Embracing Your Inner Mommy Warrior

A Milk White Flag

A Milk White Flag (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

No one likes the so-called “Mommy Wars.” At the BlogHer 2012 conference last weekend, the speakers I heard were unanimously opposed to them, calling on all of us to move past these bloody battlefields to someplace more productive – a greener pasture of peace, tranquility and mutual appreciation. Where, I presume, we get to have tea together under a white flag and our children serve it to us with ceremonial perfection and crisp, clean napkins draped over their small forearms.

Which certainly sounds good to me. No one’s been more disdainful than I have about the media’s over-simplification of these issues. But then I got to thinking about how characterizing disagreements as disagreeable can be its own kind of social censure, and about all the playground conversational tangos and tangles that general impulse may be creating, even as it attempts a truce.

If what we mean by “Mommy Wars” is a tedious mud-wrestling match in which we hurl well-worn clichés at each other about stay-at-home moms versus working moms, I’m all for moving on. It’s a yawner, to begin with.

On the other hand, though, call me crazy, but I do have opinions on things. I maintain these developing viewpoints on all things mommy because, first, I have to make decisions for me and my family that impact how my daughter is raised, and second, with apologies to Kahlil Gibran, I’m not merely a vessel through which my daughter arrived into this dubious and sometimes wonderful place.

In this battle, I’m a frontline trench warfare expert, and I came by my stripes honestly. I’m not about to abandon my albeit modest rank of Captain-of-One-Child readily. As anyone can read here, I do not lack my own nutty perspective on a host of questions concerning how I’d like to be a parent to my kid and what impacts her health and experiences.

And it sometimes feels like the call to halt the “Mommy Wars” is about never, ever passing judgment, about anything. As though we must subscribe to an indifferent laissez faire attitude as a prerequisite for holding onto whatever shredded tatters remain of our coolness, post-child.

I do live in fear of being labeled – that horror of horrors – a “Sancti-mommy,” and have no doubt that I’ve crossed that line, at least in my heart. But given that moms are called upon to – and do – make 85 percent of the household purchase decisions, and that we, er, have brains and the concomitant opinions those brains freely generate, how do we tiptoe across these Mommy War minefields?

For example, when my sister, whom I dearly love, offered my not-yet-two-year old daughter a “princess pancake” a few weeks back, was I remiss in recoiling in horror and saying, with my typical grace, that “Maya will be happy with the obesity-shaped one.” Ok, I’ll admit the appalled look on my face was likely unnecessary, and that Cinderella may in fact one day eat my daughter, but in the meantime, durnit, Maya doesn’t yet know what a princess is and I hope to keep it that way for as long as possible.

Or yesterday, at a concert, was I wrong to be annoyed when another mom asked me to get out of the way of her 2-year-olds’ view of the show? First, the kid was catatonic and not even really paying attention, and second, IMHO, kids should be moved around adults and not the other way ‘round. Anything else just teaches the inmates that they are in charge, and dangerously sacrifices what little power we grown-ups may retain.

But clearly that’s just me. It’s also just me on the playground when I don’t want Maya grazing opportunistically from some other kid’s plastic bag o’ Cheez-its and have to find a semi-gracious way to say why I’m declining their generous offer to share. (“So sorry, we don’t eat sodium-packed, processed junk at our house” seems a tad ungrateful somehow.)

And when I happen to mention that Maya’s a little big for her tender age, I’m not being a Competi-mommy, I swear. I’m merely trying to cover for her lack of social grace. She looks like a 3-year-old, and so people are often puzzled when she won’t take turns – like, unless I beg her – without a dramatic amount of squealing and/or physical violence.

And even along the critical fault line of the SAHM vs. working mother, there are important things to say about how hard it is in ways it shouldn’t be, and about everyone’s ambivalence concerning the choices they’ve made. None of it is easy, as I’ve noted. And I’ve also been gratified to see “Grass: Greener” posts from far more gifted self-observers.

In short, moms have to navigate this world, trying to preserve their own peculiar take on parenting and choices for their kids. There will be judgment involved in this. There will also be provisional decisions pending more data, and lots of agony. Certainly, so long as we otherwise “click” as people, we can be friends and support each other regardless of these somewhat petty distinctions.

But some eye-rolling is also likely to be involved, particularly if we don’t know each other personally. We’re human, after all. We bring our discernment and pre-formed views with us wherever we go. And I, for one, get a lot out of reading even contentious comments on particular hot-button mommy topics, as they help inform where I come out on critical issues like whether investing in a Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag is cute or been-there-done-that. (My vote is the former, but I’m always behind on what’s hip by a decade or two.)

Even as we call for tranquility and tea, let’s be careful not to think that whenever a Mom – or Dad – expresses an opinion of any kind, that’s verboten under peacetime, post-Mommy War conditions. And let’s create an environment that allows us to compare notes on parenting without fear that any act of comparison at all is an odious attempt at competition.

Ultimately, we’re tougher than that. If we can deal with a red-faced two-year-old’s tantrums over absolutely nothing, we can also weather a little judgment concerning things that might actually matter. Making these decisions about our lives and families, is, after all, our prerogative as parents. We should be strong enough to debate the issues on the merits and indifferent enough to do what we decide is best. And, for the most part, to be friends (or sisters) after the disagreement, just as we were before.

Cinderella (Disney character)

Cinderella (Disney character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

11 thoughts on “Embracing Your Inner Mommy Warrior

  1. Pingback: My Mommy Friend Turned Into That Mean Old Woman « Parker Platform

  2. My beloved sister would like my loyal readers to know that her princess-shaped pancakes were all organic Bob’s Red Mill 7-grain mix, with an extra egg and rolled oats thrown in, and topped with a blackberry sauce made from berries from her incredibly impressive garden. So a crunchy princess at that — no Cinderellas here!

    In addition to my undying devotion to her considerable culinary skills, I’ll also say it was very kind of her to make us breakfast of any kind, and we do hope to be invited back despite the downside risk of an appearance on this blog…grovel grovel.

  3. I love the comments here – a great bunch of smart women! “We should be strong enough to debate the issues on the merits and indifferent enough to do what we decide is best.” I couldn’t agree more Laura! We’d all be a lot better off (on all matters!) if we were less judgemental and had thicker skins and didn’t take offense so easily! I’ve always felt that people who get “offended” easily are so because they have their own self-doubts about the choices they’ve made. If you’re comfortable with your convictions, then nothing anyone else can say should “offend” you. The two things that have helped me the most since becoming a mom are: (1) following my true gut on how to parent my daughter (which tells me, for example, that whole foods are better for her than the the processed stuff, she was never the type of baby who could cry it out, parenting fads come and go, take those “advice” books with a grain of salt, etc.); and (2) humility: I also don’t know everything (and you can’t always follow your gut), so don’t be afraid to ask other moms who seem to have it together what their secret is or otherwise ask those around you for help. And finally I’ve realized that those who like to criticize or question my parenting style either: really care and are just trying to help; or are those type of bossy people (who really can’t help it) and just have to give their two cents on everything. Either way, their comments are harmless and nothing to get riled up about!

    • Crissa, How right you are! We have to make sure that differences of opinion are not viewed as an implicit reproach — every family — and even every kid — may have different needs. And it’s not a “war” if we just disagree sometimes, it’s a relationship! Cheers to you — I loved your comment. Best, Laura

  4. Your posts often leaving me feeling I have nothing to say, because you’ve already said it all! I mean that in a good way 🙂
    Personally, I value critical thinking and conscious living. Women grow up learning that to simply share a differing opinion is to be “mean.” That’s a perversion, and it’s something I hope most of us have outgrown. How terrible to always be self-doubting, self-editing, self-censoring, and self-silencing. There are enough other cultural, social, and economic forces doing that to us. We shouldn’t do that to ourselves, or to each other.
    Viva l’opinion!

    • Hi Kylie, What a nice thing to say! And I couldn’t have said it better! As an Opinionated Woman/Person (I mean, check out the name of my blog, ferpetesake), I think we’re socialized to think that expressing our views is unfeminine. But we’re gonna have views, so the main thing is to make sure we all have a working agreement that talking about them is A-ok. Viva, indeed!

      • Exactly! A difference of opinion doesn’t have to be a criticism. Differences can be expressed with civility and respect. How else would we grow and learn? Constant praise and agreement aren’t good for kids OR grown-ups. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and all that.

  5. I have been very vocally no-judgment the last year or so even as I realize that I still have the things I can’t help but judge. (What makes me crazy? Children who are perfectly capable of walking being pushed in strollers. Gah!)

    I’ve had to think about it a lot. I think as long as we’re not openly self-righteous or judgmental, we’re on the right track. As long as we’re not too quick to take offense, we’re doing okay.

    Who needs to stop judging? The people who give parents dirty looks in the grocery store when their kid is throwing a tantrum. Sure, some of it is just sloppy parenting, but some of it is autism or other special needs and it hurts me that they encounter such judgment on a regular basis.

    So I will keep thinking to myself Gah! every time I see a 40-lb 5-year-old in a stroller, but I’ll happily keep my mouth shut since, honestly, it’s not that big of a deal.

    • Hi Jess, I think your ground rules make a lot of sense. For me the “gah” issue is plastic sippies, which I see all the time of course! On the tantrum issue, I’m not sure we can expect strangers to comfortably accommodate screaming. If they can’t take a meltdown or two, that’s really their problem. I’m sorry if it hurts you or the child, of course, but I wonder if the child is taking their cues from the parent — if they aren’t embarrassed on top of dealing with whatever momentary crisis is ensuing, maybe the kid won’t even notice the stares thru their emotions…just a thought. Cheers and hugs, Laura

      • I don’t expect to be accommodated, necessarily, but deathstares are unnecessary. Or parents who tell their child, “Don’t be naughty like that kid.” That is completely unacceptable. And when it’s children with autism or a 3-year-old in the thick of a tantrum, the child has no idea of the stares. It’s just as a parent that you get the judgment from others. All you have to do as a bystander is keep walking, even if you’re thinking the parent is handling it totally wrong. It comes down to manners more than anything.

        Personally, I always feel a little bit happy when I hear someone’s kid meltdown in the store. Because this time it’s not mine and that means it happens to other people, too and it’s not just me. At this point I don’t even know if my son’s tantrums come from autism or normal preschooler behaviors. But yeah, I think as parents we forget the golden rule sometimes. 🙂

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