In our Western context, where we have access to more information than we could possibly process, parenting can be an overwhelming journey. The pressure to do it just right is intense but opinions and even professionals disagree on what constitutes right in the first place. Supposed experts can't even agree on what equals healthy but parents better make the right choice for their child. Don't get it wrong or your child will pay for life and they're our future! Screw it up with your kid and, well, you're personally responsible for the destruction of the world. Parenting is hard.
It's always open season on parents. You, me, friends, family, random strangers, politicians, educators, health care providers, you name it, all regularly take aim at parents, shooting off judgment and advice faster than a baby can surprise you with projectile vomit. According to somebody you ARE doing it wrong. From conception to graduation, parents and their children are critiqued and then, because they aren't really sure they've got this parenting thing right, they critique other parents.
Somewhere in this milieu the demeaning term "mommy wars" was coined, reducing the female parenting component to little more than an ongoing competitive cat-fight with other mothers. Everything is game: how you became a parent; the right kind of adoption or what you ate the day you conceived; what you eat during pregnancy; what you wear during pregnancy; your activity during pregnancy; how you birth; how you celebrate the arrival of your child; where your infant sleeps; what car seat they ride in and how it's installed; what you drive; breastfeeding or formula; if they ever cry or not; if you work; leaving them with a babysitter or not; no parenting decision is spared. Waging full on attacks against each other, mothers verbally assault other mothers for their parenting going for each other's throats in this made up crusade nobody can ever win. The momentary artificial victories are little more than a celebration of having inflicted pain on someone else, who is attempting to successfully do the very same thing as the victor which is the very heavy responsibility of bringing up another human being. Why anyone wants to cut down the only other people that truly understand the struggle they have is beyond me.
I want to announce that the mommy wars are over, that the marketing machine that preys on the insecurities of parents today can no longer fuel this fake campaign of one-upping our fellow pilgrims on this parenting journey, but I'd be lying, projecting my hopeful desire that this hurtful charade was done plaguing Western society. One day on social media shows a landscape littered with wounded mothers and the carnage of attacking their own. I know, I work the field often over at The Leaky Boob attempting to provide some aid where I can. When I speak at events I'm approached more times than I can count by women weeping over their perceived failures as they have struggled, many of them not even having been parents for a full year yet convinced of their failure in caring for their child because of how their pregnancy, birth, and/or infant feeding experience went. Their confidence already shot, these women, who so obviously love their children, confess with tears in their eyes that they can't shake the guilt that has grown like gangrene from the wounds they've experienced in some mommy war.
Until recently, it was only ever the mommies duking it out in the parenting arena but now, say some, the daddy wars are on the horizon as well. As more and more dads participate in equally engaged co-parenting with their partners, the criticism is starting to roll in and we're probably not too far off from another magazine cover igniting controversy with the title "Are you dad enough?"
Be it insecurity, fear, or just passionate beliefs, the parenting wars are here and probably here to stay. Some have pointed out that these skirmishes over how to parent are actually helping us as a society, pushing parents to hone their skills, be strategic in their decision making, and educate themselves as to their options. I can certainly see how some of the debates have helped me determine what it is I really want in my parenting and I may even be a better mother as a result.
But are the mommy wars even more demeaning because they dismiss and distract from the real battles mothers and fathers are facing all around the world every day? This war being reported on in the media can only be called such by those privileged enough to be in it. It doesn't mean these aren't real struggles but while we bicker over our privileged choices in parenting, others are desperately fighting alone for basic needs. Here we have parents attacking each other over what their child ate for snack that day, organic apples with kale vs. cheetos and soda, but there are millions of parents that just want to be able to feed their child something at all that day. As we debate childbirth experiences and how "necessary" or dangerous an intervention or home birth choice was, there are women giving birth every day with no access to assistance. While we virtually scream at each other about whether or not formula feeding mothers are dosing their babies with poison or breastfeeding mothers are holding back women's equality and bullying formula feeding mothers, some women are praying their water source isn't actually killing their children and have absolutely no say in their own lives. Flippant remarks about public school vs. homeschool are thrown about as though there is only one right way to educate and we ignorantly ignore the masses that only dream of learning how to read. Quarrels about what children should be permitted to view on screens or when to have their own smart phones and tablets get heated but do we even notice the parents waging their own war against depression and loneliness? Vaccination arguments rage and yet there are parents that fight to afford health care for their seriously ill or injured children. Violent deliberations rage over discipline for behaviors and simultaneously a mother in Utah weeps over her child's mental health care having been denied by their health insurance. Insults are exchanged between the mom who works at home and the mom that stays home but who is fighting for the children who work every day trafficked for sex? The world is asking "what's your excuse" of mothers for their physical appearance and health ignoring the number of teens in our own backyards hurting themselves for their looks or sexual identity. Brawls between parents who give their children more space and those who are just trying to keep their kids safe escalate but is anyone even noticing the children kidnapped to harvest cocoa beans for your favorite chocolate bar?
What if we stopped the wars? What if, instead of attacking each other's decisions, we calmly discussed them and shared information, throwing each other a new rope when we see that others are getting to the end of theirs? What if we accepted that the different choices of others doesn't criticizing the inadequacy of our own? What if we stopped throwing grenades of shame at each other and instead formed units that embraced our different styles and approaches as a means to strengthen each other? As our confidence grows would we have the confidence to step up to the front lines of the real battles happening around us? Ones we could actually win. If we invested a fraction of the energy we expend in hand to hand combat in the endless mommy wars, we could obliterate some of the true battles destroying parents and with them their children every single day. Clean water, food, education, health care, support, we could better the world.
Those are the battles I want to fight, the ones where I know I can make a difference and even stand a chance to win. The ones that aren't about me, they're about us, all of us. That's the real future and one worth fighting for every day.
Parents, let's go to war and fight the real battles. Together I know we can win.
This post originally appeared on BeyondMoi.com.