Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Never Ending Mommy Wars

When I became a mother, my life changed, and an entire world I knew nothing about took over. I had a mountain of decisions to make, and didn’t know which way to go. Those first lonely months at home with my newborn were really overwhelming. Mommy blogs and message boards were just becoming popular, and so, I turned to the internet for companionship. It was the easiest way to find and talk with other moms.

At first I was first impressed with the amount of information I found and felt comforted by the fact that there were so many women like me, who wanted to share and connect with people, even if it was just through a computer screen. But then I became aware of something that goes on not just on the internet, but in real life, as well: the mommy wars. Breast vs. bottle; work vs. stay at home; c-section vs. natural birth; Ferber vs. Sears; rear facing vs. forward facing car seats; Stride Rite vs. Payless; and pretty much any parenting decision you could imagine is challenged, dissected, and ultimately condemned by someone out there who disagrees. 

I frequented one popular mommy site in particular, and the arguing that ensued there over nearly everything was reminiscent of a soap opera. Sharing that I was going to return to work full time when my son was six months old, I was blasted by strangers who knew nothing about me as being selfish, greedy, self-serving, and letting someone else raise my child. If only those women could have been with me to feel my heart being wrenched out of my body every single time I had to leave my child with a stranger. If only they knew the feeling of being ripped apart limb from limb, the condemnation I put myself through for not being responsible enough with money when I was younger so that I could afford to stay home; for thinking having a baby and going back to work would be a piece of cake; for not being there every single time my son cried.

I couldn’t believe that any woman, stranger on the web or not, would think or imply that I was any less caring or any less of a parent than she because I worked outside the home. Even worse, I had a very high intervention birth, I formula fed, and did not wear my baby, and those choices were put down too.

Eventually I realized that the worst of the criticism was coming from myself. As a first time parent, I was unsure of many of the choices I was making. I allowed people to make me feel like a poor parent because I felt like one already.

I started asking myself questions about how I was parenting and why. Over time I started frequenting different internet sites and became exposed to different groups of women, a couple in particular who challenged my decisions in a gentle, but thought provoking, manner. I went back to the drawing board with my parenting. I spent hours and hours researching vaccines; circumcision, breast-feeding, natural birth, baby wearing, cloth diapers, and much more. I changed what I could with my son, and swore to myself that when the next baby came, my husband and I would make decisions because we were informed, not because it was what everyone else was doing.

I suppose at that point I was no longer a mainstream parent. I honestly felt like I would be welcomed into the non-mainstream community, and that it would be wonderful to sit back and say, “Isn’t it just great that we all accept each other?”

Unfortunately, the mommy wars are never ending. I very quickly became aware of another facet to this side effect of parenthood, and it is the AP (attachment parenting), or crunchy, moms vs. the mainstream moms. One side attacks the other and each struggles to come back with something proving that they are the better parents. It’s really sad, it’s really disappointing, and what’s been particularly surprising for me has been that even the like-minded moms argue amongst themselves.

Even in the non-mainstream parenting circles, I often find that there seems to be a certain set of rules and standards that moms are held up to in order to be Good Parents. Among those are: cloth diapering, co-sleeping, no pacifier, breast-feeding, child led weaning, elimination communication, drugless births, delaying solids, organic eating, home schooling, and more. (I’ve done most of these with my second child and plan to continue with my third—and I still don’t feel crunchy enough). If a mother does not adhere to all of these rules yet she claims to be an AP parent, she is criticized and ultimately, over time, becomes ostracized from the very circle she sought to join. And amongst the blue ribbon pedigreed AP moms, there is a lot of patting on the back, a lot of self-congratulatory comments and behavior, a lot of self-satisfaction and praise for each other for being the Perfect Parent.

Isn’t attachment parenting about not conforming to anyone else’s rules? Isn’t it about child-led parenting? Isn’t it about listening to your baby and child’s cues, and doing the best you can? If every child is different, then what works for one will not work for another. There is no set of standards, or at least there shouldn’t be in my opinion. Since when did it become a battle of who uses the most organic cloth diapers, who doesn’t get the epidural, who breastfeeds the longest? Since when have using a pacifier or the Ferber method become acceptable reasons for casting someone out, for ending friendships? It startles me that we can go on and on about accepting and being gentle with our children when we don’t do it with each other.

Though these types of disagreements happen everywhere, the online world seems to be the worst. I’ve read comments on message boards that seriously make me cringe. Why are people so beastly on the internet? Is it because they hide behind their keyboard, never having to face the consequences of their words? Do people become bolder when they are tapping the keys away well into the middle of the night, instead of having to actually speak with someone? I wonder how many of these Perfect Mothers would tout their credentials with fervor in a room full of real people, instead of in a virtual chat room or on a message board?

Why don’t we think better of ourselves as women? Why don’t we hold ourselves to higher standards? Don’t we realize that by fighting amongst ourselves we perpetuate the unfortunate stereotypes that women are catty, backstabbing, and dishonest? Even the phrase “mommy wars” makes me feel like we’re just a bunch of loud-mouthed, cat-fighting witches.

While I don’t believe in circumcision, don’t practice crying it out, selectively vaccinate on my own schedule, am obsessive about eating well, and am insanely passionate about breastfeeding and car seat safety, among other things, the thought that I couldn’t be friends with a mother, in real life, or on the internet, who doesn’t do all these things exactly as I do, never occurred to me. I talk to my real life mom friends and family about the wealth of knowledge I have acquired and how valuable it is to me, but I would never dream of ending my interaction with a mother based on whether or not she actually followed my path. Frankly, if I believe my way is best, and I’m hoping to get other moms over on my side, the best way to do that is with gentle advice, guidance, and support. I’ve never had any luck convincing anyone of anything when I’ve criticized them and made them defensive.

As much as I pride myself on making our food from scratch, staying away from processed snacks, and as pristine as our diet is the vast majority of the time, occasionally you may find Chex Mix (for me) or Cheez Its (for my husband) in my pantry. I nursed my daughter for two and a half years, and she enjoyed a pacifier for two of those years. In my home, we all prefer to sleep in our own beds. I don’t have homebirths. My kids eat Amy’s Organic frozen pizza. I gave up my all-natural shampoo recently because after getting a sample of Aveeno in the mail, my hair was so much shinier and manageable that I couldn’t go back. Some days I recycle like a mad woman, and some days I just throw the toilet paper roll into the regular trash. Why? Because I don’t have a crunchy checklist. And because I’m human. There’s so much to keep track of and manage, and sometimes one of the balls I’m juggling falls to the floor. And that’s OK.

You can be a good parent, a great parent, in fact, and make none of the choices I have made. I know I went through a period where, internally at least, I was judgmental of other mothers and the way they raised their children. I know I was self-righteous and thought I had it all figured out. Finally branching out in my neighborhood and making some real friends has helped me get over my judgment. I’ve come full circle. Sure, I’m opinionated—and I love to share information about what I’m doing. But I’m finally confident enough in myself to not pay too much attention to what other people are doing. I no longer feel the need to brag about my natural living or parenting skills. In fact, amongst my friends, none of us do things exactly the same. And I like it that way!

I’m finally home full time and ecstatic to be so; and make the best choices I can for my family. My husband and I parent as human beings, good human beings. We love our children; we parent them instinctively, and will continue to do so. If something works for us, great, and it doesn’t matter which umbrella it falls under, the mainstream or the AP. 

I certainly don’t measure a good mother by how long she breastfed, or what kind of labor she had, or whether her baby sleeps in a crib or not. I don’t find it necessary to alienate mothers for using the cry it out method, or for giving solids in a time frame I deem as too soon; because I know that they are good mothers. They love their children, and they do what they think is best. I wouldn’t take my friendship away from a woman who chose to have an elective c-section at 40 weeks—I would try with all my might to warn her, and give her information, but the idea that she is a bad mother or doesn’t love her baby is ridiculous. Often, moms make these types of choices because they don’t know that there is another way—and I know that because I was one of those mothers.

And of course, the judgment comes from both sides. It is because of the harsh words and comments from the mainstream community, and because they sting, that I am disappointed to find that the other side engages in this war, as well. I guess since it seems as if non-mainstream parents hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to their living and parenting choices, I hoped that would apply to them as human beings, as well.

I feel for the new mothers, the ones who struggle the way I did, to find the right way. I fear the rejection and judgment they will face when they enter an environment full of Perfect Mothers for the first time, whichever side of the spectrum they are on. It saddens me, as a woman and a mother, that we cannot find common ground in simply loving our children the best way we know how. 


Amy said... [Reply to comment]

I think you and I should chat! I was going to write about this very subject! And it seems as though we are on the same page with the gender issue. I whole heartedly agree with this post! Moms are ridiculous to one another, and most of the time we don't know what is going on in their life that may have prompted that decision. Even friends - parenting is such a personal thing I couldn't begin to presume I know why even my closest friend would make the choices she did as a parent, and certainly no stranger on the internet should either! Everyone does the best they can, and as long as they love their child, that's all you should expect from another.

Gennifer Albin said... [Reply to comment]

The mommy wars can definitely make it hard to keep a positive outlook on parenting. I think that's why I started CM, because I was feeling constantly like I didn't fit into either mainstream or natural parenting. I parent instinctively, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but the best I can do for my kids. I'm finally at a place where I'm at peace with that. The only person you can hold yourself up against us for parenting comparison should be yourself yesterday. Thankfully I have a partner who agrees with that, and that's all the support I really need.

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

Absolutely! I would have no friends if I simply chose to hang around people who did things exactly the way I did... and even then, opinions and practices change!

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

@Gennifer Albin
I'm so grateful for this blog! I love that each writer has her own take on things and everyone comes from such diverse backgrounds and brings a wealth of information and knowledge.

I definitely was not expecting this much conflict in parenting. It's reasonable to assume that we're all doing the best we can for our kids.

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