Cira Center for Behavioral Health

Mommy Wars: Why They Happen and Your Role in Stopping Them

by | Apr 2, 2015 | Blog

So this is how my day started today: I always wake up an hour earlier than my son so that I can have a little bit of alone time to enjoy and get organized for the day.  Well today, he decided to wake up 15 minutes after I did (read: no alone time for Mommy) and I soon discovered why: he had a gigantic, watery poop that had leaked all over himself, his pajamas and his bed.  Understandably, he wasn’t very happy about it.  (PS – This has been going on for days now, often times in the middle of the night.  Docs said it’s the tail end of a stomach virus and the nasty stuff coming out of his butt may continue to do that for another two weeks.  Joy.)  So I’m changing a screaming toddler’s diaper, his clothes and throwing in a load of disgusting laundry, careful to pick out the chunks of poop so that all the rest of our clothes for the next week do not have fecal remnants on them.  Have I mentioned that I’m also terribly uncomfortable because I’m going to have a baby any day now?  Or that my husband needs to leave for work before most people’s alarms even go off so I was doing this alone?  Anyway, I digress.  Then I have to get us ready for the day, walk to an L stop (because we don’t have space for a second car), take the L with him to school, while it’s pouring out mind you, and walk another few blocks to his school.  Then I walk myself back to the L, take the L downtown to work, and walk to my office.  In the rain.  Almost 39 weeks pregnant.  Uphill (I kid).  But you get the point.

Why do I tell you all of this?  I swear I’m not throwing a pity party for myself (although I do that at times as well).  I’m telling you this because on the last leg of my journey, I felt really impressed with myself.  I felt like a bonafide, bad-ass Superhero for being able to parent my child in a way I felt good about (despite him acting OBNOXIOUSLY) and continue to be successful at work all while insanely pregnant (and super uncomfortable).  I felt so proud of myself for making it through the morning without losing my temper, bursting into tears or falling down a set of slippery stairs on an L platform, that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops…or in today’s world and my geographical location, post it on Facebook for everyone to see.  But I immediately started to wonder…  If I do that, will I offend full time stay at home Moms if I include that part of the reason that I’m proud of myself is that I work 3 days a week?  Will people think I’m bragging and therefore obnoxious??  What if I make another Mom feel terrible because she had a similar shitty morning (get it?? ;)) and doesn’t feel as good about the way she handled it??

Now some of this is just me: me being over-sensitive and over-thinking things, both of which I’m constantly guilty of.  But some of this is our culture.  It’s the “Mommy Wars” culture that we live in. (If “Mommy Wars” is not a concept you are familiar with, you HAVE to watch this hilarious, accurate and surprisingly touching commercial that you can find in the Mommy Wars link above).

Mommy Wars is basically the idea where instead of celebrating how bad ass we ALL are as parents, we tear each other down.  We judge others for how they parent: if they breastfeed or don’t, work or don’t, for how they discipline, how they love, how they live.  It’s crazy…but we’re all guilty of it.  And it gets in the way of us celebrating all of the amazing things we do every minute of every day.

If Mommy Wars is so terrible and makes us all ultimately feel bad, why do we do it??  Here’s my two cents: Being a parent, and perhaps especially a Mom, is so all consuming from jump.  For most of us, it starts to change us the moment we see a plus sign on that stick we just peed on.  And because it’s all consuming and changes us so much and often feels like the most important thing we could ever do…we’re a little (or in some cases) a LOT sensitive about it.  We have researched or read or over-thought so many of our parent-related decisions that to have someone question what we do or simply choose something else, can feel like a slap in the face.  It doesn’t just feel like a challenge to our decision…it can start to feel like a challenge to WHO WE ARE.  And that’s really tough to deal with.

So how do we deal with this?  Well at some point we probably get defensive.  We feel the need to justify our decisions, to explain our rationale for doing something a certain way…or we tear down someone else’s opinion/decision.  Why do we do this?  Because we’re mean, terrible, judgmental people….?  Wrong!  We are prone to doing this because at that particular moment, it feels like the only thing we can do to hold on to who we are.  It feels like if we don’t defend/justify/condemn – if we don’t make the other person feel in the wrong – then we feel like WE are in the wrong.  And being in the wrong about a parenting decision – something that may deeply affect our children (or not but it probably FEELS that way ;)) – can feel like the WORST thing we could EVER do.  Is this rational?  No.  Is this way of handling a tough situation deliberate or well thought out?  Absolutely not.  But that’s the way it plays out at some point regardless.

So how can we do better?  Well it’s complicated, but at it’s most basic, I think it comes down to a combination of my last two posts about vulnerability and judgment.  I think part of it is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.  For me today, vulnerability would’ve been posting on Facebook about feeling like a superhero (which I didn’t do, but I am writing this post ;)).  What would it be for you?  Would it be allowing yourself to tell someone you care about that you’re not sure you made the right decision when you decided to….. (insert work, not work, breastfeed, not breastfeed, etc).  Would it be allowing yourself to tell someone you love what an awesome day of parenting you had without worrying about whether you sounded like you were “bragging”?  Think about it – what do you hold back saying for fear of judgment?  Next time you notice yourself holding back, instead try saying it to someone who is safe to take a risk with.  The next part is to try not to judge as much and instead, notice the insecurity that’s behind the desire to judge.  When your inclination is to justify, rationalize, defend or judge someone else’s lifestyle/choice/decision, rather than focus on them, focus on YOU.  Why are you feeling the need to do that?  What about YOUR lifestyle/choices/decisions are you feeling ambivalent about?  And then once your figure that out, you….you guessed it: talk to someone about it!  And be vulnerable all over again.

When you do this, a different cycle is born.  Instead of judgment, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to more judgment and distance we’re now talking about a cycle of vulnerability, which leads to honesty, which leads to understanding, which leads to connection.  Because ya know what?  I am a Superhero.  And you, Mommy (or Daddy!), are too.  Now doesn’t that sound nice?