The cover of the latest edition of Time Magazine shows an attractive young mother in skinny jeans and a tank top, one breast exposed as she looks at the camera defiantly and her preschool-aged son stands on a chair to breastfeed. It’s provocative, to be sure, but not nearly so provocative as the headline, “Are You Mom Enough?”, the implication being that anyone who doesn’t choose to continue nursing a child who is old enough to work an iPad is not mom enough. Critics and commentators are saying that the cover and the accompanying article on the attachment style of parenting will ratchet up the so-called Mommy Wars.
Here’s what I think: There are no Mommy Wars.
In fact, the whole concept of “mommy wars” seems so 1980′s to me, like there should be two Electric Boogaloo moms in parachute pants, a ghetto blaster off to the side, head-spinning it out in a break dancing duel to determine which one is the bigger badass. The reality? Every mom is barely getting through her day, and most of us are much more concerned with the size of our ass than with fighting other mothers.
When I first became a mom I stayed at home with my son because my husband was deployed and I really had no other choice. We don’t have family nearby and newspaper reporters often have to work late into the night, long after daycares have closed. There was no way I could go right back to work. But a year later my husband was home and I was going nuts so I began to polish my resume, looking for jobs that would allow me to work more reasonable hours. Back then I mentioned that I wanted to go back to work to a baby-boomer aged woman I admire, a woman who chose to stay home with her children, and she chastised me. She even went so far as to say that I must not love my child very much if I could even consider “abandoning” him like that. I won’t lie — her comments stung.
I immediately recounted the conversation to my sister and to a good friend, both of whom went right back to work after giving birth to each of their kids. They don’t even know each other, live a thousand miles apart and work in very different careers, but they both said the same thing: “I think I’m a better mom for knowing that I don’t have the temperament to stay home with my kids.”
Their comments felt right to me, then and now. In the end I chose a hybrid path, freelance writing from home. (And I count myself blessed to have been able to choose and to have the option to work from home.)
But there seem to be no shortage of opinions on all things motherhood and I’ve noticed that the most opinionated and outspoken critics are those whose own parenting years were during the 1970s and 1980s, the years when moms really did have to pick sides. They had to choose the “stay at home” team or the “working” team, and their battles were brutal at times. They had to fight about every personal choice a parent makes: breastfeeding, scheduling, spanking, even whether or not to allow gender specific toys and games. There was always someone on a soapbox somewhere insisting that their way was right. Problem was, that meant simultaneously insisting that all other ways were wrong. It was a relentless time for parents and many of them haven’t been able to repair the considerable chips on their shoulders.
That old school style of side-choosing also meant that once you committed to a particular philosophy you had to stay committed for life. You’d been jumped in, in a “ride-or-die” way. That’s why that one boomer mom spoke so harshly to me. She viewed me as a traitor. In her eyes I had committed to be in her gang but had chosen to defect. Thankfully, that’s not the case at all for modern moms.
I joke with friends that I want to write a parenting book called, “Shitty Mom” or perhaps, “De-tachment Parenting” because I tend to embrace a more free-range style of raising kids. But truthfully, I’m not detached from my kids and I’m not a shitty mom at all, I’m just doing it my way — a way that often changes from child to child and from day to day. I’m more like Mom-surfing: Catching each wave as it comes, riding it however it needs to be surfed and hoping like hell to just stay on the board.
The actual Mommy Wars involve only an Army of one: ourselves. We do fight relentlessly against ourselves and we do constantly compare our choices to the choices of others. That’s why those of use who weaned our children before they had teeth look on with shock when we see a child who can write his name still nursing. We don’t do it to tear down others, we do it because we’re so worried that WE are doing it wrong.
Here’s the bitter truth: Moms who work feel guilty when they see stay at home moms with their kids and moms who stay home feel inadequate when they talk with moms who work. Parents who spank wonder if they’re scarring their kids and parents who don’t spank worry that their kids will grow up spoiled. We are NOT fighting with each other — we are fighting with ourselves. We all know that we get only one chance to get this parenting thing right — and that thought is far scarier than the fiction of some kind of war.