reciprocal judging. Thank you.

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