Last Wednesday was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. One important part of the holiday is the fasting – a full day of abstaining from food while we atone for our sins and reflect inward. Growing up, I remember challenging myself to fast on Yom Kippur, even before I became a Bat Mitzvah (at age 13) and was required to do so. I would see how far I could push myself before I broke down in hunger, my head and stomach rivaling to see which pained me more.
Even now as an adult, when I spend the day fasting, I feel as if I’m in competition with myself – will I last? Can I last? Those thoughts swirled around in my head last Tuesday evening, as we attended the Kol Nidre services at our local synagogue. I pushed them aside long enough to listen to my amazing friend Felicia sing up on the bimah (alter) and to the Rabbi as he gave his sermon. The Rabbi talked about repentance and what that truly means. As he spoke, the subject of judgment came up. The Rabbi went on to explain how judgment comes from a place of fear: we sometimes judge what we don’t know/can’t understand. He urged congregants to “let go” of the judgment and in doing so face their fears.
The Rabbi was speaking in a larger scope, but his words resonated on smaller, more intimate level for me. Parenting, and motherhood in particular, can easily become fraught with judgment. Look around – we wouldn’t have the Mommy Wars if it wasn’t for a heaping dose of judgment from all sides. Judgment over choices we make during our pregnancies, during our labors/births, over how we feed our children, where they sleep, our work situations, etc…
What fears are fueling this judgment? I know for me, a lot of my fears stem from wanting to succeed at motherhood (screw being perfect, I just don’t want to fail!). But when society sets the bar at such high heights, constantly promotes that high standard via mainstream media, and then fails to provide the basics for most women to reach it (i.e. mandatory maternal/paternal leave, paid sick leave, support for working women who want to breastfeed, flexible work schedules, etc…) – it’s basically a recipe for disaster.
Also? It’s freaking hard to acknowledge our own fears. It’s much easier to project them onto somebody else in the form of judgment. Confession (and this one’s rough, so please – be kind): In my early days of breastfeeding, when it was hard and I was dealing with stabbing pain in my raw, touched out nipples, and the occasional bout of plugged ducts, I was scared that I would stop. And in my mind, for a myriad of reasons, I felt that if I stopped, that meant failure. So what did I do? I looked around and judged other mothers who weren’t nursing. I never judged them to their face or even behind their backs. But in my mind? Oh yes, Judgy McJudgerpants was in full effect. But I was so wrapped up in my own issues that I didn’t really see where my judgment stemmed from. Three years of nursing and five and a half years after the fact, I have a much clearer view of the whole thing, and I feel bad about it – even if I didn’t act upon my judgmental thoughts.
One aspect of Yom Kippur that goes beyond fasting is asking forgiveness from those we hurt – either purposefully or without intention. But it goes beyond just saying sorry – we need to truly mean it and refrain from doing it again. As I sat there in synagogue last week, listening to the Rabbi talk about judgment and fear, I not only silently apologized to those I may have inadvertently hurt through my own fear, but vowed to do better.
What the heck does that even mean? Well, when it comes to the “mommy stuff” – you know, the big basket of worms the mommy wars is derived from – I’m going to do my best to check myself. When I feel some judgment boiling up – whether it’s about breastfeeding or child rearing or any number of things – I’ll do my best to see if my own judgment is coming from a place of fear and why. Who knows, sometimes judgment is just that, but it doesn’t seem like it could hurt to dig just a bit more below the surface before letting that feeling take over. We’re already up against so much from the outside when it comes to parenthood that I’d rather be part of the solution than anywhere near the problem.
I invite you to join me. Maybe if we all take a minute to examine our own judgments we can let go of a few of them, and in turn, let go of some of our own fears about parenting.
(You don’t have to share some of your own judgments & where you think they stem from below. But let’s just say that I don’t want to be the only one stripping off her Judgy McJudgerpants, left bare for the world to stare at)