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I’m reposting some oldies but goodies this week.  Hope you enjoy!

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Very often, the media makes something seem like a bigger deal than it actually is.  And sometimes, because the media makes something seem important, it actually becomes a real-life battle.  Quite the vicious cycle.  In my eyes, that’s how the so-called Mommy Wars exploded into the disaster that it is today.

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It’s my understanding that the Mommy Wars originally started as a battle between who was a ‘better’ mom:  working moms or stay-at-home moms.  But it’s extended to involve all sorts of topics:  natural birth versus medicated birth, hospital birth versus home birth, breastfeeding versus formula feeding, extended breastfeeding versus weaning, vaccinating versus refusing, disposable diapers versus cloth, attachment parenting versus … unattachment parenting?  Whatever.  The point is that not only does the media love to flame these ‘wars,’ but some women really seem to love to fight ‘em.

 

I knew the Mommy Wars existed before becoming a mom, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until Henry was born.  Thankfully, I get very little warring in the comments section of this blog – I think most of you understand that although I have strong opinions about many of the topics listed above, my opinions are personal opinions, and I do not think I know what’s best for any mommy or family besides myself and my family.  But still, I’m human – I have my judgmental moments; I try to keep them in check.  Others… not so much.

 

Before becoming a mommy myself, I wondered where this ‘I know better than you’ attitude came from.  Now that I am a mom, I have a theory:  Deep down, no mommy feels 100% confident in her choices, and by taking a ‘hard line’ about certain parenting ideologies, many mommies end up feeling better about their decisions.  By bringing someone else down a peg, they build themselves up.  The Mommy Wars is just a way to cover up our insecurities.  Warring is a way to convince ourselves that we do, in fact, know better.

 

I spend a notable amount of my parenting time feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing.  I e-mailed friends and asked if this is common, and they all admitted that yes, mommies occasionally feel helpless and unsure and out of place.  One of the worst things in our society seems to be admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing – especially when you’re a mom.  Having a strong opinion – even a judgmental one – is perceived as better than being unsure.

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Moms aren’t allowed to say they don’t know what they’re doing.  What kind of mother doesn’t know what she’s doing?  And an extension of this issue is that our society stops treating moms – and pregnant women, for that matter – as individuals with their own needs and desires.  You are expected to give it all up for your child; your life is supposed to revolve around your child (I don’t think this occurs to such an extent in other countries; I would love international readers to weigh in).  If you’re pregnant and drink a coffee, you are a horrible person.  Heaven forbid you stop breastfeeding at three months because you simply need more freedom.  You’re selfish.  Or you leave your baby with his father to go out to lunch with friends?  Again – you’re self-absorbed.  You want to go to the gym and exercise for an hour?  Selfish, selfish, selfish.  I think what happens as a result of this attitude is that our self-worth gets terribly wrapped up in our children.  How can this not flame the Mommy Wars?  If our entire life is about our child, we start to think in very black-and-white terms.  We need to be justified in our choices.  We’re women – we’re competitive.  We need to be the winning mommy.

 

Again – these are just my theories.

 

The result of the Mommy Wars is that women on all sides end up feeling ashamed for their actions, no matter how great the reasons behind their choices.  Look, being a mommy is hard enough.  We don’t need to walk around feeling like crap because we don’t want to or couldn’t breastfeed, had an epidural, use disposable diapers, want to exercise, or just need someone else to hold the baby for five minutes while we take a freakin’ shower.  As women, we aren’t doing each other or our children any favors by being judgmental and harsh.  What works for you may not work for someone else.  Even if you don’t agree with or can’t understand someone else’s reasons, they are their reasons.  And having an identity outside of children is a very, very good thing – not something to be berated for.

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You know what makes someone a bad mommy?  It’s not giving a baby formula or co-sleeping or going back to work.  It’s emotional and physical abuse.  Everything else is simply a different way to parent.

 

However, there is a Mommy War worth fighting. Compared to other developed countries, it is extremely hard to be a parent in America.  We’re all about so-called ‘family values,’ but we fail our families in the most basic ways.

 

  • Women still aren’t paid the same as men.  Non-mothers earn 10% less than their male counterparts; mothers earn 34% less; and single moms earn between 34 – 44% less (source).
  • Research from the American Sociological Review shows that on average women who breast feed for six months or more are penalized at work with along-term significant loss of wages.  That’s because our country has a distinct lack of policies to protect an employed mother’s right to breast feed on the job. 
  • There is a distinct lack of affordable, high-quality daycare in our country, which results in financial hardship for many hardworking families.
  • We have some of the worst maternity benefits in the entire world. Out of 178 nations, the U.S. is one of three that does not offer paid maternity leave benefits – the other two countries are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland (source).  The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 protects a mother’s job for 12 weeks but does not require pay; however, if you work part-time, work for a small company, or have worked at the company for less than a year, the FMLA does not apply, and you’re completely screwed.  About 50% of the workforce isn’t protected under the FMLA (source).  Our poor maternity benefits have little to do with the amount of taxes we pay or e-file in April – it’s about how our taxes are spent (other countries with lower tax rates provide much better benefits than those in America), as well as the laws that companies must abide by.   Some argue that maternity and paternity benefits should not be the responsibility of companies or the government, but I think the facts speak for themselves:  when your leave is shorter, you’re at greater risk for post-partum depression, may breastfeed for a shorter amount of time, may face significant financial hardship, and may be forced to quit the workforce entirely.  And short maternity leaves have a negative impact on our entire society.  Protecting mothers’ and fathers’ leave rights is everyone’s responsibility.  And look – I get it.  Having a child is a choice; I don’t expect the government or a company to pay for my children.  But the fact that nearly every other country has figured this out and we haven’t is sad.

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(Source – Side note: this chart may vary from your experiences because of additional benefits offered by your company)

  • Our paternity benefits are equally horrifying.  Most than 50 nations also guarantee paid leave for new dads; America offers dads no guaranteed job protection, let alone pay (source).  Happy dads = Happy moms.

  • Plus many, many other issues.

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The problem with the Mommy Wars is that it is very distracting.  We spend our valuable time and energy attacking each other for parenting choices – and, when it comes down to it, unless we’re abusing or emotionally destroying our kids, we’re all pretty decent parents.  Instead of fighting each other over issues that really do not matter, it’s time we start supporting each other.  The real Mommy War isn’t against each other – it’s against institutions and rules that make it hard to be a mother and father and hurt our and our children’s quality of life.

 

All that being said – here’s my promise.  The next time I feel the need to attack another mommy, I’ll ask myself:  Why am I doing this?  Is this really about me, not her?  I’ll remember that what all moms really need is a freakin’ break.  And then I’ll continue to lend my support to organizations like Moms Rising, vote for politicians who really support family values, and frequent businesses that are mom- and dad-friendly.

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If we channeled all the energy we spend judging each other and focused it on issues that matter, I really think we could create positive change.  And that, my fellow women, is something that is actually worth fighting for.

{ 15 comments }

 

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  • Tricia July 15, 2014, 8:45 am

    I remember liking this post when I originally read it. Now that I’m a mom, I love it. One of the things I love about your blog is how honest you are. I love that you portray life in a real way. You don’t pretend to do it all and you admit when you have tough days or are struggling with something. It’s so refreshing in a world that is often so fake, especially on social media. I’m a formula feeding, disposable diaper, non organic most of the time, cry it out mom. My baby is happy. That’s what matters. I’m still struggling with a balance between baby and me, but my opinion is that they’re only babies for a short time. I’m okay putting some things on hold for him.

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  • Sharon T July 15, 2014, 9:37 am

    Thank you for the post! I agree, and think it is just as important to be able to express what we do feel sure about as what we don’t as moms. I recall feeling very unpowered and proud after a birth experience I was very scared about. By some other mammas I was berated for that, which I though was unfair and hurtful. It’s important to express ourselves and respect that is all anyone else is doing themselves. And be supportive, for goodness sake!

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  • Maddie July 15, 2014, 9:59 am

    I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours. Bravo!! As someone who hopes you have kids in the next few years, I’m terrified about the maternity leave battle. I love my job…but it’s not as important as those crucial first weeks/months of being a new parent!!

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  • Maria July 15, 2014, 10:43 am

    This is all so true. As new mothers I think we all just wanted to do the best we could for our children and somehow make it out the other side alive!! I know that when my first child was born he was a very very fussy baby. He would cry for hours and hours everyday and I was alone with him while my husband was out of town working. After months of little sleep with a crying infant I decided to go visit my mother. I still remember being on the ferry with my son screaming and screaming and doing everything I could to try to calm him all the while realizing that his screams were upsetting other passengers. I even tried sitting in the washroom to keep him from disturbing people. I hadn’t realized that I was in tears myself until an older woman approached me and kindly asked if she could walk him for awhile. She suggested that I go and wash my face and have a cup of tea and let her try to soothe him for a few minutes.
    This was nearly thirty years ago and I still recall it as one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. We were on a ferry so I knew she could not leave with him and yet I am certain that there were a million reasons why that made me a bad parent . Somehow that ten minutes let me catch my breath whether selfishly or not and though he screamed for the remainder of the trip ( and the next three months of his life ) that little pause made everything so much easier.
    To this day when I see a mother ( or father ) struggling with a child , even when they are parenting in a manner that I personally would not have chosen I ask if there is anything I could do to help. I don’t know their story but I do know that sometimes just a tiny bit of kindness can turn anything around !!

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  • Britt@MyOwnBalance July 15, 2014, 11:03 am

    Great post Caitlin! As a soon-to-be first time Mom, I’m kind of terrified of the mommy wars. I had a new-mom friend ask me if I was planning on breastfeeding when I was about 13 or 14 weeks pregnant and then started into a litany of why it’s better. I have no idea! I’m just getting my head around maternity clothes. I’ll cross that bridge when I’m ready! I wish women would be more supportive of other moms that make different choices. Why do we always have to be the best? I think my parenting style is going to be decide what works for me and my child and call it a day. I’ve got too much going on to worry about what others think!

    Also, the photos of you and baby Henry are beautiful!

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  • Dianne July 15, 2014, 12:09 pm

    I am 58 and my son just turned 30. Yes we had mommy wars even back then. I got attacked by the stay at home moms and then the working moms. I made my own decision as to what I would do. Every child is an individual and therefore there is no one set of rules. You have to do what is best for you, your child, your family. Nobody else fits into that equation. And most importantly, make some time for yourself. I always made sure I had some time to myself and did not feel guilty about it. Dad needs alone time with his child also. I only breast fed for a month. He was not totally potty trained until into his third year. (That one always gets me, is his date of potty training going on his permanent record, on his drivers license? Who cares?) I worked part time. I used disposable diapers. My son grew up to be a healthy, successful, happy, great guy. (We just ran a race together this weekend). Please just do what you feel is right for you and your family. It is no one else’s business.

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  • Hannah N. July 15, 2014, 2:13 pm

    I absolutely loved this post when you wrote it and now that I’m pregnant with my first child, it’s even more relevant. I work for a very small company and am terrified to tell my bosses that I’m pregnant. I love my bosses and my job, but I work in an all-male office in a male-dominated field. It’s just not a very family friendly situation and trying to figure out all of the details after whatever maternity leave I get is quite stressful. Kudos to ALL moms no matter what your situation because I’ve already heard all kinds of opinions about what I should and shouldn’t do!

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  • Becky July 15, 2014, 2:16 pm

    I remember this post and loved reading it again. I’m from Canada where we are very lucky to receive a full year of parental/maternity benefits (at about 60% of my regular salary and my job must legally be waiting for me to return after 1 year.) I truly understand that this is an incredible blessing. That being said, we also make less than men and daycare is out of this world expensive. I have a university degree and work an upper management level job with a national company and because of the cost of daycare I don’t think can afford to go back to work after my second baby is born this November. Something is very wrong with that picture.

    Let’s fight for families instead of fighting about formula. All power sista!

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  • A July 15, 2014, 3:30 pm

    I think this is 100% accurate. I think it all ties in together. I think a lot of moms feel isolated and lonely and want to pick themselves up and that results in the mommy wars against all the “mom” issues you described. I think back and when I felt that another mom’s choices were doing her child injustice, it probably did stem from the fact that 1) I did have strong opinions about the subject and 2) I am unsure in my parenting abilities at times (everyone is) and wanted to make myself feel superior. I think it’s completely normal to feel unsure that every decision is the best one for your child too, but that’s not an excuse to tear someone else down! Good post:)

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  • Tessa July 15, 2014, 5:33 pm

    I love this post! You are such a talented writer, Caitlin, and I’m always so impressed with the level of research and thought that you devote to your posts. (Hopefully) without making too many people angry I will say that vaccination is not a Mommy Wars thing, but a serious public health issue. It is different than all other “battles” because a deviation from what is recommended can seriously impact the health of others. The other 99.9% of the post I am in complete agreement with!

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  • Sophie July 16, 2014, 2:34 am

    Wow, those numbers on maternity leave around the world are really eye opening. I’m really fortunate to have 18 weeks half pay provided by the Australian government and have 35 weeks full pay provided by my employer (I have a particularly good employer in this regard compared to most in Australia, so don’t take that as Australia’s norm).

    Keenly watching your updates as I am pregnant for the first time and due in December too. It’s a whole new world for me so I love reading about others’ experiences along the way.

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  • Lindsay July 16, 2014, 11:56 am

    Excellent post! Couldn’t agree more! :)

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  • Emily July 16, 2014, 1:13 pm

    WOW. Caitlin you really out did yourself. What an interesting, beautiful piece on parenting issues. Well said sister!

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  • Kay-tee July 16, 2014, 2:54 pm

    I actually just finished a paper for my health policy class looking at this issue of paid maternity leave in the US & abroad. CA, NJ, and RI all have implemented some forms of paid medical leave through employee paid contributions (a start at least). Kirsten Gillibrand from NY has sponsored a bill to implement the FAMILY act which make a national program managed by the social security administration based on the programs already implemented here. Again, these programs come no where close to what’s offered in other countries but would be a great place to start for the U.S.!

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  • Ellen C-P July 19, 2014, 2:41 pm

    Have you read Jessica Valenti’s book on this, Why Have Kids? It’s a great take on many of the points you highlighted. And as a new mom to a 4-month-old, I loved the book. Helped me feel like I could breathe again. (also, don’t let the title throw you — she’s a loving mom to a smart girl).

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