Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mommy Wars, Cliques, and Judgement, Oh My!

A friend of mine recently shared a few articles/blog posts with me about the "Mommy Wars." It's a subject I've been meaning to write about for a while. The internet abounds with articles and blogs criticising the judgement between parents making different choices and yet Facebook groups, online forums, and "mommy clubs" still flourish, advocating particular choices and, often, harshly criticising those who disagree.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of groups.
On the one hand, a lot of my parenting choices aren't popular in the groups of people I'm able to interact with, especially in person. For example, most of the women at work were very skeptical about my choice to go to a midwife and not to give birth in a hospital. It was really nice to find communities of like-minded parents online. That camaraderie is comforting for obvious reasons; it's natural to want friends who share our own interests. It's also nice to have a support network of people who will understand my struggles and not suggest the problem lies in my parenting choices. I always knew I wanted to breastfeed but I was so nervous in the beginning that joining "lactivism" groups on Facebook helped me find the confidence and support I needed to stick to my commitment by normalizing something that had once been so foreign to me and providing answers to my questions when I might not have had others to turn to.
Sure most parenting struggles are universal, but I've found that if I bring something up to a friend who's made a different choice than I have they are more likely to point out and call the difference into question than to simply offer support. For example, I'm pretty sure diaper rash is a universal issue, but when I pointed out a rash on our daughter to my husband within earshot of a friend who is using disposables our friend immediately called our decision to use cloth diapers into question. Maybe this happens because those people are confused by or curious about our parenting choices and they only feel comfortable asking about them when I bring them up, oblivious that their timing might be disconcerting.
I lost my initial delight with online parenting groups when I found myself getting caught up in the "mommy war" aspect of that culture. I eventually unfollowed a facebook group when their moderators' judgement/superiority went too far, insulting and even blocking their own followers for being too moderate in their opinions, but before that it was surprisingly easy to be taken-in by the idea that "certain choices make some people better parents and better people". Many parenting groups on Facebook try to push their ideas on others, or as they would put it, "educate." As I said before, sometimes this support is comforting, but other times their fervor becomes cult-like and cult-like I followed suit: sharing memes and articles, silently judging others who made "the wrong" choice.
I still struggle because I have strong feelings about a lot of my parenting choices. I do a lot of research when making decisions because that's the kind of person I am, so I get pretty defensive when someone criticises or makes an uninformed judgement about a choice I've made. I know that in most cases my friends and family also want the best for my daughter and what I'm doing might seem weird so it's easy to let things slide or to explain my choices. I struggle, however, when the conversation is with another parent who is making choices I specifically disagree with. If s/he is openly judging or questioning my parenting does that give me the right to explain myself and why I think my decision was better? If I've done research and feel confident and strongly about something, does that give me the right to tell others? Or, an even scarier idea to me, but one that many bloggers and group moderators seem to hold, am I obligated to share my knowledge?
I got a wake-up call one day when a friend commented on a pro-breastfeeding article I'd shared, saying that her sister had tried desperately with breastfeed with no success and that articles like the one I'd shared, which asserted that true inability to breastfeed is far more rare than American doctors would have women believe, were hurtful to women like her sister who tried so hard and "failed". I hate to even use the word "failed." Did I still agree with the article? Yes. I think our culture and medical system do a disservice to mothers when it comes to breastfeeding. But I don't blame the mothers and certainly don't want to add to the pain of women who struggled and still weren't able to follow through with parenting choices they made. And really, how can I look down on any parent who is feeding their baby, how ever they choose to do so? (Okay, I reserve the right to judge if you're giving your newborn Coca-cola!) So how do I advocate the changes in culture and policy I think are necessary without hurting the people I hope to help?
My husband and I often talk about other parents and how their parenting differs from our own. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it and I say so, but then we both agree that it's important for us as a couple and parents to talk about different ways of doing things and decide together what the best decision is for us. The point is, though, that I have no problem after-the-fact to say to my husband, "I can't believe so-and-so did that!" or "Did you hear what they said?!" but no matter how I might cringe, I can't bring myself to actually express these opinions to the parents in question unless I'm answering a direct question, "I'm not sure exactly how long I'll breastfeed but the World Health Organization encourages mothers to breastfeed for two years or more." "Actually, babies in cloth diapers are less likely to get diaper rash, I think this has more to do with the fact that we recently switched brands of wipes." Even in the face of direct questioning, I sometimes hesitate to give an honest answer I know might make the questioner uncomfortable, especially if it conflicts with their own beliefs. In these situations I wonder, am I doing the right thing by avoiding conflict to preserve our friendship? I can't help but admire people who are more willing to publicise their opinions, especially when (after further research of course) I find out they are right or I at least agree with them.
I'm still a new mom. Maybe I'm making all the wrong choices. Maybe I'll change my mind later on. Maybe some decisions aren't as important as I think they are. I try to pick my battles. I try to keep my mind open. I try to do what I think is best for my family (my husband, my daughter, and me). At the end of the day I think that's all I can do and that's what I think all parents try to do.