How important is it to you that your mommy friends have the same (or similar) parenting style to you?
Every few months there is a thread on Mothering.com about this. The basic sentiment expressed by most posters that it's important to have a "tribe" of mothers who make you feel good about what you're doing. No surprise that they think this is important, since many of them feel very isolated and attacked for doing things, um, a little differently. I know people in real life that have barred themselves away from any contact from anyone who does anything they wouldn't do themselves, and they are very, very lonely. This area is not exactly a bastion of crunchiness, and to discriminate among different levels of crunchiness is, well, silly. (This may be sour grapes: someone didn't want to be my friend because I let Naomi run a little freer than she thought was appropriate).
These threads always inspire some conflicting emotions in me. I could (or would, if I weren't a die-hard lurker) write sanctimoniously that parents shouldn't discriminate among other parents based on who cloth diapers, uses preschool, or doesn't vaccinate, because segregation breeds distrust and contempt. We should all mix so we can all have a better understanding of why someone would make different choices from us. Our children should learn how to be with people who do things differently.
Even though this is what I believe, it's not what I do. In real life, I feel ten times more at-ease knowing that the choices I've made are (at least) understood by the other people in my life.
I am in a playgroup that formed a few months after Naomi was born that contains mothers of all different philosophies, some work, some don't, some breastfed a little, some for over a year. I am the only one who could be called "crunchy" by any stretch of the imagination. We get together and talk about preschools, real estate, and where to go on vacation while the kids play among themselves. Even though it's nice to get together with other mothers and socialize Naomi with their kids, I am always on my guard about my choices. I don't want to say the wrong thing or put someone on the defensive. As a consequence, I am not myself there. I often leave feeling like a shitty mother.
It's with my LLL friends that I can really let my hair down. I can complain about problems regarding a night-nursing 2 year old without being judged, and I can ask for help and expect to receive real world, been-there advice. I can talk freely about my take on popular philosophies knowing that even if they don't agree with me, they will at least know where I'm coming from. We may disagree about some things, but we are from the same planet. I always feel warm and fuzzy when I leave. It makes me wish my whole world was like this.
Motherhood would be so much easier if there were a universal truth about what makes a good mother. Can you imagine what it would be like if there truly was a recipe for a healthy, well-adjusted child, and all we had to do was follow it? Maybe that's why mothers in more "primitive" cultures are so much happier: it's not the hormones of breastfeeding, or the balance with nature, or the wide network of support; it's that there is only one way of doing things for a mother in that culture. Their choices are never questioned.
This defensiveness must be the price we pay for living in a diverse world. When everything is said and done, I think it's worth it. Because of the mothers who I differ wildly from, I have an appreciation for the motivations behind their choices. I could cocoon myself and never understand what could make someone sleep train a baby. Or I could talk to someone who did, see firsthand that their child is not damaged, and see that my way is not the only way. The downside is that I lose passion for my own choices, or I am forced to defend my choices from someone who doesn't understand what I do.
I need a space where I can feel like I'm normal. I need contact with my "tribe" to refill what the diverse world takes out of me. So yes, it is important to me. Most of my close mommy friends do the same things I do. And that makes me feel a tiny bit hypocritical.