As a child and teenager, my drive for perfection was reflected in my cleaning habits, academic pursuits, and my insatiable need for acceptance. As a young adult it was represented by my self-righteous attitude toward the standard American diet, disgust with large corporations (not to mention “the man”), and my insatiable need for self-improvement. If I had become a mother in my early twenties, I fear that I would have met the definition of “sanctimommy”, albeit a reserved one.
A sanctimommy, as defined by the Urban Dictionary:
“A mother who is sanctimonious about her parenting choices. Looks down at and/or judges parents who don’t make the same choices.”
Of course this is only speculation. Regardless of age, I feel it’s customary for most people to have pre-conceived notions about being a parent, ideas that are inevitably shattered by sleepless nights and endless reality checks involving the trials and tribulations of raising a human being. It’s possible that having a child would have humbled me into a more empathetic and less extreme viewpoint at a younger age. On the other hand, I had relaxed many of my neurotic tendencies only shortly before getting pregnant. I am inclined to believe that the wisdom of getting older, at least in my case, has played a role in my current parental expectations.
A younger version of myself would have scrutinized the ingredients in baby formula with a “tsk tsk”. And while I still believe that companies themselves could do a better job providing healthier formula options, I don’t feel as if I have any place to judge the mothers who buy these products. I now know the truth: breastfeeding can be really fucking hard, and for some families, it simply isn’t the most realistic or ideal choice. This is only one example, but the overriding theme is the same: a parent cannot be characterized as good or bad based on something as arbitrary as their baby feeding preferences.
Finding the gray in former black and white fallacies has helped me become a more balanced and reasonable person. My brain has always been wired to favor details, never mind the big picture. With unremitting anxiety since adolescence, I liked the cut and dry promise of certain outcomes. If I just eat a 100% organic non-GMO whole foods diet I will never get sick! And if I never get sick, I might never have to die! Because who likes uncertainty and who wants to admit that no matter how much “clean” produce you consume, you can still end up with the types of cancers that kill smokers and alcoholics? Or that your parental choices could result in unfavorable, even disastrous outcomes for your child?
I suspect some sanctimommies view their choices as correct, because they need to feel in control. They need to believe that if they parent in an XYZ fashion, everything will go according to plan (or if not, at least it won’t be their fault). I’m sure others are just plain petty.
But don’t we all have our own opinions about the “right” way to raise a child based on our own values and experiences? What’s the difference between judging someone’s approach and being straight-up judgmental?
According to a Psychology Today article written by Gregg Henriques, PhD:
… “Someone is being judgmental when their judgments are power-driven, unempathetic, based on their own idiosyncratic values or tastes, overly based on other people’s character, and are closed, shallow, and pessimistic, and ultimately have the consequence of making the other person feel problematically diminished.”
From a biochemical perspective, the brain prefers to categorize things into simple categories. Boobs: good. Bottles: bad. It requires less energy to take a stance and fight vehemently for it than to constantly hover in between conclusions or accept that most things are not that simple. Stereotypes, for example, provide a neurological shortcut. A mom on welfare? What does your brain envision when you read that phrase?
I like to imagine what a judgy sanctimommy would think if they could see me right at this moment. Just picture it: it’s an overcast day, about 1:30 in the afternoon. I am sitting outside on a blanket. (Ivy has already rolled herself off.) She’s sitting in the grass, playing with a package of Ramen with a pacifier in her mouth. So many speculations, so little time!
Oh look! That poor baby is being ignored by her mother! She’s probably on Facebook, wasting time connecting with strangers when she could be using this precious time to appreciate the little angel right beside her. She probably sets her baby in front of the TV during the day, so she has more time to paint her nails while watching her soaps. I bet her baby cries a lot, probably because she feels neglected. That must be why she has a pacifier shoved into her mouth. And Ramen? Who eats that garbage beyond college? She clearly has no respect for healthy foods. I bet she uses formula. And what’s this? Her baby is STILL in her pajamas? I can only assume she’s been too “busy” on her computer to take the time to dress her poor child. And oh my! 1:30 in the afternoon? Shouldn’t that baby be taking a nap? She looks tired. Her mom STILL hasn’t even put her back on the blanket so that she might enjoy the comfort of her company and warmth. I don’t see any other children around. Psh! Only child I bet. How selfish! That little darling won’t have any siblings to play with. I bet she’s a stay-at-home mom, because she’s so lazy. She’ll probably send her kid to public school someday, because she clearly doesn’t love her child enough to homeschool her. What a shame…
Of course, this is a ridiculous exaggeration, (I hope?) but the sentiment is there.
I was recently considering the implication of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs in relation to parenthood. A psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow proposed this theory in a 1943 paper. The basic premise of his theory is that human needs must be met in a hierarch-type fashion:
In other words, if you can’t afford to heat your apartment or you don’t feel safe in your neighborhood, you probably aren’t stressing out over the trace pesticides in your baby’s applesauce. The ability to fine hone parental preferences to the tune of a sanctimonious life is born of entitlement.
It’s childish to boil down a parent’s worth by analyzing whether or not they let their children have screen time or eat processed foods or (gasp) don’t baptize their babies. It’s the adult version of snubbing someone for wearing Route 66 instead of Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s the type of thing privileged people get to waste their time giving a shit about.