When Disneyland confirmed an outbreak of the measles, I watched the nation debate parenting choices. I also saw my own Facebook feed blow up with controversy that went far beyond vaccinating. What’s more likely to turn kids into basket cases? Having a working or stay-at-home mom? Really? It occurred to me: the mommy wars are real.
Before I had kids, I thought it was overblown hype. But from the moment I announced I was pregnant, I’ve been hearing unsolicited opinions on child-rearing from anyone who breathes oxygen.
I’ve had people tell me they breastfed for two years to prevent their kid from going to jail. What? Women warned me of the perils of vaccines. Huh? I was also told children should be seized by Child Protective Services if they aren’t vaccinated. Um, okay. I’ve overheard it be said stay-at-home moms are lazy, to working moms don’t love their kids. Ugh. And it didn’t stop there.
I’ve Done It: Be Honest, So Have You
We’ve all judged.
Recently, a friend who doesn’t have children asked me why moms were so competitive.
I wasn’t sure what to say since I’m guilty too. I noticed it bubbling up around the breastfeeding issue. I internally cringed when someone told me they didn’t intend to do it. Why would I care? It’s not my child.
On the flip side, even though I ultimately believe that staying at home with W is the best choice for our family (and I’m incredibly grateful to have a choice at all), I still feel guilty when I’m with friends who are working mothers. I feel like I need to play up the fact I am teaching part-time so they don’t think I’m lazy. Or that I’m relying too much on my husband. Or, something.
If I’m doing it to myself, no wonder there are mommy wars!
So Why Does it Happen?
What I’ve concluded is this: being a parent feels like a zero-sum game.
If you choose to stay at home, then you can’t work. If you choose to breast feed, then you can’t formula feed. If you send your child to private school, then they can’t attend public school. Every time you make a choice, you are also choosing *not* to do the other thing. And if the other option is no longer on the table, the other option better suck.
Because if it doesn’t suck, maybe you made the wrong decision. Maybe you just consigned your kid to a lifetime supply of therapy.
So: no big deal.
Of course that’s ridiculous. We put way too much pressure on ourselves. I think if you put that much thought into any decision you make for your kid, you’ve got to be a decent parent no matter what your choice was. Even if you choose something that’s not optimal, you’ll probably be able to make up for it in other ways. Children are resilient, plus they’ll make their own decisions most of their life anyway.
Making it Count
Ultimately, I think this judgmental thing happens because the stakes are high (i.e., my child’s future) and because we need to feel good about our own decisions (i.e., I did the right thing). We need to know our sacrifice was worth it.
This last point leads me back to breastfeeding. Even though it was relatively easy for me, it was still a pain in the butt. It is difficult to never leave your child’s side or wear cute shirts or think about being milked every two hours. This lasts for months (if not a year or more). Even when it’s easy, it’s hard.
And if I’m sacrificing, it better count.
Every time I encountered an article or news report about formula being totally fine, I wanted to un-see it. Somehow breastfeeding had to be empirically better for it to have been worth it.
This concept is at the heart of the staying home versus working conundrum. If you stay home, is it worth it if you don’t confer upon your child measurable benefits? Would you have been a better example to your kids had you worked outside the home?
The same thing goes for working (assuming you have a choice in the matter). Are you or your children missing out on some intangible bonding or benefit? Is your financial responsibility and commitment going to pay off personally and for your family?
As for mommy wars? Once again, the Golden Rule should apply. Still, when I spend time with friends who work full time, I can’t deny the sting I feel. Am I doing enough? Am I squandering opportunity? Does it matter if W spends all day with me or in day care?
And that reminds me this debate is one that will likely continue as long as there are mothers, babies, and bills to pay.
Q: Do you feel pressure from other parents (or maybe the media at large)? How do you stay Zen? What can be done to reduce these controversies?