I promised my friend Michelle I would update my blog. She became a mother a couple days ago, so I thought I’d write a few thoughts about motherhood. But instead of a “how to” piece (which would be a big joke coming from me), I want to write about something that has bothered me since giving birth four years ago: so-called “mommy wars.”
Making a human is an incredibly awesome and absurd thing to do. Our bodies can make humans… Humans, for the love.
For most of us, the process of growing a baby in a uterus is incredibly taxing, emotionally and physically. For most of us, childbirth is incredibly taxing, emotionally and physically. And for most of us, learning to be a caregiver once the baby arrives is incredibly taxing, emotionally and physically.
And by that point, our reserves are kind of spent.
Not only do our bodies go through a process of healing from the ridiculous (read: amazing) human-making process, our hormones take a nosedive, our sleep patterns are hugely disrupted and… most of all, we suddenly have these incredibly intense new emotions of responsibility and love (perhaps delayed, but eventual) for a tiny little human… a love that is so ferocious that it hurts in our bones. It’s a lot to process. We’re terrified, we’re overjoyed, we’re exhausted, we’re hysterical, we’re in love, we’re completely and utterly tired. In our bones.
And we’re raw. Our emotions are all over the place – one minute we’re deliriously happy, another minute we’re deliriously terrified (note that we’re always delirious), but every emotion we feel is deep and raw and exposed. Others’ words, even when completely innocuous, can feel so abrasive and attacking. And others’ words are not always innocuous.
“Mommy wars” are ubiquitous in conversation and on social media sites. People have opinions about so many things, and conversations can get kind of nasty. It’s dumb. Most people are intelligent enough to make good decisions for their families – we don’t need to be bombarded with unsolicited advice and passive-aggressive memes filling our newsfeeds.
It starts early. I love giving birth in hospitals and I *really* love getting epidurals, but I LOVE reading about my friends’ natural births, water births, hypnobirths, home births, and all manner of births. Implying that home-birth mothers are reckless is as insulting as implying that epidural-birth mothers are uneducated about childbirth.
The question of whether to feed a baby breast milk or baby milk is a frequent topic of a couple internet forums in which I participate. I was hell-bent on breastfeeding both of my girls,and the way things are going, I’m currently on track to nurse Lily full time until she gets her driver’s license. Chances are good that if I have another baby, I’ll breastfeed that one as well. That’s what works for us – it’s free, I enjoy it, it’s an easy way to comfort my babies and toddlers, and it’s nutritious. However, a recent matched sibling-study has shown that a lot of previous studies showing the benefits of breastfeeding were likely due to social stratification rather than breastfeeding per se. This study showed that with the exception of a small difference in asthma occurrence, there were almost no long-term differences in health, parental attachment, or intelligence between children who were fed breast milk and those who were fed formula. I think the results are awesome, and I wish that shaming related to bottle vs. breast and would stop.
The list goes on. Some mothers let their babies cry it out; others nurse their babies 20 times a night. Some mothers cosleep; others have their infants in a separate room from day 1. Some mothers only give their kids home-made, organic, pureed baby food, while others rely solely on Gerber Goodness. Some mothers wear their babies in an ERGO, some mothers wear their babies in a sling; some mothers wear their babies in a Bjorn; and some mothers (gasp) push their babises in a stroller.
And what to do about education? Waldorf vs. Montessori vs. Reggio Emilio preschools. Homeschool vs. public school vs. private school. Suburb vs. city.
The potential kindling for mom-shaming never runs out. Should I be regurgitating baby food into mouths like a bird? (Just kidding… it was in a magazine.) What the hell is a paleo diet, and should my kids be taking a Vitamin D supplement if they’re covered in sunscreen?
The issue that currently has me losing sleep is whether to work or stay at home full time. Actually, the choice is made – I’ll be returning to work full time in a week. There are many good reasons for mothers to work, and there are many good reasons for parents to stay at home full time, but the reality is that most parents don’t have a real choice. Either they can’t afford to work because of daycare costs, or they can’t afford not to work because it turns out that running a household is expensive. Bills must be paid. Leaving my babies with other women for a few hours a day is difficult in many ways, and I would be lying if I said that I’m not heartbroken. But past experience tells me that they will be loved and nurtured and happy while we’re gone. My girls’ teachers will be playing with them, helping them with art projects, singing them songs, and supervising their play with other children. But here’s the thing - they will not be raising my kids. It is incredibly hurtful when people imply that. What caretakers do is different than what parents do.
On the other hand, being a stay-at-home mom or dad is a completely awesome and valid thing to do. Taking care of children around the clock is draining and rewarding and exhausting. I’ve stayed home with my girls for the last year, and I have really (truly) loved it. Not on an every-second basis, but on the whole. Some of the smartest women and men I’ve ever known are stay-at-home parents (hello, my sisters and sisters-in-law, not to mention many friends, cousins, etc.) All of these parents could have successful careers. They have carefully considered what is best for their families and careers. Some parents work part time, some full time. And there are households where no parents are blessed with work. We all just do the very best we can. We all agonize over our choices. We all need to give each other a break.
When faced with the prospect of becoming a mother (in the form of having a fetus in my uterus), I was traumatized by all the the choices we would have to make. I was traumatized even more by all the mixed messages, many of which came across as judgmental and shaming.
But I eventually figured out that regardless of choices, I completely suck at being a mom sometimes. And I completely rock being a mom at other times. And that’s okay. My kids eat too much sugar, watch too much TV, go to bed too late, have too many toys, and fall off tables far too often. And they’re ridiculously healthy and happy and – most likely – will turn out fine even though I don’t pre-chew their food.
P.S. I really loved this “mommy wars” photo piece: http://herscoop.com/posts/empowering-photo-series/
and this piece, too: