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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Special : Ten Things I Have Learned in Ten Years


From the blog "Notes from the Queen Mum" 
by Heather Fortune
Founder and President of The Mommies Network  

As we approach the 10th anniversary of our first chapter, CharlotteMommies, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the many things I have learned in the past decade – not just about being a mom, but about being a person as well.

So without further ado, I give you:

Ten Things I Have Learned from The Mommies 

1. Friends come wrapped in the strangest packages. 

A couple weeks ago, I celebrated my 39th birthday. I’m not gonna lie – this is the first time that my age has bothered me… I felt like suddenly I was on a stopwatch to see what I could accomplish before I turned 40. For the first time in my life, age DID seem to matter.

 A friend of mine, in an effort to cheer me up, invited some of my other friends to come and share their stories about CharlotteMommies. She asked me for a list of who I would like to invite and I shared a list of names of friends I looked forward to seeing.

 Imagine my surprise when everyone got here and, despite being members of the same website for years, many of my friends had never before met each other. It never occurred to me how varied my friendships were until it was staring me in the face.

 It goes to show that your friends don’t necessarily have to look a certain way or play a certain part – friends take many shapes and sizes and serve a wide variety of roles in your life. Don’t be afraid to seek friendship, even if it doesn’t seem to be someone you’d have much in common with – you’ll be amazed at the things you learn when you surround yourself with a wide variety of wonderful, intelligent women!



2.There is so much more to a person that what they let the world see. 

Another friend story (there are sure to be more), but an important one all the same:

I’ve been making friends online for almost as long as there has been an online to make friends on. Does that make me a super-geek? Probably, yes… but hey, it got you here, didn’t it? So be kind to me! 

One of the things I have learned is that the person you see online is rarely the person you see in real life. Emotions are heightened when you have a screen of anonymity to protect you and your opinions from others. Passions flare and it can easily seem that a person’s sole purpose in life is to re-elect President Obama or rid the world of some injustice. A mom might spend all her online time passionately educating about the benefits of breastfeeding or the perils of fluoride in the public water system.

The worst mistake you can ever make is to believe that this topic is the only thing this person cares about. The most passionate breastfeeding advocate could turn out to be the most sympathetic to a mom who could never make it work. The Obama lover may turn out to be the friend most likely to jump in front of a bus for you. You won’t know until you acknowledge that there is more to them than meets the eye!

A story I like to tell is that of my dear friend. She almost didn’t come to an event at my house because she felt that our political ideologies differed so much that we wouldn’t have anything in common. How far from the truth was that! I am eternally grateful that she didn’t let that stop her from coming, because today, five years later, I count her as one of my dearest friends.

Recently someone shared a blog post with me about how women rarely document the sad parts of our life and choose to document and share only the good moments, or, at best, those trivial upsetting moments that don’t show our innermost weaknesses. Yet we constantly judge each other based upon this perception that we ourselves acknowledge we send out to the world.

The best advice I can give you is to be curious enough to see what is behind the online persona. At the very worst, you will see that you were right. But more likely, you will find that there is so much more there than meets the eye… and may come out with one of the greatest friendships of your life.

3. Moms are like sisters – you can pick on each other, but if someone hurts one of us, watch out! 

One of the constant frustrations with running a network of almost 30,000 women is that … well… there is a lot of bickering! We are all very passionate about being mothers and it is very important for each of us to feel like we are doing a good job for our children. When we are faced with someone who does something differently, it can cause a little friction every now and again.

However, over and over again, I have seen women who can stand on opposite sides of almost any issue come together when one of their own is in need and stand side by side in support of their fellow mommy. THIS is the constant JOY of running a network of almost 30,000 women – to see when one of us is hurting, how all of us come together to support and care for the one in need. It is truly inspiring to see this bond of sisterhood among our members and it is the reason why I believe so many women devote hundreds of hours each year to keep our chapters running smoothly! 

In my own life, I faced a very difficult hardship when my husband and I split up and I found myself homeless and starting over with my girls and literally the clothes on our backs. Never have I been so overwhelmed with support and love as I was during that time. To this day, my home is a testament of the love of so many friends and strangers who donated household items and their time to ensure that my children and I would have a safe and happy place to live. I will always be grateful to the women who touched my life in such a meaningful way during what was one of the hardest times of my life. 

4. Most moms are simply trying to make the best choices they can for their situation… and are absolutely terrified they are getting it wrong. 

I’m sure you have all experienced a situation like this. You are excited about something you’ve discovered or a new way of doing a mom-related chore. You log in to your chapter to share this tidbit with your mommy friends, only to have one member who posts a negative comment and takes the wind right out of your sails. Why, o why did you even have to post that??? 

It's really simply psychology. Being a mom – a parent – is the most important job that a person can do. You are in charge of raising a human being and ensuring that they turn out to be a morally decent adult. This is not an easy task and unfortunately, there is no parent handbook out there to give you all the tips (although, if you are interested, I do know of great website… lol!) 

So, we as moms, are forced to take in all the varied information that is out there (and if you haven’t noticed, there is a LOT of information out there), add that to the cornucopia of advice from our own mother, add in a dash of whatever the latest parenting guru says and viola! A parenting philosophy is born. Now even though this philosophy has been pulled together from all these varied sources, we moms are very passionate about our parenting philosophy. After all, we’ve done our research. We’ve listened to all the advice. And we’ve made what we feel are the very best decisions for our sweet little angel. So, to some moms, seeing another idea that isn’t what you’re doing feels like a direct statement saying “and since you are not doing this thing, you are a bad mom.” 

I wish I could stop this. Maybe someday we all can… but in the meantime, the best thing we can do is understand why it happens and try to overlook it when it does. No one likes a Debbie Downer, but when you take a moment and realize that Ms. Downer may be currently curled up in a puddled heap on her kitchen floor wondering why she is such a horrible mother for never thinking of that, perhaps you can cut her some slack and just go back to reading all the posts that tell you what a great idea you have!  

Which leads me to… 

5. What’s better for you isn’t always better for me… and that’s okay. 

This one is for all those moms who, like above, feel attacked every time a mom makes a decision that is something you wouldn’t (or couldn’t or never in a million year would ever) do. 

The thing to remember – the thing I have to tell myself over and over again some days – is that what connects us is that we are all moms… but we are all moms in a variety of different situations. What I believe is right for me and my children in MY situation may be completely different than what you choose for your children in your situation. And that is OKAY. 

A mom who’s husband makes six figures may choose to stay at home because she feels that is the best choice for her family. Another mom may not have that choice. Does that mean her choice to work is wrong? NO. Does it mean that the stay-at-home mom’s choice is wrong? NO! They are each making the best choice for their situation. 

 Each of us deals with the associated issues and problems that come from the life choices that we make. And none of these issues are problems are any less than someone else’s. A working mom may be constantly frustrated with lack of time, but a stay-at-home mom can feel that same tug, because she’s “expected” to be free… so don’t assume that life is perfect on the other side of the fence – regardless of our situation and our choices, we all have heavy burdens to carry sometimes. 

6. What I believe isn’t always what you believe… and that’s okay too. 

Beyond being a mom, we are all women – intelligent and thoughtful and passionate about what we believe in. Things like religion and politics – these are core parts of us as human beings and not transient concepts that we change at a whim. 

I’m often surprised at how often disagreements occur on our chapters about these core issues, as though we each feel as though it is our duty to convince the others that we are right and they are wrong. To me, it seems silly to think that this tactic will be successful – perhaps it is in some cases, but more often than not, it just drives a wedge between two people who could otherwise learn so much from each other. 

I’ve learned that each of us hold these ideals close to our heart – some moreso than others – and as I too have ideals that I hold dear, I have learned to stop trying to convince others that my way is the best way. Instead I live my life the way I feel led to lead it… and I’m open to sharing why I live the way I do with anyone interested in learning more about it. Sharing my opinions and thoughts with those willing to hear them is enlightening to both of us, as I always learn something new in the process. And in most cases, we both come out with a greater understanding of each other, even if neither of us change our original opinion. 

Respecting each other’s ideals is key to a good discussion, I believe. If I come in and attack you or ridicule you for what you believe, our conversation immediately shuts down. And no one is better for that. 

It’s okay to believe something different than what I believe and its an amazing thing when people of different backgrounds and beliefs can share then in a way where everyone comes out of the conversation with a new understanding of each other and the topic at hand. I’m truly a better person because of these wonderful conversations and I’m betting many of you are too! 

7. Most moms see different choices as a judgment on their own… and I’m here to say they’re wrong. 

Have I said this enough? 

If I accomplish one thing in my life, I hope it is to rid this mentality from the minds of moms everywhere! 

Our choices are based upon so many different things – how we were raised, what we hold dear to our hearts, our environment, our knowledge and desire for new information and the thoughts and opinions of those most important to us, not to mention that “gut feeling” you inherit when you have a baby! 

It seems silly to think that all of us, all different in so many ways, would make the same choices. There are so many options – we are bound to choose differently from our friends some of the time! 

I can assure you though that each mom has a reason for those choices… a good one. And as the notion of a bad choice equates to being a bad mom, I can assure you that it is important for these moms to feel they have made the best choice. 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your best choice is the ONLY choice though. Because it isn’t. And a mom who made a different choice than you isn’t a bad mom. She’s a different mom. And that’s okay. And who knows… maybe if you keep your ears open, you may learn a thing or two… 

8. You CAN be a better mom if you keep your mind open to new ideas. 

I know, I know – I’ve just spent most of this defending a mom’s choices and encouraging everyone to respect each other’s choices and ways of doing things, even if they are different than your own. 

But the truth is, deep down inside, all of us moms know that we don’t have this thing in the bag… there’s always some room for improvement. 

Closing the door to new ideas (even the ones that seem completely crazy on first hearing) is quite possibly the worst thing you can do as a parent. If you think you have this parenting thing perfected, think again. There’s always a new something to try, if you’re just willing to keep an open mind and look! 

The difference between the babyhood of my firstborn and second born is significant and I have to say, I feel a little bad for my firstborn for having a mom who was just really insecure about trusting the “gut” and doing what felt right. Because what felt “right” to me wasn’t, in my personal experience, what mom’s did. Like sleep with your babies. Or attach them to your body rather than haul around a carrier. Or breastfeed long after they could ask for it by name. 

By the time Caty rolled around, I had learned so much from the moms I had met through CharlotteMommies and I saw a whole new side to parenting that I had never been exposed to before… it changed the way I parented in a good way – by allowing me to be more confident in the choices that “felt right” to me. I’m a better mom for it, I think. And I would have missed out on all that awesomeness if I had stubbornly held on to the belief that “the way its always been done” is the way I needed to do it. 

9. Just because you have a right to say something, doesn’t mean you should, especially if what you say will hurt someone. 

This is a lesson that I have always somehow held close to me, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw someone put it into words so well. 

I tend to be pretty neutral about most things, mostly because I don’t ever want a mom to feel like my personal opinions reflect upon our chapters or my relationship with her. At TMN, we ask our leadership to behave similarly – to refrain from controversial topics and to be as unbiased as possible, so as not to reflect a particular opinion as that of the chapter or of TMN itself. 

I’ve always operated on the belief that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then not to say anything at all. And that’s worked for me, for the most part ☺ 

But I get that we all have a right to say what we believe – we can shout it from the rooftops – we can post it in our signatures – we are fortunate to live in a country where we are free to say how we feel and what we believe without persecution from the government, a freedom that not all of our world’s citizens enjoy. 

I think that sometimes, though, we are so keen on exercising our right to say how we feel or what we believe, that we forget how that opinion makes others feel. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t feel what you feel or believe what you believe – but its not really necessary to say that you disagree with a particular issue or topic if your statement is merely going to hurt someone seeking support. Chances are, that person already knows how you feel… but kicking them while they are down isn’t going to solve anything. 

Its tough to hold your tongue when you really want to get the last word in, or ensure your point is heard… but when you take a moment to consider the real person that might be hurt by your words, it’s a little easier to save it for another discussion. 

10. What connects us together is that we love our children in a way unconceivable to anyone who has never been a mom… and that’s enough! 

It really is, you know? It’s the thing that binds us all together. It’s the secret that we all share – the sisterhood we all belong to. 

When I was a teenager, I gave my mother hell and all kinds of it. The day I held my sweet Caroline in my arms for the first time, all of those memories came flooding back and I saw my mother in a completely new and different way. All those things she did made sense – even if I still didn’t agree with them, I understood the reasons behind those decisions, because it was so obvious to me that the most important job I had was to keep this beautiful little girl safe and help her to grow into an amazing woman. All those times when my mom seemed unfair or just didn’t’ seem to get it – in that one moment, I realized she did that because of her great love for me. 

We all have that at our core. We all share this driving force to be better people and raise amazing children. It’s a hard job, whether you are single, married or divorced, whether you are a stay-at-home mom or working full time, whether you are healthy or ill, whether you are happy or depressed, whether you are young or old, whether you are doing it one way or another. 

For that reason, I truly love and respect EVERY mom, for the sacrifices she makes every day for the next generation, and for the love that she spreads into the world through her children. For that alone, we should all give each other a great round of applause… we’re making it work, day by day, figuring it out as we go along. And for that alone, don’t we all deserve each other’s respect and admiration? 

I believe we do.




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