Ignore the “Mommy Wars” and stand up for one another

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Photo by Oldmaison, used under Creative Commons license.
Wendy Atterberry, author of Dear Wendy, has recently been writing about politics, and in this piece she makes several pointed references to the so-called “Mommy Wars.” It’s worth noting that we vowed to never even type the phrase “Mommy Wars” on Offbeat Mama, but this is good:

Some women, like me, decide, for various reasons, not to breastfeed. Things aren’t necessarily easier for us. People who want to distract us from the issues of real concern — our basic rights and protection — have created, through tabloid-like “news” stories and sensational magazine covers, something called the “Mommy Wars” and now we’re all so fucking defensive about our own personal choices that we’re spending too much energy trying to justify why we do the things that make sense for us and our families, like feed our babies formula or work in an office or stay home or try to have babies in our 40s or raise kids without a partner. We’re spending too much energy defending ourselves against each other, and not enough energy fighting together for better rights.

Let’s quit fighting each other, and FIGHT BACK. Enough with the mommy wars and the sensational news stories and all that other crazy bullshit that distracts us from the real issues of concern. Our rights are at risk — our basic rights — not to mention the fact that many of us are afraid, on a daily damn basis, of being attacked — legitimately attacked — simply because we are women.

You can read the entire piece at Dear Wendy.

Comments on Ignore the “Mommy Wars” and stand up for one another

  1. YES! I am not a mother yet, but I was actually talking about this the other day because I saw a woman yell at a new mother for having her baby on formula. I was a formula baby and I turned out ok. We should respect the choices that other mommies make (as long as it doesn’t hurt or really endanger them selves or others) and realize that we have the freedom to choose. It is a wonderful thing, and if we want to continue having these freedoms and want to have equality we need to work together and put our opinion to the side and realize at least we have choice 🙂

    Great article.

    • I actually had to have strong words with my best friend (conversational equivalent of bopping a dog on the nose and saying ‘NO!’) because she told me how shocked and appalled she was at seeing a woman in our favourite cafe feeding a newborn formula. It was super shocking for me to have to do that, because a) she doesn’t have kids, and b) she is normally totally non-judgmental about other people’s lifestyle choices. She’s part of our extended ‘village’ for raising our son, so I guess she’s been getting really into the mommy advice stuff. I think she’s getting sucked into the wars a bit.

  2. Hi, thanks for the link!

    It’s true that I don’t breastfeed, and I did write an emotional (for me) essay about that decision which you can read on my site (I’d include a link, but I’m not sure if that’s allowed here). Basically, I had a breast reduction surgery years ago and my milk ducts were damaged making breastfeeding nearly impossible. The early months of feeding my son formula in public in Brooklyn were difficult as other mothers made side-eyes and snarky, judgmental comments. I really became defensive — not only about that decision, but about so many personal parenting/mothering decisions. And I know I’m not the only one who has felt that kind of defense mechanism.

    I really feel like there’s been an agenda in politics and in the media to make us women and mothers defensive about our choices in order to create a distraction from the issues that we should really be concerning ourselves with. I hope that we can begin to move out of this era of hyper-judgment and start banding together more progressively to fight for our rights to make the personal decisions we feel so strongly about.

  3. what about parenting wars in general? People are so ready to jump up and say, “I never tried that, but as a parent, I know it will be too hard for you to do.” I am going to be a mommy in a couple of months, and people criticize and start drama over the most insignificant things. This is my child – she will be fed, clothed, loved, cherished… why should what type of diaper I use be held against me?

  4. I’ve learned to just ignore others when it comes to raising my children. The only people that completely understand my kids are my husband (their step dad) and me.

    Let me explain, My 11-year-old son has cerebral palsy and my 7-year-old daughter has ADHD/Dyspraxia. We are not the stereotypical “normal” family. Traditional child rearing does not work for our family.

    I’ve been questioned about my choice of not breast feeding, switching my family to a flexatarian diet, how I discipline my kids, how I reward my kids, and pretty much EVERY choice I’ve made as a parent. Just recently, I was questioned about my choice of letting my 7-year-old wear a bra.

    My husband and I talk things through and make what we feel is the best choice for our children.

    • Do you find, as a “different than typically expected family”, the Mommy Wars are twice as hard-hitting?

      I have 2 children and a stepson with Asperger’s, ADHD, anxiety and sensory issues, classic autism, and is nonverbal (a mix). I also did and do things different for my family. While I keep reminding myself “My family, my choices, my business”, I feel like some of the Mommy Wars are twice as painful to hear initially.

      • Oh it’s definitely harder as mom who faces raising kids that don’t fit the social norms! I have a sister-in-law that calls me constantly to compare how her daughter (who is a year younger than mine) is some much smarter and better behaved than mine. When I told her about my daughter wearing a bra her response was, “I will NEVER let my daughter wear a bra that young!”

        People think that what worked with their kids surely must work with mine. It’s a good thing I grew up with a feeling of always having to fight the norms. I think it made me a better mom. Instead of doing things the way they are expected, I’ve looked for creative alternatives.

        I wish I could say I’ve been successful with dealing with the Mommy Wars in that I’m helping other moms. Unfortunately, for the most part, I avoid other moms. I can’t stand catty women. I luckily do have a sister that is like me. Her kids don’t have any health problems but she parents in her own way and doesn’t criticize me.

  5. I think the hyper-judgment is a hyper defense. People — yes, moms AND dads — don’t feel confident enough in their own decisions to let other people make different decisions in peace. They need validation that they’ve made good decisions and the only way for them to get that validation is to voice the benefits of their choices as much as possible and question and bully anyone who chooses something different. Why can’t a happy family be enough validation? Enough with the judgment! If parents need to judge or fight a good fight, they should funnel that passion into creating and protecting better rights for women, parents and families.

    • I think you are right on about the judgement coming from insecurity. But it is tough to know what a “happy” family looks like sometimes. The decisions I feel most defensive or insecure about as a parent are not the choices that result in a visibly happy family immediately. It’s stuff around feeding, discipline, sleep, etc. where the choice is either made for me(formula feeding my adopted babies, for example) or is working toward a long term goal but results in short term unhappiness (sleep training is a good example here).

      There is a mythical family in our cultural consciousness, in my opinion, a family where the mom breasfeeds effortlessly, the parents make healthy choices that never result in kiddo tears, babies sleep all night just because they are so well loved they can’t help it and hugs work better than time outs every time. The fact that this family doesn’t exist doesn’t seem to stop the guilty feelings when my family “fails” to be like the imaginary one. 🙂 I wish we could work on reminding each other that no family is perfect/gorgeous/happy ALL the time, and focus on supporting the good efforts most of us are making with the skills and tools we have.

  6. I try to be nonjudgmental in all aspects of life, barring seriously abusive actions. I breastfeed, and I am always shocked when complete strangers feel the need to strike up conversation in order to justify their decision to formula-feed. This has happened numerous times, and after my stock response of “well, as far as I’m concerned, you make the choices that are best for you and your family. That’s all that any parents can do,” seeing that defensive wall crumble in the other person is so great. It perplexes me that too many people automatically assume that everyone else is a judgey hater, and I had never even really considered that this was a cultural phenomenon until becoming a parent.

    I am at a loss as to how to combat this outside of one-on-one conversation. What kind of action do other people take?

  7. This thing I find so frustrating is th knee jerk response of the uninformed. Formula feeding and breast feeding both have health benefits as well as negatives. At the end of the day, how you raise your child is no one else’s business. By all means share the love, but accept that things that have worked for us may not work for another woman and her family…

  8. This is actually the only ‘Mommy Blog’ I read because I just can’t take the stress all the other ones I’ve seen dish out. I’m not even due until the end of January and I’ve seen more ridiculous articles about how I’m obviously screwing up my baby while it’s still in the womb than I thought was even possible. You know, by listening to something besides easy listening quietly now that Bun’s ears work, (better put away those Metallica CDs and get out your Captain and Tennille if you don’t want your baby to be emotionally disturbed!) or by working, or not working, or letting the sun touch my skin, or putting covering too much skin and not getting any sunshine, or… or… or…! I’m so sick of it! I had to detox from the parental corners of the web.
    I’m all for disengaging from the so-called ‘Mommy Wars’ and think I’ll take up Nadia’s ‘You make the choices that are best for you and your family’ as a mantra once baby’s properly here. It seems to be the only sane way, and yay for everyone here supporting it!

  9. It’s true, parents can be so judgmental of each other. I nursed my son for almost 19 mos and people wondered WHY and thought I was doing it far too long, I got rude glances from people in public because I openly nursed him wherever I was (covered, but still ‘in public’ – oh the horror!) So it works both ways, not just for formula feeding mommas. I wonder about people judging based on a bottle – there is nothing wrong with formula feeding, but at the same time how does one know that what’s in a bottle is formula and not breast milk? I don’t know why anyone even cares – I was formula fed and I grew up perfectly fine! And I bet a lot of the people scrutinizing those who formula feed were also formula fed!

    We all have to do what’s best in our own situations, and the people who are all judgy clearly have too much time on their hands. It’s true, as mommies and as parents, we need to spend more time being there for each other rather than dissing each other’s methods of parenting.

  10. I am infertile and am in the process of pursuing adoption via foster care. I am planning to adopt an African American child {I dont mind calling her black, but hey, just being careful} and I have LITERALLY been told that I am going to screw her up by confusing her about race because I am white. I dont even legitimately know how to argue that and Im not even her mother yet.

    • A friend of mine is the white mother to two black children, and I know she’s had people say this (or just insinuate through thoughtless question.)

      Her response to one of these moments has always stuck with me: “They will not be confused. They will know that they are loved.”

      • Its so crazy because race is an issue of biology. My daughter will be black… I will be white… my daughter will be black… I will be white.

        I dont understand how that could at all be confusing.

  11. ok, i’m gulity of being judgy when i think the person hasn’t made a real choice, like as in they didn’t get all the information they deserved before makeing a choice. look even that is judgy how do i decide that about other people…. I guess my real problem is that i want parents to have all the information they need to make a real decision. I didn’t know enough before i decided to breastfeed. if i had i could have made a much better plan. side note: if i gave you a look while bottle feeding your kid, don’t worry it was just desperate jealously. parent wars is only making it harder to talk to each other about everything, diapers, ibuprofin, work, and we aren’t learning from eachother because we are feeling like we can’t talk to one another. I learned everything from other parents. The best advice was their experiences, and from a few mom’s i can ask anything.

  12. we focus a lot on the begining of a child’s life in the work/home balance equation. The reality of the USA workplace is if you get off the train it leaves you behind and it’s harder to get back on. This happens, are there ways around it, maybe, but it happens and we have to get real about the effect of taking even as little as FMLA leave can have on a career. There are serrious life long conciquences to being out of the work force. Is this all ok with what you want out of life, maybe. Please both sides this choice is too hard and we should all fight for more for women.

  13. I have to work – I am going to be a single mother. I already feel the guilt of not taking a super long maternity leave. There is just so much judgement, when really, we should be banding together. Our instinct is to be tribal people, not separate and alone. We should be helping other moms whenever possible, not filling them with harsh words. At the end of the day, being a parent is hard – no one should feel excluded because they do not fit into a neat box

  14. The mommy wars annoy me even though I’m not a mom yet. There are so many ways of raising children, most of them valid. If the child isn’t being harmed, live an let live. We were all raised in different ways for different reasons, and most of us turned out OK.

  15. I used to be judgey BEFORE I had my child. I thought I knew exactly what type of parent I was going to be and i was going to do everything so perfectly. Yeah, UNTIL I had severe difficulties breastfeeding. I had believed that if I didn’t do this for at least a year I was a bad mom and harming my child. It took a lot for me to get over the guilt I feel for 80% formula feeding and 20% breast feeding. You know what? in the end you realize it’s more important getting your child fed then how you get it fed.

  16. I love this post! It’s so true. Before I had my son I was judgy about formula. I do breastfeed, and truth be told, there are moments where it’s wonderful – but for the most part, I really don’t like it. Now that I breastfeed, I’m not so judgmental about formula – I understand the choices made and am somewhat jealous of formula-giving moms. Most make the right choices for their situations and are not bullied into breastfeeding.

    Mothers should be supportive of one another, it’s a tough job that only mothers understand. This is why I’m hesitant to join any mothers group – these mom wars. I’m a mom now – I have no room for drama.

  17. I think that people, particularly those who end up formula feeding, get defensive because we all make choices inside of a system.

    I think there are a lot of people who are not given the supports needed to make the choices they actually think are best. For instance, it’s really hard to choose to breastfeed without paid maternity leave. When hospitals and pediatricians don’t offer real breastfeeding support on top of these structural issues, of course someone is going to get defensive about their choices.

    The fact is, that not all choices are equal, but it’s not really about individual choice, and framing things as individual choice is what creates the “mommy wars” to begin with. It’s about what choices are available inside of a system. The reason the breastfeeding rate in the US is so low is because there is NO paid maternity leave, there is not a support system around breastfeeding. So, because breastfeeding is actually a very difficult choice inside of a system that pretty much functions to make it a struggle, of course people will be outspoken about that decision. Likewise, formula feeding moms will feel defensive because they may have insecurity about not struggling against that system, or because they tried to BF and feel like they failed (often without any real support).

    This creates a false system of personal choice. In fact, it would benefit all mothers to not frame breastfeeding as a choice, but rather as an extension of reproductive rights. That women have the RIGHT to breastfeed. By doing so, it would make maternal leave a necessary thing, it would make space and time to pump at work, no matter your job, obvious and mandatory.

    So, yes, it’s time to end the mommy wars, but not through “it’s my choice and all choices are equal” but rather as “I refuse to live in a system that limits or impedes my ability to make choices.”

    • This times a thousand! It can be really hard to explain to people sometimes that yeah I think breastfeeding is “better” than formula feeding, but that doesn’t mean I think breastfeeding moms are better or that I think badly of parents who feed formula at all. I don’t know why they made that decision, it is none of my business, and I assume they are doing the best they can with the options they have. What I hate is that somehow criticizing a system and that does not support breastfeeding (or unmedicated childbirth, and so forth) can come off as criticizing mothers who make other choices. What really sucks is that most women face pressure not to breastfeed -through lack of maternity leave, inflexible work schedules, the fact that breastfeeding in public is treated as gross and inappropriate. Its not bad for a woman or parents to decide to formula feed (or go back to work, or be an at home parent, etc) what is bad that these decisions aren’t made freely but under some sort of compulsion.

    • While I agree with your point about the U.S. system being an oppressive structure, how do we explain this very same problem in other countries? For example, I’m a U.S. citizen living in the UK, on six-month maternity leave, so I’ve got the time to breastfeed and do. We still have mommy wars. I think the focus shifts to ‘but… you have all this TIME! and all sorts of support! and breastfeeding consultants for free! Why aren’t you breastfeeeeeeding?!’ I think the judgement on individual choices stays even if you have a different system.

      • Breastfeed is hard emotionaly and ligistically for moms. Some mom’s are more effected by the emotional load of it. It all gets back to respecting mom’s needs and choices too. just cause your system “makes it easier” doesn’t mean its easy, or fun. I never intended to breastfeed as long as i did, and if bottles had gone easier i would have stopped sooner.

        i think the real issues is how scared being a parent makes us. we want to be great at it, we want our kids to be awesome, well cared for, to have everything. We’re scared and judging and being adversarial make sus feel more secure.

  18. I get the same judgemental attitute from people when they here that my son is 2 1/2 and still breastfeeding. He was always just the kind of baby that didnt take a sippy cup or eat alot of solids until really late. I had only planned to breatfeed for a year however he was really clingy and just wanted mama. Even though he is eatting alot of stuff and is an active(really active!!) toddler now, he still wants that comfort in the morning and at night to fall asleep or at nap time. I have had so many “friends” say things like “isn’t he too old for that?” and my response is usually A.”Do you have children?” or B.”I’ll call you to come over and handle him when he is screeming because he just wanted to be comforted!!!” Usually those people back down. Breastfeeding can be really emotionally hard. Those were really difficult days for me when I was the ONLY thing my son wanted and I couldn’t get away for too long. It is getting better, but slowly…I really understand if someone dosent want to or can’t then there is no reason they should be forced. That would just make it worse. Being a parent is Awesome and even better when you can be excited about it without feeling judged by others ;D

  19. THANK YOU. I’m nearly 12 weeks along and I’m pretty much living in fear of the conversations to come, pressuring me to not return to work after my babies are born. None of the moms in my family, and possibly, none of the moms that I even know, work full time. It’s mainly due to a religious culture that I’m not a part of. I have my canned responses, of course. The lighter, funnier one: “How else are we going to pay for two of everything?”; The dismissive, end the conversation one: “I like working.”; The back-at-you one: “Staying home is fine for you, but it’s not right for me.” But really, I know that I’ll just want to shout “I’m an equal partner in this relationship and I have a great career and it’s my choice and you are the one who is wrong now get away from me!” Of course, me pressuring other mothers to get jobs would be extremely socially unacceptable. I wish it was a non-issue on both sides.

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