“Talking about parenting has become like talking about politics or religion or money – you just don’t do it.” – Denise Schipani, author of Mean Moms Rule, excerpt from parenting.com
Ever brought up vaccinations at a party? Now that’s how you clear a room.
Who could have guessed that topics such as circumcision, spanking and co-sleeping could not only cause discomfort, but could end friendships? That choosing to breastfeed for an extended period of time could spur judgmental comments from other mothers at the playground? That choosing to have a career instead of staying at home could spark a heated exchange with fellow moms in a Facebook group? This is the climate that many moms today are trying to navigate.
These are the mommy wars.
How did we get here?
So how did we end up in this modern day mommy war zone? How did today’s moms fall into this trap of judgment and anxiety? Quite a few factors have contributed to the current dynamic amongst mothers.
First, there’s the constant information overload that bombards moms. Every sneeze, eye twitch and raised red bump on our children can spawn a Dr. Google spiral. Not only do we have access through the internet, we see worst case scenario stories through news sources on television and social media. Many moms also receive information through online forums, such as Facebook groups or chat rooms. A question posted in a popular moms group I frequent can easily produce ten to fifteen responses within minutes – even in the middle of the night. While this increased access to information can alleviate anxiety, it can also fuel the fire, contributing to a generation of highly knowledgable, yet highly anxious mothers.
Moms today also face a much larger audience than moms in the past. With the majority of moms using social media, there tend to be more eyes on each mother and an easier flow of feedback regarding any posted parenting choices. For instance, there are moms I follow on social media whose kids’ names I could not tell you, yet I could detail their night weaning journey as if it were my own. It also does not help that people tend to be far braver and far more merciless behind a keyboard, spitting critiques and judgments that would never be said face to face. What could be a respectful, informative conversation about a difference of opinions in person can easily escalate into a hurtful, judgmental and downright ridiculous exchange online.
This fish bowl parenting experience creates a sort of pressure cooker in which moms feel more watched, judged and criticized. The free exchange of opinions and unsolicited advice has become the norm and has also raised our defenses. We often feel more entitled to judge others’ parenting decisions, as we feel we have been judged. While it may not be the healthiest response, it is a normal human reaction to resort to raised defenses and shots back when we feel our most precious job – raising children – is questioned.
So what do we do?
How can we break free of these negative interactions and foster an environment of support and respect? First of all, let’s remember the common theme here: we’re all doing the best we can for our kids. The intensity of these interactions mirrors the intensity with which we love our children, and that deserves some grace. Remember – you are the expert on your child! Savor that gift, but don’t overstep its boundaries.
Let’s also try to live by the rule of “take what works and leave the rest.” If you’re served some mom advice you didn’t ask for, or perhaps don’t particularly agree with, no problem! Pull the ol’ smile and nod and move on. It’s ok to choose not to respond or to avoid escalating an interaction that really won’t matter in the long run. I find this is especially true in online forums with people you do not know personally and will most likely never even meet.
It may also be helpful to set boundaries. Some friends can parent on polar opposite ends of the spectrum and find it amusing. Other friends, however, may find it more difficult to maintain a relationship with someone who parents so differently. Find the sweet spot with your own friends. If certain topics have been volatile or hurtful in the past, evaluate the importance of discussing these matters again in the future. Agreeing to disagree and tabling the topics may be the healthiest route.
Finally, let’s take our efforts as mothers and women and direct them toward social issues that will benefit us all. If we shifted our energy from battling over homeschooling versus public schooling to advocating for better maternity leave benefits, equal pay for women and less discrimination toward mothers in the workplace, I truly believe the impact would be immeasurable.
In the end, there may be more common ground between us moms than we thought. Truce?