Monday, August 5, 2013


When Jamie was in the bath last night I noticed a terrible bruise on his arm.  “What could that be?” I thought.  It was a weird ring on his upper arm and looked like whatever caused it was painful.


And then I knew because, of course, I had signed the injury report at daycare: he was bitten.  In fact, he has been bitten several times at school by the biter in the toddler room.  Poor baby of mine.


When I was a new mom (I still feel like a new mom), I was involved with a MOPs group.  I felt like a fraud because I worked, and all the moms there didn’t, and because my faith is a bit different, I think, than most others.  Oh, sure, we’re all different in our faith, but for me, I enjoy church service because of how much I learn and how rooted in history and science and research our pastor’s sermons are.  We are often called to think for ourselves, not just blindly follow what is preached (and, as such, I believe that God and evolution are BOTH real and true and not mutually exclusive).  I will probably never get involved in a Bible study or small group.  I don’t enjoy it, and I feel like my relationship with God is my own business.  I love the ways in which our church gives back to the community, and I like meeting new people, but I am unlikely to be involved in some of the more outspoken ways.  You know, the ways that make the rest of us, if we’re insecure in ourselves, feel bad about our choices.  Like, I am somehow worth less if I don’t say Grace before every meal. 


But you know what?  It’s not true, not at all.  Some of us feel called to proselytize, and that’s fine.  I don’t want to hear it, not really, but that’s fine if that’s your choice.  Some of us are compelled to work and have our children grow up with caretakers other than ourselves, and that’s fine, too.  I am setting a strong example for my children – one which shows that women have value as business owners and can financially contribute to their families and that makes me happy.  Some of us don’t say Grace at meals, and that’s fine, as well.  It is not a comment about my faith, merely a comment about my preferences.  Besides, there’s no right way to do things.  There’s no right way to be a parent, no right way to have a relationship with God, no right way to structure your family, no right number of children (everything from 0 to Duggar family is acceptable), no right way to dress, no right amount of TV to watch.  There are only choices, and we all have to live with our own.


So anyway, when I was a new mom of a (let’s walk down memory lane a bit here, shall we?) colicky, sleepless, constantly-eating, giant, energetic one-year-old I regularly attended a meeting of church-going moms of preschoolers who were outspoken about their faith and the fact that they stay home with their kids and either home school them or enroll them at the Christian school.  That doesn’t sound like me, but I was starved for mom friends and looking for anyone who could identify with my life and help me through those first few months and years.  At one meeting, one of the moms was called to pick up her kid from the care center.  She came back, baby in hand, with an ice pack held to his cheek.  Because “one of the other kids” (I think you can see where this is going) bit him.  And so everyone looked around to find the biter’s mom, but no other mom was called to get her kid, so I guess the biter was effectively isolated and quarantined, or whatever.  But I am not joking, even though we all knew that someone, someone sitting in that room, was the parent of the biter, several moms made all sorts of mean-spirited comments about the terrible parenting that leads to biting.


The biter was Charles.  And when all the moms walked to the care center after MOPs was over to pick up our kids, one of the care workers pointed and, loudly enough for everyone to hear, said, “that was the boy who bit the other one.  On the face.” 


I was mortified.  Of course I was a terrible parent.  Of course I wasn’t fit to have children.  Shit, I had to work for a living and I didn’t even want to stay home and I had no desire to home school or send my kids to the Christian school, what was wrong with me?


Charles was a tactile baby, and he bit a lot.  But it didn’t last.  He began to understand that biting hurt the other kids.  He got all his teeth so his mouth didn’t hurt anymore.  He stopped biting, but I’ve felt compelled ever since to reassure moms whose kids I see biting that, oh!  My Charles bit other kids, too!  And he’s not a sociopath!  And he doesn’t bite anymore!  And you’re not a bad mom!


I’m not in MOPs anymore, largely because I didn’t feel like I belonged.  Other than me, it was a big group of moms were were exactly the same: stay-at-home, home school or Christian school, talk a lot about faith and judge others based on faith, somewhat mean-spirited toward outsiders, watch Christian video series comparing being a mother to having lots of purses for different outfits (yeah, the video series got a bit wacko).  I am still friends with some of the women I met there, though, so maybe it was sort of a group-think situation.  The last straw for me was when I was excitedly telling the moms at my table about the dual-language program at a nearby elementary school and how we hope to enroll Charles in the program and one of them actually said, “Aren’t you worried about him hanging out with all the Mexican kids?”


I’m not joking.


I should have gotten up and walked away, but I was just stunned.


I really didn’t start this post thinking that I would write about hypocrisy.  I began it as a story of grace: grace for the child who bit mine, grace for the parents of the biter because I know what they’re going through.  They probably feel ten times as terrible as I do seeing my baby’s bruised arm.  They’re probably wondering how in the world they’ll be able to get their fourteen-month-old to stop biting other kids.  They’re probably thinking that they’re terrible parents or that they’re raising a monster.  I know I did.  But it will get better, and their child will grow out of biting and be just fine.  I wish I knew who they were so I could tell them.


It actually (and crazily) took me another year to quit MOPs.  It took me a long time to both learn to give myself grace as a parent and to realize that it’s okay to quit things if they’re not right.  MOPs wasn’t right for me.  I am a good mom, regardless of the biting or the willful disobedience or any of the other myriad challenges my children present that others don’t.  My choices, they are mine, and I am happy with them.


Megan and Jeff Vogel said...

Great post.

Sarah said...

Amen, sister! We also know a few biters, and it was really hard because they basically couldn't leave son in child care without one parent supervising every moment. He too is a fantastic little boy raised by fantastic parents. I'm sorry MOPs was a bomb. At least you are smart enough to have gotten out of it. It's ironic to me that Christians can be so judgmental. :)