The "Mommy Wars." Maybe you've heard of them? Or maybe you live on dwarf planet Pluto? Apparently, we are fighting over everything. It starts pretty much right away when we are at our most vulnerable. Most neurotic. Most pregnant.
You're a victim of over-medicalized births if you give birth in a hospital. You're a dopey hippy prioritizing your birth "experience" over the health of your baby if you do it at home. You can't win.
Then it's breastfeeding, bottle feeding or supplementing? Then, when to stop breastfeeding. Or where and when to do it in public. Or how long it is OK for a baby to keep using a bottle. What about a pacifier? You're wrong no matter what.
Then, sleep training: You're either a monster or a needless sufferer of sleep deprivation.
Then, disciplining: You're either overindulging a budding brat,or stifling a creative genius.
Are you over-parenting and creating anxiety-ridden over-scheduled children, or are you free-range parenting and abdicating your responsibilities?
Are you staying at home and sacrificing too much of yourself, or are you working and sacrificing your children?
Everyone is judging you!!!!
Or maybe no one is.
Here's the thing. The mommy wars are a well-worn script, but there's no battle taking place among anyone I know. Can my circle of friends and acquaintances be such unique exception to this far-reaching trend? Are we the Switzerland of a larger war? Or is it possible that the whole battle is some kind of a media-generated fantasy?
When I enter into conversations, live or virtual, about any of these supposedly incendiary topics, they most often end with, "but of course each family has to do what's best for each family." Or "kids are resilient." Or some variant of "None of this will matter in a few years." We pat each other on the back, and we empathize with the struggles we face rather than fight over which solution is right.
And these are not just platitudes. I think the prevailing mom culture, among my friends and on the corner of blogosphere I inhabit, is one of support and acceptance. We know this is hard, we know we don't get enough support (through paid leave policies, work flexibility, a ready community of other moms). So, we commiserate.
In fact, after the now notorious "Are You Mom Enough" Time cover, most moms I know were not outraged over long-term breastfeeding or the implication if they failed to do it they were some how less of a mother. They were outraged at Time magazine for pitting us against each other and exploiting our insecurities in order to sell magazines. For stoking a conflict we didn't want to fight.
So, I don't think there's an active mommy war taking place. Or maybe there's a detente? Or maybe pockets of resistance fighting? Enough battle metaphors yet?)
But there's one place where the conflict is certainly not a fantasy. And that's within me.
Despite the fact that I've never been openly criticized about any of these difficult parenting decisions and do not feel judged about my decisions by my immediate community, I apologize or fall over myself trying to justify all of them. I kept secret our long labored over decision to sleep train our baby. When used disposables I had a justification at the ready for why we failed to use cloth. I have freakin' elevator pitch for why I'm currently staying at home.
If no one I know is judging me -- in fact, most are supporting me -- so why do I feel I need to justify all my decisions?
Besides this simply being a deeply personal flaw, I can think of two reasons. (1) The media (yup, I'm going to go ahead and blame "the media" while using "the media" as a platform) has ginned up and propelled this conflict so much that that I've internalized it. Even though it doesn't reflect my personal experiences, it's part of the Zeitgeist and I can't escape it. In which case, F U Mommy War Industrial Complex!
Number 2: There are simply too many choices in modern American motherhood.
I currently live in Kenya. Here, there aren't a bunch of parenting philosophies to choose from. Generally, people do things the same as their neighbors, parents and cousins. So, no one's really judging you, and you don't have to labor over (sorry) and then doubt your decisions.
So, as much as the mommy wars could be a ginned up controversy, there's some of it that's probably sadly inevitable. I suppose that's the paradox of modernity. We have more freedom to tailor the experience of motherhood. But the more choices we have the more battles there are to fight. With others and within ourselves.