I see the post, and I cringe.
It is nothing more than a harmless question from a newbie mom looking for advice and support. She’s turned to this seemingly helpful corner of the interwebs for that. Part of me thinks about reaching out to her privately, giving her a heads up that she’s just set herself up for a full-on assault for having posed the question. The war is coming, and instead of standing beside her, I run away, wanting to avoid the inevitable carnage and emotional bloodshed.
A bit melodramatic, perhaps, but for any mom who has found herself in the midst of the mommy wars—whether as the naive target, the sympathetic sister in arms, or the impassioned warrior—you know this isn’t much of an exaggeration.
In the mothering community, the issues at hand matter little. From the highly combustible subjects of circumcision, vaccination, and public breastfeeding to the seemingly menial and mundane matters of car seats and sleeping arrangements, the war rages on. Even a seasoned pro can find herself taking up arms against the unruly mob of fellow mothers who disagree on whatever issue she dared to mention.
Every aspect of parenting is fair game. No decision we make is off limits. If we can debate it, we will. With soapboxes at the ready, equipped with whatever studies, resources, and anecdotes we can muster, we settle into our camps of like-minded moms. Some of us are reluctant mommy warriors, only engaging when all other options have failed. Some of us are gung-ho battle-hungry mamas, seeking out our pet controversy and diving into the muck whenever we can. And still some of us try to avoid any hint of a fight—even if it means leaving a clueless new mom to the wolves.
We wage this war of words against each other in forum threads, blog posts, and Facebook groups. We post articles and share stories on our social media, often knowing full well the firestorm that will likely result and the sheer impossibility that it will sway anyone on the topic du jour. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking these mommy wars are fought only behind keyboards and screens. No, we even utter our snide remarks and drum up heated debate in our weekly playgroups, face to face with friends and acquaintances. The fighting can be so rife with vitriol and hatred one wonders how we women can possibly be loving, tender, and caring toward anyone, even our own children.
We Claim to Hate What We Continue to Do
Yet most of us moms claim to hate these mommy wars. I have yet to hear anyone say she actually likes duking it out over when to start solids or whether to sleep-train—but, then again, I generally make a point of avoiding mommy blogs. I prefer to stick to parenting forums and groups where fighting is rare and most debate remains civil and respectful.
Despite our distaste for the fight, we do a piss-poor job of avoiding or stopping it—if we’ve ever even tried. Instead we engage. We wound each other with our attacks. We limp away, licking our wounds. We struggle with the doubt and the confusion that remains when the dust settles—wondering if we are actually ruining our children, endangering our babies, or making the worst possible decisions we could make as mothers. We question whether we do actually love our children, whether we’re just oblivious to our absolute failure as a mom, whether we can ever measure up to that other mom.
We have grown so accustomed to this mommy war culture we create battlefields out of molehills, claiming an attack out of a simple opinion. We view a fellow mom’s promotion of her different parenting style as a direct affront to our own, forgetting that it is not, in fact, all about us. We cry foul, gather our reinforcements and throw down whatever shame card applies.
But regardless of whether the battle is legitimately raging or is merely a figment of our narcissistic imagination, we can benefit from the mommy wars.
Critique Offers Hope for Improvement
The debates and discussions—even the outright screaming matches—are an opportunity to learn, adjust, and grow as moms. We may learn of the latest guidelines and laws or hear of the most recent studies. We may discover parenting strategies we had never thought of, or be reminded of that parenting method we had previously sworn against which, now that sleep deprivation has become so bad, sounds awfully appealing if it might help our little bugger just sleep already.
Even if we learn nothing new, or if the new is still worthless junk to us, these mommy wars drive us to regularly evaluate our parenting decisions, reflecting on why we do what we do and determining whether those decisions are still the best options for us, our kids, and our families. While all those attacks against our parenting methods can create doubt, our counter-efforts to back-up and defend those methods can also lead to increased confidence and security in the various choices we’ve made as parents.
It’s basically performance management for the parent: sharing lessons learned, determining best practices, and adjusting our strategies as needed. You may despise business jargon, but bear with me here, because my point is the mommy wars—although they suck as much as a boring PowerPoint presentation being read verbatim in a dry monotone for an hour after lunch—actually can benefit us if we let them.
No, I’m not in favor of the war-like mentality and the out-and-out battling that occurs. If we can tone down our language and show some genuine encouragement rather than blatant hostility, awesome. But our distaste for discord should not—must not—lead us to abandon the motherhood community, warlike culture and all, for the parental vacuums of generations past. Sure, our parents and grandparents didn’t struggle with comparison or a faceless mom screaming about the horrors of allowing a pacifier past the age of three, but they also did not have a vast community of informed and passionate moms to point out that maybe letting the two-year-old ride in the car without a car seat wasn’t the brightest of ideas.
Calm Down, Think It Through, Move On
The answer to the mommy wars—and all the screams, tears, and butthurt feelings that comes with them—isn’t to pack up our toys and go home. No, it’s two-sided. One, we need to get over ourselves. Not everything is a personal attack or a direct assault on our parenting choices. Sometimes, it’s just a differing opinion. Two, we need to get over ourselves. Our way of parenting isn’t the only way. Barring blatant illegal or dangerous practices, we have the freedom as parents to decide how to raise our children. We can think our approach is best and encourage others to see it as such, too, while remembering they are free to disagree and doing so doesn’t make them evil.
Let’s remember that behind every angry mom’s blog, atop every loud mama’s soapbox, under every vocal mother’s opinion is just a fellow mom. A mom passionate and eager to share her experiences and knowledge with the community. The message might sting, but the underlying driver behind those stabby words is a desire to help.
Sounding the retreat is not the answer. Instead, let’s engage. Let’s discuss. Let’s debate and learn and grow. Because mommy wars have one goal—to make us all better moms—even if we don’t always agree on the definition of better.