Sanctimommy

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There’s a new mother on the block and she’s cheerfully terrorizing everyone else. The sanctimommy is here!

The sanctimommy knows how you should raise your children. Specifically, she knows what foods they should eat, what toys they should be allowed to play with; heck, sanctimommy even knows how you should have given birth.

The best part about sanctimommy is that she is always ready to share her wisdom with the rest of us. She doesn’t hesitate to point out the deficiencies of your parenting practices (in other words, how your parenting choices differ from hers). She doesn’t hesitate to make dire predictions about what the future holds for your children (“You give him a pacifier? You know he’s never going to be able to …”). She never hesitates to bemoan your lack of understanding of the key issues of childrearing, letting you know that you are not as “educated” as she is.

My personal observation on the behavior of sanctimommies in their natural habitat is that they tend to suffer from overwhelmingly from ostentatious “sadness”. They are so “sad” for you that you don’t do everything their way. They are so “sad” for your children that you are not parenting the way they prescribe. They are just so “sad” that everyone in the world does not recognize their incredible superiority and their expert status on every aspect of parenting at every age.

Sanctimommy has lots of all purpose rules for parenting. No need to tailor your parenting choices to the personality and needs of the individual child. All childbirth should be unmedicated; all children should be breastfed for the prescribed amount of time, all children should be carried, every child should sleep in the family bed. There’s a rule for every behavior and every situation.

Despite her apparent self assurance, sanctimommy needs constant validation and she intends to get it from you. Your parenting choices serve as the perfect foil for sanctimommy since she can criticize them and you.

Sanctimommy is quick to take offense. In fact she is always sure that she is being “disrespected” by those who don’t make the same choices.

Sanctimommy is sure that she is being persecuted. Mothers who don’t agree with her are accused of interfering with her choices even if you have no interest in her choices at all.

Fundamentally, Sanctimommy cannot abide uncertainty, and if there ever was it job fraught with uncertainty it is motherhood. It is difficult to get feedback on job performance from children. Children live in the moment, are overwhelmed with their own needs, and don’t take the long view.

Children don’t tell you whether being allowed in the parental bed promotes security or inability to manage separation. They don’t tell you whether limiting television is crucial to wellbeing or merely an affectation that has no impact on them. They don’t thank you for discipline and they don’t applaud your performance. In fact, it often turns out that your best moments as a mother were the ones that they appeared, at the time, to hate the most.

All mothers must cope with this uncertainty, but some are more challenged than others. Sanctimommies deal with uncertainty by pretending that it doesn’t exist. They adopt all purpose rules for parenting and insist that following them demonstrates unequivocally that they are doing the right thing (and, inevitably, if you don’t agree, you are wrong).

And because they are so insecure, they cannot resist interrogating other mothers and demeaning their choices. Had an epidural? Too bad you gave in to the pain. Stopped breastfeeding before age 2 (or 3 or 4)? How sad that you didn’t try hard enough. Your children’s food is not 100% organic? How unfortunate that you don’t care enough about your children to serve the very best.

Ironically, Santimommy’s choices don’t necessarily reflect what is best for her children. They don’t reflect the fact that children are individual human beings with individual needs and desires. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting formula and pretending that there is ignores the specific needs of a specific child. Sancitmommy’s choices are all about her, her need for reassurance and her inability to tolerate uncertainty.