There it is.
The latest in the “mommy wars.”
Because everything is a war these days, it seems. Yesterday, we were talking about the “war on obesity.” I even heard that Obama declared “war on marriage.” So “war” means “having a different opinion.” Or possibly “wanting equal rights.” In a moment, it might mean, “Hey, what you lookin’ at? You got a problem?”
But I want to talk about the so-called “mommy wars.” The cycle of articles and news reports and TV interviews and books that argue for the one good way to raise kids, and explain why every other idea is not only terrible, but it will definitely destroy your children’s future.
The mommy wars keep going, and going, and then they’re still going, because they are at their heart about two things that almost everyone cares about intensely: what it means to be a woman, and what is good for children.
So we go endless rounds. Breastfeeding vs. formula, weaning at six months vs. nursing for a year vs. nursing until the child feels done, SAHMs vs. moms who work outside the home vs. moms who draw an income from work they do while staying at home, attachment style parenting vs. hands off, supposed Tiger Mom parenting vs. supposed helicopter parenting. I think there are maybe dragon parents and dog parents too? Eventually we might get to iguanas and giraffes (parents who are always craning their necks to peer over their child’s shoulder?).
I am twenty-six. One day I would like to have a baby. At that point, I would like everyone to shut up. I would like everyone to stop marching around with weapons drawn and armor up, acting like there’s a war where there are only different sets of knowledge, different necessities, and different worldviews. In exactly the way that worldviews and knowledge and necessities are different surrounding other areas of life. Like what career you pursue, who you choose to date and/or marry, how you spend your free time, what motivates you, what makes you feel fulfilled, and, um, just about everything else.
My childhood was, in many ways, just about as alternative as it gets. At least, it was alternative according to mainstream media, which is fascinated by the things that it designates as alternative. My mom is a La Leche League Leader (a breastfeeding expert and mentor). She trained as a midwife for a while. She had home births, and I was there for my brothers’ births (it was loud). We had a family bed when I was little. My mom grew vegetables in her garden and we only ate organic, even before people were really into that. We didn’t watch TV. I didn’t go to school until college.
Wow. You might need to take a breath. That was a lot of alternative.
Oh, and we’re Jewish! So we’re minorities there, too. Yay!
When I was little, I carried my doll around in a little cloth sling. So did my best friend, Emily. I was jealous of her sling, because it had tiny cherries on it.
My family is an easy target in the mommy wars. My mom is, especially. But if you think that someone who did all of the things she did as a mom is crazy and weird and has stringy hair, you should meet her. She will be wearing a tailored, stylish outfit, have her nails done, look surprisingly young for her age, and talk about how much she loves classical music. You will like her. She is friendly and approachable. Some of her friends have flowing armpit hair and wear flowing skirts. Some of her friends wear pearls and host tea and book club at their mansions. People are not the way you expect them to be, based on the description the other camp devised.
Which is why some people are still shocked to learn that I was homeschooled. “But you seem so social!” they cry.
That’s because I am.
Being from such an unusual background, it seems to me that the two sides of the supposed war aren’t very equal. Most women work outside the home, give birth in hospitals, put their kids in school, don’t have a family bed, and let their kids watch plenty of TV. There’s not a ton of competition from the “other side” here. If anything, the battle feels contrived.(Although I think a majority of American babies are breastfed for up to six months—so maybe that’s why this is perhaps the most urgent debate).
Recently, I watched “The Business of Being Born” with a friend. Even though my mom is a passionate homebirth advocate, I always vaguely assumed I’d give birth in a hospital one day. I hadn’t given it much thought, and didn’t feel particularly interested. But when I watched the film, I got curious, so I asked my gynecologist, when I saw her a couple weeks ago– what did she think about non-medicated birth? She snorted. She thought they were a bad idea. Before I could say anything more, she told me that homebirths are really dangerous and not to believe any propaganda I see or read about them. I asked about birthing centers at hospitals. She talked about the one at the hospital where she had her baby. They’re very comfortable, she said, with big beds and tubs.
“Sounds good,” I said, grinning. “Is that where you gave birth?”
She rolled her eyes. “I gave birth in a normal room,” she said.
I have a friend who gave birth in a “normal room.” She wrote about it, and her words were so gorgeous. She got an epidural. She was being monitored the whole time. And she was happy with her choice, and had a healthy, alert baby.
I am happy for her. Why wouldn’t I be?
So why did my gynecologist roll her eyes at me? Why, when I asked about different birthing options, did she quickly tell me that there was only one “right” way?
I think that’s the way people act when they feel like it’s a battle. There isn’t room for a second opinion. There isn’t room for another way.
When in fact, in life, everywhere, all the time, there are so many ways, you can’t possibly count them.
I am happy about the choices my mother made. As far as I can tell, the only real problem is that I can’t talk about the TV shows we all watched when we were kids with my friends, because I didn’t watch them. And it’s sort of amazing how often people talk about the TV they watched when they were kids.
I am thankful for the choices my mother made, and for my unique upbringing and that sling (even though it didn’t have cherries on it), and the big vegetable garden that I played in, and all the time I got to spend with my family, and the gentle world I learned and grew in.
But I don’t think my mother’s choices were the “right” ones. I think they were often the right ones for our family.
And while I do think some types of mothering are less healthy than others (don’t lock your screaming child in a room, please!), I don’t think that this means war. I think this means being human.
I am tired of womanhood being pushed and pulled and dragged over the coals as we argue about who is the best mom. Leave womanhood alone. Anything we are as women, that’s womanhood. Done.
No one is the best mom. Everyone who loves their children and tries to do their best by them is the best mom.
And give a girl a chance! I want to have babies in this world, too! Let’s make it a warmer, gentler place, where people have conversations, not screaming matches. Where people take off their armor and talk about how much they love their children, regardless of whether or not those children are currently being breastfed. Where people are honest about their struggles and their decisions, and how little they know, and how much they know.
Sometimes, I have a feeling that the world is already much more like that then these ongoing articles suggest. Sometimes I think we’re probably almost much closer to that then it’s profitable to admit. Because war so often is about money, isn’t it?
I am not shocked by the woman breastfeeding her three-year-old on the cover of Time Magazine. And it’s not just because I was breastfed until the age of three (honestly, I don’t remember it at all). It’s because I’m used to people trying to shock me with the catchy headlines and dramatic images of the mommy wars. It’s just a mom and a child, and a boob. Which, on their own, should not constitute a battle cry. They never really did. They shouldn’t now.
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What do you think about the Time mag cover? About the mommy wars?
Unroast: Today I love the way my neck looks in my shadow on the street. I just noticed it yesterday, on my way to the subway, and it was cool.