What drives the ‘Mommy Wars’ and how we can stop them (Part 1)
What are the Mommy Wars
Mommy Wars? It sounds rather absurd. It conjures up imagery of mothers running through the street, infant strapped safely in the mother’s baby carrying apparatus of choice, shooting at each other. Or perhaps drivebys being committed from mini-vans blasting the latest Kidz Bop album. Or even moms a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away duking it out with blasters and light sabers. None of those things are an accurate description, but the actual Mommy Wars are just as ridiculous.
The Mommy Wars can be described as the petty disagreements mothers have about the best child-rearing practices. Yes. You read that correctly: women fight and shame each other over decisions made regarding children that are in another responsible adult’s care.
It’s a war because everyone acts as if every decision they make is life and death and that they and those who agree with them are the ones who are making the best decisions and that everyone else’s parenting decisions suck.These arguments are about everything from how to put your kid in a carseat to what excrement catching apparatus is the best to use.
If you can’t tell, I think the Mommy Wars are stupid. Stupid. STUPID.
The Mommy Wars are fought on various fronts. The most well-known battle is between Stay At Home vs. Working Mommies. Other battles are breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding; breastmilk vs. formula; ‘natural’ birth vs. Cesarean, co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping, and about a dozen other things. Any parenting decision where there is more than one option there are people standing on either side saying that what they’re doing is the best thing and putting down everyone who isn’t doing that thing.
As if people should raise their children according to the opinions of others. (Such ideas are absurd in most facets of American culture, though it might be different elsewhere)
At times, I feel that the young mothers of my generation are the most divided of any previous generation. It’s like we can’t just raise our own kids the way that we see fit; we have to tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong in raising their kids.
I’m not talking about passing along helpful safety information like product recalls or revisions in safety standards. Those things are invaluable and can save kids’ lives. I’m talking about picking apart others’ parenting decisions and acting like the way you raise your kids is the only valid way to raise kids.
I can’t imagine not vaccinating my precious Rooty because I think that polio, the measles, et al. sucks. However, I know lots of mothers who also love their kids and have mede the decision not to vaccinate. I could be a complete witch and shove my ideas down their throats, act superior whenever the topic comes up, and generally look down my nose at non-vaxxing moms; but what on earth would any of that accomplish?
I gave birth via Cesarean. It wasn’t my first choice. My preference was to have an unmedicated vaginal birth, but that didn’t happen. It was disappointing at the time (I had been in labor for almost 24 hours before they took me in), but it didn’t matter one ounce after the fact. Would you believe that there are women out there who think that they are better than me simply because they pushed their baby out of their vagina? As if being ripped open from stem to stern is an afternoon picnic.
It seems like anything where there are two or more valid decisions that can be made, people want to choose a side and throw rocks at everyone else who doesn’t agree with them.
This needs to stop.
What drives the Mommy Wars
The need for validation. My generation of mothers grew up hearing how important and special we were. Every move we made was validated by gold stars, stickers, and participation ribbons. My generation has an expectation for validation of everything that we do.
Parenting, especially in the very early stages, is full of decisions. A lot of times you have to make a decision and hope that it doesn’t break your kid. When you make such decisions, you want reassurance that you’ve done the right thing.
My generation of mothers have created both online and physical spaces where we can receive validation for our decisions. Some mothers become so entrenched in these spaces and their respective stances on certain issues that they fail to consider the merits of others’ stances. As a result, they feel the need to shove what they think down others’ throats with no consideration of a different point of view. When they encounter another mom on the opposite side with an opinion that is just as strong, it can devolve into a feud rather than mutual understanding.
Inexperience is another factor in the Mommy Wars. Not just inexperience in parenting, but inexperience in life. When you combine inexperience, zeal, and a need for validation, you get young people who are passionate about what they think they know but need to constantly be reassured that they actually know what they claim to know. Combine that with pregnancy and postpartum hormones and you have a powder keg.
A lot of young mothers don’t have enough life experience to appreciate the experiences and ideas of others. They fight against different opinions because they think they know it all. It doesn’t help that they also have their peers coaching them and reassuring them that they do know it all (or that they know enough to be able to tell others off). Another person with another perspective is often viewed as a threat rather than a resource.
There are moments when a new/young mother has to assert herself in order to silence the stream of unsolicited advice/opinions that she may receive because so many differing ideas can be overwhelming. This is a useful and necessary skill. What’s problematic is when a mother becomes so entrenched in a certain school of thought (or child rearing book, or baby guru, or parenting style, etc.) that she takes umbrage to anything outside of her curated mommy box.
The way women are socialized is also to blame. Women are socialized to compete with one another and to strive for perfection. Where perfection can’t be achieved we learn to fake it. We feel the need to one up each other. For some this need is pathological. Many of us also have the ugly habit of becoming catty whenever we feel that we’ve been bested. This is the perfect fuel for the Mommy Wars because it causes us to create cliques based on our parenting decisions and to slam others who aren’t doing what we’re doing.
Fear can be the decisive factor in many parenting decisions. We don’t want harm to come to our babies. We don’t want them to die. We do what we can to prevent calamity that seems to be looming at every turn. We project our fears onto other people and expect them to feel the same way about things as we do. We don’t understand how other people can make certain decisions that would never give us peace.
An older, more seasoned mother shared with me that the fear instinct (or protective instinct,perhaps better said) comes with the territory for mothers of young children. It’s what keeps us on top of making sure little fingers don’t go into light sockets and preventing various other calamities. As our children get older, that fear/protective instinct doesn’t (shouldn’t) kick in as often. In my own parenting experience, I’ve had way more concerns about my babies than I have about my older kids, so what she said rings true for me.
If we fail to recognize the root of irrational fear in our parenting, we set ourselves up to live in a perpetual cycle of letting fear steal our peace and fighting to regain that peace by attempting to control everything (and everyone) around us.
You have every right to live in a private hell of fear and self-doubt if you want to, but you don’t have the right to rob others of their peace. Shaming other moms for their parenting decisions doesn’t make your decisions any more valid.
Put your high horse in the stable
Repeat after me: I am important. I am special. I am a good person. My parenting decisions have no bearing on these facts.
Say it again: I am important. I am special. I am a good person. My parenting decisions have no bearing on these facts.
Are you doing everything within your means to care for and provide for your child(ren)? If so, you are a good parent and probably a fairly decent person. The nuts and bolts of how you do those things doesn’t matter.
Feeding your kids organic food grown in your own garden and watered with the pee of unicorns doesn’t make you a better person than the mom who cooks TV dinners every night and lets each kid drink two liters of grape soda straight from the bottle. Your self worth shouldn’t come from your parenting decisions.
Avoid the temptation to climb on a high horse when you see another mom making a choice that you wouldn’t dare make for your children. We all do things that causes other people to clutch their pearls.
Let’s encourage one another instead of finding petty things to fight about.
In part two, I will discuss some practical things we can do to end the Mommy Wars.