Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Dark Side of the Sanctimommy

My friend Sara introduced me to the term “Sanctimommy,” although I was all too familiar with the concept. I was at her house, visiting her adorable twins, complaining about the women on the internet who make the rest of us feel like bad mothers.

She directed me to a specific section of the STFU Parents Blog that deals with such mothers, and I was in heaven. Finally – a place where I could vent my anger out on these women while laughing my head off.

But, truly, there is a dark side to the sanctimommy. 

A sanctimommy is a woman who acts like (or possibly honestly believes) that all the aspects of motherhood – including sleepless nights and poop in your hair and cracked nipples – are little gifts from heaven to be cherished. These women live to jump on threads where a desperate mother is asking for help coping with over a year of no sleep or a toddler that is dead-set on committing suicide (pun intended) or a low breastmilk supply. They then hop on with their “advice,” usually just a paragraph about all the sacrifices they made for their kids which only enriched their lives and how they never once complained about it.

Case in point: I follow the Leaky Boob on Facebook – a group for breastfeeding support that is quite helpful. But recently a woman posted a picture of her baby pulling and pinching her breast skin while nursing. It looked excruciating, and she was asking for advice. Most moms gave solid, practical advice like “purchase a nursing necklace” or “hold his hand while nursing” or “pull him off and say OW!” One crazy mother suggested the woman hit her ten month old (really?). But one glorious sanctimommy came on and said something to the effect of “Ah…I remember when my LO [Little One] used to do that. I always thought it was so precious – like a kitten kneading its mother. Cherish this time – it passes so soon.”

Wait – cherish this time? Cherish getting pinched and pulled? On your breast?
How the hell did she think that was helping? What was her real purpose for posting that?
Now that I have baby number 2, I am impervious to sanctimommies. I still sometimes start threads asking for advice, and every once in a while one of them will pop up and remind me that I’m supposed to lay down my life every single moment of every single day without a whisper of complaint. To which I now laugh heartily.

But when Stella was a baby, I didn’t find it so funny. I was suffering from post-partum depression and anxiety, and I felt like I was messing everything up as a parent 100% of the time. I was miserable and angry and often suicidal, and looking back, I needed serious psychiatric help. But I didn’t get it. Instead, I turned to message boards.

There were some wonderful, supportive women. Definitely. But there was also a herd of sanctimommies. And their words cut me like knives every time.

Stella was the most troubled sleeper I’d ever heard of. Months and months of screaming every hour to 1.5 hours at night. Days of screaming due to exhaustion, yet she almost never napped. I was hysterical – I would have done anything for more than an hour of sleep (this is why it is the most effective brainwashing technique, FYI). But Stella only wanted my nipple. In her mouth. All the time. And yet, she’d start to drift off, and it would fall out. And then she’d scream. Unless I held it in there myself. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to get comfortable enough to sleep while awkwardly holding my nipple in an infant’s mouth.

What did the sanctimommies have to say about this? “Ah, she needs you. Isn’t that sweet? Cherish this time.” Or “This must be really hard for her. Poor thing. Make sure you cosleep and babywear and nurse on command.” (All of which I did and none of which helped.) Or my favorite: “She must sense your unhappiness. Make sure to relax and gaze lovingly in her eyes so she doesn’t feel like you resent her.” 

So I now felt like a terrible mother who was somehow causing my daughter to sleep poorly and who was doubly evil because I really, really, really hated not sleeping at night.

It’s not the sanctimommies’ fault I fell into such a dark place. But what they did – what they do – is never helpful. Is it possible that they really are so grateful and peaceful and happy that they are able to view every irritation as a blessing? Sure. And if that’s so, that’s great for them.

Even I – a person who usually deals with stressful situations through humor and gentle complaining – have my moments when I am filled with quiet gratitude, even over annoying situations. With Sam, I’m not suffering from any post-partum psychological issues, so I am able to look at things more objectively. Like last night, when he awoke every hour to nurse. Yes, I’m frazzled and tired, but I was able to say, “Well, he’s probably going through a growth spurt. Besides, my supply has been a teeny bit low lately, so this will help boost it. And I know this phase will pass, so I’m not going to get worked up about it.”

However, when I see a fellow mom struggling – and a mom is almost always struggling if she takes the time to ask for help on a message board – I will only ever offer support, empathy, and advice (should I have any – I’m not big on giving advice). While it’s true that the infancy and toddler periods are short and should be cherished, it’s also true that they are incredibly difficult and can cause people all sorts of stress. Marriages break up during this time, women go to psychiatric ER’s, people can even convince their husbands to move from NYC to Louisville, KY in the hopes that the simpler life will make handling a baby that much easier. 

So, join me as I laugh at the sanctimommies and puzzle at their motives. Maybe next I’ll make a blog post about the second most annoying variety of internet mommy: the braggart. (You know – the one who fits in her pre-pregnancy jeans at 3 months post-partum, who pumps 20+ oz of milk at each session, whose child slept through the night at 6 weeks due to her sheer awesomeness? Yeah, I think she deserves a post, too.)

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