Ready to stab your eyes with a fork yet after reading the title?
SIIIGGGGGHHHHHHH. Oh “mommy wars”. It is almost a guarantee that I will no longer read a post or blog that refers to “mommy wars”. So when that Similac ad went viral, I didn’t watch it. I was pretty sure I got the jist of it. Finally after seeing a LOT of commentary, I watched it. My reaction was “meh.” Because I have heard the message a million, billion times from a million, billion blogs (including my own), articles, commercials, tv shows, movies, books, YOU NAME IT. We get it. Mommy wars exist and they are awful and we should put an end to them.
Then I read some commentary from articulate, intelligent friends on Facebook that reminded me of an article by my favorite writer, suggesting that mommy wars are not, in fact, even real. That they don’t exist in “real” life. That maybe, just maybe, they are a result of your own insecurity.
Which I think might be true, but not necessarily helpful.
I feel anxiety from time to time. Because nobody else can see it, because nobody else agrees that the world will end if I don’t get my to-do list done, does that make the anxiety I feel any less real? Am I comforted by the idea that I’m “making it all up?” Does this make my anxiety magically disappear?
I’m going to go ahead and confidently say that no cases of anxiety have been cured by someone assuring you that it does not, in fact exist. A person who has schizophrenia may experience visual and auditory hallucinations that the rest of us can’t see. We tell them they aren’t “real”. Does our announcing that something they are very much experiencing is not real make them go away? I’m going to go out on a limb and say probably not.
Mommy wars were at one point very, very real to me. Take a sleep-deprived, hormonally imbalanced, wasn’t quite ready to be a parent yet, over-thinking perfectionist (ME), and tell me not to be insecure about my mothering choices when I am barraged, BARRAGED with messages (both in “real” life and internet life, which, incidentally, is also made up of real, flesh and blood people in case you didn’t know …) left and right that are openly hostile and criticizing of each available choice. Add on top of that a new task called “don’t care what other people think.” Easy as pie, right?
Not exactly a piece of cake when the majority of women have been socialized that their very existence is dependent upon the approval of others. I do believe “not caring what others think” comes more easily to some than others. However, it is a bugger for me. So I feel a deep defensiveness for my fellow mothers. It is why I get so upset over messages that there is a “right” way to parent, or a “right” way to feel. Over messages that mothers don’t deserve to have basic human emotions like dislike and boredom and feeling overwhelmed. Its why I push back when people say we should always be “positive”, because I don’t feel that is realistic or helpful for a woman who is hurting. I’ve been the hurting woman. I do my best not to forget her because I find it helps me feel a lot more empathy.
A word on insecurity in parenting. There have been a few times in my life during which I have known with absolute certainty that I was doing the ‘right’ thing. However, I’ve yet to experience this certainty in regards to parenting. Perhaps I am mentally unhealthy or ill equipped to be a parent, but I am insecure in regards to my parenting ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME. I do what I think is best, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have some doubts and concerns that I am doing the “perfect” “right” thing [which I logically know doesn’t even exist]. If you are a parent who has never doubted a decision you’ve made in raising your child, if you have never made a mistake, if you have never worried and wondered if maybe there was a better way or thought “I just hope I’m doing a good job” – well, that is obviously not something I have experience in. You may be far more emotionally advanced than I am. Also, a liiiiitttttllllleeee bit scary. Anyone who is not willing to admit that they may be wrong is freaking terrifying to me. So to me, claiming that only those who are insecure will believe in mommy wars may be true, but once again, isn’t necessarily helpful.
The question then becomes, how can we make women confident in their own decisions? Notice I did not say self-righteously confident in their decisions. I believe an attitude of being willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers is much healthier than one where we attempt to control those around us into following our beliefs. Unfortunately, parenthood is just one of many areas where women are not encouraged to trust themselves. I think so called “mommy wars” are just one aspect of a much bigger problem of a world that at times seems painfully low on empathy and a world that attempts to teach women they are not competent or that we must “fight” each other for dominance. Which is of course, complete crap.
What has been helpful for me is trying hard to remember that people experience the world very differently based on a huge variety of factors – genetics, childhood experiences, personality, culture, etc. So while I don’t have an answer to “solving” the mommy wars, I believe showing empathy for those who do experience them is a damn good place to start.