May 10, 2006

I recently received an email that read “Demand a CEASEFIRE in the ‘Mommy Wars’ this MOTHERS day!”

Normally I tend to delete emails that yell at me in ALL CAPS, but I opened this one, which informed me that I should eliminate the headline grabbing media fiction designed to divide women, and tell the heads of CBS, NBC, and ABC to move beyond the false rhetoric of the MOMMY WARS. I could do all this by signing a petition, apparently.

I don’t know anything about the organizing group other than what I skimmed on their website, but my personal feeling is that I don’t see what possible good it does to send a petition to ABC to “denounce mommy wars jargon”.

If the so-called mommy wars are loosely defined as the political and social clashes over parenting choices such as working outside the home or not, that’s not something that was created by the media. It’s just not that simple. I applaud the noble notion that all of us mothers are banding together to collectively say that hey, all this stuff about us disagreeing over each other’s choices, it’s bullshit! Quit talking about it because it’s not true! – it would be great if I actually believed it.

It’s not just the choice to stay home or work, everything is up for grabs in the world of raising children and people attack each over all kinds of issues. There are loaded topics that almost guarantee a volatile response if you state a preference on the matter: La Leche League, Bugaboo strollers, cry it out sleep theory, practically anything Dooce allows comments on.

Who are we kidding by telling ourselves this is a fictional conspiracy dreamed up in order to boost ratings?

The word war is clearly a load of rich, creamy hyperbole, but are mothers uniformly supporting each other’s decisions and respecting individual situations? Of course not.

Caring for a child is such a terrifying endeavor because the stakes are so high. We put so much energy and focus and fear and hope into the choices we make for our children, how is it any surprise that given the diversity of parenting options that we are sometimes at odds with each other? How is it anything other than a basic human instinct to disagree over that which we feel most strongly about?

It might be nice if we could say “stop running news segments on subject X” and it would make the problem go away, but to me this seems like putting our heads in the sand and waving a pointing finger in any direction other than ourselves.

If someone publishes a book about how women are throwing away everything feminism has done for them by choosing to stay home with their child, or a book about how women have abandoned family values in pursuit of material gain, of course something like that’s going to get a bunch of media attention; either subject is going to piss a shitload of people off. Should I sign a petition to ban controversy? Should I demand that my thinking never be challenged by being presented with a different point of view?

I think the term “mommy wars” is about as charming as a sidewalk loogie, but the social conflicts are real. As mothers we have to navigate the murky waters of trying to find the best solutions for our families by coming to terms with our personal needs (or setting them aside for a while) within the fundamental confines of our situations, and the truth is, people judge us for the decisions we make. As hard as those decisions are, and even though we make them with only good intentions, we still have to deal with criticism. It happens all the time. NBC didn’t tell me I had the wrong values for choosing daycare, another mommy did.

At the end of the day, each of us has to take responsibility for what we believe and the actions we take. Advocating for women to sign a petition that deflects blame rather than meet these issues head on doesn’t seem to do us any favors.


29 Responses to “A term almost as appealing as mommyblogging”

  1. Justin on May 10th, 2006 7:22 am

    Amen Sister!

  2. Alex on May 10th, 2006 7:27 am

    Look at you with all sorts of blogging days in a row! Whoo hoo!

  3. Zoot on May 10th, 2006 7:38 am

    I got an email recently asking me to answer some questions for a compilation-type mother’s day article. One of the questions was: What parenting issue are you sick of hearing about? And I answered “ALL OF THEM.” As annoyed as I get at arguing over parenting choices, I am not naive enough to believe it’s just a Mommy thing either. Hell – I said I had a crush on a child movie star, just being silly, and I got judged and called out as nothing short of a pedophile. We, as humans, judge. Period. End of story. My son gets judged at school because he likes musicals. My husband gets judged at work because he’s a democrat. I get judged by my family because I deny eating all the donuts at gatherings when we all know it was me.

    My Point? If someone didnt badmouth or judge me for being a working mom? They’d criticize me being 30 and having tattoos. Or, that I have ugly flowerbeds. Or, that my car is a piece of crap. Hell – I’d almost rather people judge me based on my parenting choices because I’m at least confident about my parenting. I’m kinda embarrassed about my car.

    So yeah, I totally agree. Asking the media to stop “Mom Wars”? Nah. I’d rather get them to stop pre-empting Ellen every afternoon for storm coverage.

    And damn. I’m really sorry I just wrote a novel in your comments. I’ll leave now.

  4. justmouse on May 10th, 2006 7:42 am

    funny thing is…until i read your entry, i’d never even heard of the term ‘mommy wars’.

  5. Rumblelizard on May 10th, 2006 7:47 am

    As I understand it, and as a self-identified feminist, I think feminism is in part built on the belief that it is wrong to confine women to rigid, externally-defined roles. It’s all about choices and recognizing that women have as much right to self-determination (and the responsibilities that go with it) as men do. That being said, I think people in general are always more than willing to make judgements about how “other people” are totally fucking things up. The higher the stakes, the more people’s emotions get involved, the less they’re able to see the other person’s side, and the more willing they are to pass judgement (loudly and obnoxiously). It’s a really un-lovely trait that is pretty universal amongst us upright monkeys, I think.

  6. warcrygirl on May 10th, 2006 8:01 am

    It scares me to think that one day these types will get their way and we will all be identical and have NO conflicting beliefs. There’s few things I love more than a good, hearty debate.

  7. Deanna on May 10th, 2006 8:10 am

    Woo-hoo! (raises fist in the air) It’s about time we were honest. Good for you Sundry! And same is true for those of us what haven’t yet married and/or had children. (Though, I hope for a Riley of my own some day!)

  8. JennB on May 10th, 2006 8:15 am

    The thing that gets me is that I really, truly, have 2 full-time jobs: one as a career professional, the other as a mother and wife. No matter how much my husband helps out – and he does help a lot more than other daddies/husbands that I know – there is still a long list of things for me to do every day when I get home from work. And I’m no Martha, either. My floors are NOT clean 100% of the time, I do not iron my clothes or bedsheets, and the vacuuming could always be done again.

    It’s all I can do to maintain and yet, there is no way we could be a single-income household. We live within our means, don’t carry any credit-card debt, and pay our bills on time. We don’t eat out often, don’t have cable, and don’t go to movies. Society (that evil, evil trendsetter) has created a black-hole of cost – not even the “must-haves”; we don’t listen to what trendsetters say and I haven’t bought a new purse or new clothes in quite some time. It’s impossible to live on one income, unless you don’t mind a trailer, no cars, and no occassional dinners out. It’s just how we’ve evolved. The cost of living in our country is too high, and that won’t be changing any time soon.

    Sometimes I wish that the feminist movement hadn’t happened, only because I am exhausted by my jobs. I think sometimes that movement was the crux for women not only being paid more fairly in the workplace (ha!), but also to keep up and do it all, and do it effortlessly and just fucking do it, woman. The intent was for women to get equal opportunity in the work-place, but those brave trail-blazers forgot about one critical thing: the children that we working women would bear someday. Who would care for them? They are, after all, the workforce of tomorrow.

  9. Rumblelizard on May 10th, 2006 8:25 am

    Umm, JennB, do you think women with children didn’t work outside the home before the feminist movement?

  10. fellowmom on May 10th, 2006 8:35 am

    Awesome editorial–so true. And fresh on the heels of yesterday’s beautifully evocative entry. Rock on, Sundry. You are on fi-yah!

  11. Lisa S. on May 10th, 2006 8:45 am

    “The intent was for women to get equal opportunity in the work-place, but those brave trail-blazers forgot about one critical thing: the children that we working women would bear someday. Who would care for them?”

    Their fathers.

    Part of the point to feminism was to free us ALL from restrictive gender roles, not just women. By focusing only on women, we do a huge disservice to women, children AND men. As a society, we have made progress in the sense that we actually do think women have these choices and options. But since we are not debating the choices men have in the same way, we still have a long way to go in this society.

  12. Deborah on May 10th, 2006 8:47 am

    When I was a very young mother, with a very young son, I worked outside the home–absolutely no choice in the matter. A co-worker, an equally young mother with young son was very audible in her disdain for my refusing to go out with the gang after work. Several times a week she would ask and several times I would beg off. Tiring of my refusals she finally snapped, declaring; “you can spend TOO MUCH time with your kid, you know.” I told her simply, “no, I don’t think so.” I wished her well, went home and took care of my son.

  13. Ashley on May 10th, 2006 8:48 am

    I think that something people have failed to acknowledge when looking at issues such as this one is that women fought, as Rumblelizard stated, for the right to choose. Women are allowed to choose to stay home with children, they are allowed to choose their occupation, if a woman wants to be a prostitute or a stripper who are we to shout out anti-feminism and catering to the oppression men wish to place on us? I believe that we fought for the choice and every choice is valid. I think there is honour in staying home with a child as well as with working out of the home. Everyone needs to make their own choice and those choices should be seen as valid. I completely agree with you that regardless of whether the media discontinues the use of the term “Mommy Wars” there will still be conflict, because the problem is social and while it may cause some hostility and anger, it also provokes interesting thought and changes. Thanks for sharing your opinion, most people would have just deleted the e-mail or signed because it seemed like the right thing to do even if they weren’t quite sure why.

  14. ginger on May 10th, 2006 9:03 am

    Lisa’s right on.

    Another major flaw in your argument, JennB, is that feminism is to blame for the fact that it’s very hard for two or more people to live on one average income. I think you’ve confused cause and effect.

    Another objection to the term “mommy wars”: these issues also affect people who aren’t mothers. Well, not if you include the battles over breastfeeding and CIO, but the principal “wars”, the ones about whether you work because you have to or because you want to, and whether you’re doing right by your partner and family and community, whatever you choose. The case of motherhood underscores the issues, and invests them with even more emotion and import, but these decisions are ones we all make. They are loaded for all women, and not just because of motherhood.

  15. squandra on May 10th, 2006 9:25 am

    We journalists thank you.

  16. sundry on May 10th, 2006 9:57 am

    “The higher the stakes, the more people’s emotions get involved, the less they’re able to see the other person’s side, and the more willing they are to pass judgement (loudly and obnoxiously).”

    That’s exactly right, Rumblelizard. The larger problem isn’t just a mother’s issue, or a woman’s issue, really; it’s something that happens over almost any charged topic. And to Lisa and Ginger’s point, this specific conflict isn’t contained within the narrowly defined roles that the ‘mommy wars’ are meant to describe.

    I guess overall the notion of mommy wars fails to acknowledge the more complex problems at hand, and it fails to take ownership for any of it. What a waste of effort, in my opinion, to get angry at the media over something we haven’t even managed to define.

  17. Joanne on May 10th, 2006 10:57 am

    Oh, I don’t know. Why not get mad at the media? I mean, even if they didn’t create ‘Mommy Wars’, they certainly don’t have to capitalize on the smallness of some women just to show us as screaming, small minded shrews.

    I think Mommy Wars are alive and well – and not just on the Internet. I am home with my baby and I have to play a lot of defense in all sorts of social situations with other people, including other mothers. If I hear one more time that my kid isn’t going to have any ‘socialization’ before he’s five, for example, I’m going to lose my fucking mind. Also? If one more sister tells me that they think it’s GREAT that I can stay home – THEY couldn’t do it because THEY require more intellectual stimulation than an infant can provide? I’m going to smack them. It’ll be WAR! Just kidding.

  18. Scott on May 10th, 2006 11:07 am

    I couldn’t agree more, Sunndry. The enemy is us. If we want to put a dent in this issue, we should be sending a petition to everyone who writes reviews for baby products asking them to tone down the vitriol a notch or two.

    Then again, that would rob me of a vital source of entertainment. If you want to have a good time *and* convince yourself that you need to make your own parenting choices, go read some Amazon reviews of baby sleep books. It’s the literary version of Ultimate Fighting.

  19. Scott on May 10th, 2006 11:08 am

    Sunndry? What’s wrong with me? It is kind of catchy, though…

  20. merseydotes on May 10th, 2006 12:53 pm

    I signed that dumb petition, and do you know why? Because I’m sick of people like Caitlin Flanagan getting face time with Stephen Colbert (and otherwise sucking up valuable bandwidth)!

    I’m so tired of the word ‘mommy’ I could throw up. I think the disagreements are real, but they’re not new and they’re not news.

  21. MommyMaki on May 10th, 2006 1:03 pm

    Well said! I wish people would stop comparing and labelling. It’s so tiring and mind numbing. I hate that people have to put you in some category. If I am doing what’s best for me and my family, that’s all that should matter. I really don’t know why people care what choices I make in my life. But, I’m very happy that I do get choices.

    I’m a big believer in freedom of press though, even if I don’t like some of the shit the media puts out there or if it doesn’t pertain to me, it’s useful for someone else.

  22. Emblita on May 10th, 2006 1:17 pm

    As someone who is about to become a mom in a few months… this bitter battle has frightened me a bit. Just that we, as people, are willing to be so judgemental about other peoples choices. I think I will stick to that we all need to do what works for us and our families, whatever that may be. Fanatism in any form is always bad…. and there is way too much of it in the discussion about raising a family.

  23. Mama Ritchie on May 10th, 2006 1:19 pm

    Part of the reason mothers in particular seem to turn on each other in regard to their parenting choices is a quest for validation. Motherhood isn’t like school or work, where you complete an assignment and get a big red A+, or compile a report and get a “Good job!” and a raise. No one’s monitoring us, saying, “Your method for changing that filthy diaper was spot on! Excellent job – you get a gold star.” Some people need reinforcement more than others. So they compare what they are doing to what other moms are doing and think, oh I am such a better mother, because I don’t let MY child consume anything with Red No. 7 or Yellow No. 3.

    Women have been doing this even without children involved. Who’s skinnier, who’s funnier, who’s smarter. It’s looking for that validation – that sense that, hey, I’m okay. At least I’m not like that fat slob with the stringy hair and the bad acne.

    I think talking about it in a calm matter, like we all are here, helps. Also, I try to catch myself when I am comparing myself to someone else or to those fucking milestones that make us feel so inadequate and ask what it is I’m really feeling unsure of. All of it is an opportunity to learn about myself – one of my favorite subjects!

  24. Rachel on May 10th, 2006 1:26 pm

    I can see what JennB was saying. It is A LOT HARDER to live on one income now than it was in the days before two-income households were the norm. And it wasn’t the high cost of living that sent women into the workforce; it was a cultural shift. You maybe couldn’t cite feminism as a direct cause of the higher cost of living, but the fact is that two-income households, or households where one income is far above the average earner’s income, are the ones that can afford to buy houses now, and have even small luxuries.

    I don’t work outside the home. I homeschool my kids (talk about getting judged) and will until they are ready to go to college. They’re ten and six now. Because we place such a high priority on this, we know that we will not be able to buy a home in California at least until our children are grown. I can not count the number of times people have told us or implied that I should just put the kids in school and go get a job and then we’d be able to own a home like everyone else. This was not a pressure that the majority of at-home mothers felt before the feminist revolution — cause/effect can be debated but that’s a simple fact. If there weren’t a plethora of two-income households able to pay the high prices people are getting for housing, the prices would not be so high.

    Sundry, I agree with your point completely. Were you a reader of Chez Miscarriage before she shut down? She had some awesome posts and comments discussions about how very cruel mothers can be to each other about the decisions we make in child-rearing.

  25. Caitlin on May 10th, 2006 1:38 pm

    Just a quick shout-out to the articulate, impassioned community of Sundry readers. It is marvelous to hear the range of female (mommy and non-mommy) experience here. Reading Flanagan makes my brain positively BURN from the hypocrisy and the nose-in-the-air quality of her “analysis” (anyone read the recent piece in the Atlantic on Teen Sexuality??) so thank you Sundry for your commentary and for creating a space where all the moms can preach on it and all us non-moms can listen and learn…

  26. CartwheelsAtMidnight on May 10th, 2006 2:17 pm

    I despise the term “Mommy Wars”.

    What riles me most about this whole issue is that at the end of the day we’re all Mothers, just trying to reach the same goal. To raise healthy, productive humans. The means by which each of us chooses to go about reaching that goal shouldn’t be subject to another mother’s criticism. I’ve been a mom for 17 years. I’ve worked IN the home, OUT of the home and now back to part-time. I don’t think the quality of my kid’s experience changed much during each of those periods of my life. I’ve seen great kids raised by working moms and nightmare kids raised by SAH moms.

    While I don’t expect the argument to just go away, I do wish that the media would stop reporting on it. Each time I hear the term “Mommy Wars” I want to smash the TV and pull out a bottle of vodka. Now THAT’S a story. “Infighting Drives Mothers To Drink! News at 11!”

  27. Shannan on May 10th, 2006 4:48 pm

    I think that most of the time when people strenuously disagree with your way of doing things and advocate theirs it is because of insecurity. They aren’t sure if their choice was right but to make themselves feel better, they will defend it to the end. We are all insecure. We are all constantly questioning our choices. Most of us don’t know what the hell we are doing most of the time (especially with our first child). Can’t we just cut eachother some slack?

  28. Mom101 on May 10th, 2006 7:55 pm

    I think you make an excellent point. However I do think that, like the SHARK ATTACK! headlines in Florida during slow news weeks (think, pre-9/11) there is a little story here that’s making big news.

    There is way more kumbaya singing among women than there is in-fighting. But hey, people bonding together through Code Pink meetings or quilting bees or book clubs or playgroups–or whatever it is moms do together–that’s not nearly as compelling a news segment as the Desperate Housewife-esque she said/she said stories.

    If you look at the stats, the shark attacks in 2001 were no more frequent than they were any other year. But a whole lot of people stopped swimming that year. I think that’s what the petition is all about.

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