I used to think that people in the yoga community were the most judgey, self-righteous people to ever walk the face of the earth. But when I became a mom and got a first-hand glimpse of the Mommy Wars, I realized I was mistaken: Moms can put even the most “spiritual” yogi to shame when it comes to judging eyes, condescending advice, and the general need to be superior in every way.
Let me explain.
The Yogi Wars: Let Us All Judge Each Other in the Name of Ahimsa
(that means non-harming, you un-enlightened yoga wannabe)
I enrolled in my first yoga teacher training way back in 2006 at a popular studio in San Francisco. This was a time when yoga was still kind of odd and eccentric, but was just beginning to emerge as the trendy practice it is today. At the time, people sometimes stopped me on the subway on my way to class to ask me what I used my mat for? “Gymnastics? Dance?” And when I told people worked for a yoga magazine during awkward small talk, they often gave me a confused look and ask if I was some kind of a cook? “So, do you write recipes or something? I mean, I know people like yogurt, but a whole magazine about it?” It was a frustrating conversation, but at the same time it made me feel like I was doing something special–and that maybe I was just a little bit special because I discovered it. I was on to something, and I wanted to do it right. I didn’t just want to study yoga. I wanted to LIVE it, and that meant doing everything good yogis do.
It turns out I wasn’t as special as I thought because I enrolled in a yoga teacher training with 50 (yes, FIFTY!) other yoga teachers-in-training. I was the ripe, old age of 22 at the time. I desperately wanted to prove that I belonged there. So, when I noticed my classmates judgingly eye my pre-class cookie, I switched to a pre-class salad or a “healthy” granola instead. “That bar looks good, but you should try this one I have. It’s organic AND fair trade—no child labor karma for me!” (That was before our teacher went postal on all of us for having snacks before a twisting class. “I can’t in good faith teach what is on the schedule for you to learn today when I’m watching you fill your bellies. Food before class is strictly contraindicated for a twisting class! And now I have to change my class plans entirely!” When someone suggested my plastic water bottle was harming the planet and my reproductive organs, I made the switch to a $25 stainless steel one even though it made my water taste like metal. I had to do it. I was going to be a yoga teacher for crying out loud—it was imperative that I have the appropriate water bottle.
I began to realize the complete ridiculousness of it all on a day when I whipped out the Lady Speed Stick I carried in my bag to control the stench. The woman sitting next to me stopped her diligent note-taking for long enough to nudge me and whisper, “I can’t believe you use Lady Speed Stick!” I rolled my eyes a little bit and prepared for a lecture about how I was harming myself with harmful chemicals. Instead she said,” You know how bad that is for women’s equality?” Face palm.
That’s when I gave up trying to do things “the yoga way” and I realized that if yoga was all about self-reflection and connecting my body to my breath and spirit, I wasn’t going to give one more thought about what anyone else thought about the food I ate or the deodorant I used. I’d do this yoga thing my own way. After all, I had fallen in love with yoga because it made me feel good and helped me relieve the tons of stress in my life at the time. Worrying about what other people thought of my spiritual practice was ruining it for me. So I stopped thinking about pleasing other people and their big egos. I embraced my new role as a self-proclaimed yoga rebel. And if I wanted a cookie before class I ate it— bringing enough to share was a part of my seva, or selfless service, practice (not that very many people took me up on it.)
See also 5 Most Controversial Topics in Yoga
The Mommy Wars: There Are No Winners
When I first had my daughter, I found myself in a similar situation. I was so excited to be a mom, and I was determined to pour every bit of myself into my new role (just as I had my yoga practice years ago). I was SO going to rock this mom gig. I’d feed my daughter only the healthy, organic foods I’d learned were best in my yoga teacher training days. I’d limit screen time. I’d read to her every day. I would be the kind of mom who would bring my daughter along with me everywhere. I would be attentive without smothering. I’d keep working and manage to keep my career and my identity at the same time. (I’d never ever wear Mom jeans or cut off all my hair.)
I had conjured up some pretty unrealistic expectations for myself as a mother. It was harder than I thought. And I quickly felt like a failure. Why was it so hard?
Then the “helpful” advice and comments started coming in. (If there’s one thing veteran moms and grandmas at the grocery store like to do, it’s give poor, clueless first-time moms advice. Remember: Many of the Mommy Wars battles are fought right in the checkout line at the grocery store.) “Oh. You let her stay up until 9? My son always went to sleep by 7 every night… Until he went to college.” “Rice cereal, huh? Avocado was my daughter’s first food. It’s good for brain development.” “You’re pureeing her food? Oh, that’s cute. Haven’t you heard of baby-led weaning?” “You co-sleep? I could never do that. Aren’t you afraid you’ll roll over on her and smother her in the middle of the night?”
One well-meaning mom’s hurtful words still haunt me years later. I had finally decided to hire a babysitter to help me watch my daughter (who was about a year old by the time I had admitted I couldn’t work from home AND chase my toddler all day). “Some people just really need a break from their kids. I never did. I actually like hanging out with my kids…” Ouch. I like spending time with my kid, too. You are obviously a superior mother. I am a failure.
I didn’t hire that babysitter after all. If only I could go back in time…
Why Fight a Losing Battle?
I know these moms weren’t trying to be mean. It’s just that they needed (as desperately as I did) to win some sort of fictional Mommy Award to make them feel better about all the decisions they’ve made as a parent.
I get it. It’s not much different than the fictional Deepest Backbend Award. We all want to be awarded for our efforts. We need a stamp of approval—for other people to watch us and say, “Wow, you seem to have it all together. How do you do it all!?”
And it’s because of my experiences in yoga that I finally came to realize that this need to keep score (of both Handstands and Pinterest projects) often comes from a place of major, heart-wrenching, painful insecurity. We’re all just trying to figure out what the hell we’re doing. Sometimes we are so desperate for validation (in a culture that, unfortunately, doesn’t give caregivers much respect of support) that we’ll do anything we can to get it, even if it means a back injury or making other people feel bad in the process. What comes across as competitive, self-righteous behavior is really just a plea for someone—anyone—to recognize how hard we’ve been working and appreciate the hours of self-sacrifice you’ve been putting in to bring up the next generation. If another mom decides to adopt my way of doing things (the right way, ahem!), I’ll know I must be doing something right? RIGHT? PLEASE, SOMEONE, TELL ME I’M RIGHT!
And that’s why I’m opting out of all the battles.
Is my technique to get an infant to sleep better or yours? Does the infant sleep eventually? Then, both ways work. Is my Triangle in better alignment or is his? Who feels the most freedom in their body and mind? There’s no way of knowing. And I just don’t have the time or the energy to give one it more thought.
We can both be doing a yoga pose in a way that’s totally healing for us, even if it looks completely different on the outside. Likewise, we can both be doing an exceptionally great job raising our kids, even if the way we go about it looks as different as night and day from the outside. I honor all the mamas and dads who parent like me, and all the ones who do things completely differently.
So, in case you haven’t heard it in a while, please know this:
You’re doing a great job. Your family adores you. You are exactly where you need to be in this moment—both in your yoga practice and your life. And that’s all that really matters.