I reckon I always knew that moms were opinionated about How Things Should Be Done in regards to child-rearing. And I’m from the Internet; I know perfectly well that there is nothing more opinionated than someone standing on a digital soapbox, hidden behind a veil of pseudonymic anonymity. Even still, I guess I was unprepared on some level for what the Mommy Wars were really like — and I daresay, I’m still enough of a greenhorn that I am really only aware of the tip of the iceberg.
Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is doing it the right way. And everyone assumes that you are ready and eager to be proselytized. Women who would froth at the mouth in irritation if a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness knocked at the door salivate at the opportunity to push their own Doctrine of Appropriate Parenting on their friends, relatives, and people they once went to high school with but now only know through a dormant Facebook connection.
No sooner did I go public with news of our pregnancy than it began. Now, my friends generally know that I’m the sort of person who informs myself about the issues and who doesn’t need to be told what to think, so I didn’t get a ton of unsolicited advice from people I personally knew. The thing is, if you read anything about pregnancy and parenting (especially online) you’ll quickly discover that nothing is neutral. Even the most benign-looking mommyblogs are really written in such a way that you walk away feeling chastised (or affirmed!) after reading.
And really — who would have thought that people would care so much about the sort of diaper you strap to your kid’s bum? Who would believe that store-bought baby food would inspire such heated emotions, or that one’s chosen location for labor and delivery could call down condemnation? Vaccinations! Sleeping arrangements! Nursery decorations!
Circumcision, of course, is a big one. The minute it became known that my baby had a penis, I began getting unwanted advice and pressure about what I should do about it. (In this category I will forgive my student, C, who was so amusingly disappointed that it wasn’t a girl that he told me, “Maybe it will fall off! I know it’s a girl!”)
And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding. HOLY MAMMARIES is that a hot topic! Some of the remarks I’ve read on this subject have literally taken my breath away; it seems that nothing pushes more mommy buttons than the source of a baby’s nourishment. I’ve sensed disdain on the other subjects, but when you read about womens’ opinions on breastfeeding, there is — shockingly frequently — hate clearly written on the page. Astonishing. (I think my favorite diatribe so far attacked people who claimed to have satisfactorily survived being fed formula and said that any text that even acknowledged the existence of formula and bottles was engaging in a subliminal campaign to subvert the breastfeeding culture. Did someone page Mel Gibson?)
And on a certain level, I guess I get it. Intelligent, worldly, well-informed people often adopt causes and become very passionate about them. They feel that they are improving, even saving, the world. These women are warriors, evangelists, superheroes fighting against the evils of powdered formula or the nefarious scheme of the epidural-free delivery. (And yes; lest you think I’m just complaining about Granola Moms, the same sort of thing is coming from all sides of pretty much every debate.)
As an intelligent, worldly, well-informed person myself, I have my own opinions about how I want to give birth to and raise this baby. Am I going to share them all here? Nope. (Ladies and gentlemen, what my husband and I decide to do or not do with our son’s foreskin is none of your business.) Are you likely to figure some of them through casual mentions of things like feeding, etc.? Of course. But I’d like to think that I’ll be able to keep from trying to change your mind, or make you feel in some way inferior if your opinions and choices differ from mine. I’d like to think that I will practice what I preach: every baby, every family, is different, and you should do what works for you and yours.
I can feel it.
In the past few weeks, in one-on-one conversations and online, I’ve caught myself getting a little hot under the collar over other women’s pregnancy/delivery/childraising decisions. Something stirs inside me and I want to educate them, I want to tell them why they are wrong to think as they do. Worse, I feel a wall coming up between myself and that person — the “How can we even be friends if you believe that?” wall that is all-to0-familar to many of us during political season.
(Maybe that’s the thing I’m trying to get to here… maybe parenting is a never-ending political campaign, and in today’s culture of “I can say anything I want however I’d like because I am ONLINE and that is MY RIGHT,” maybe things have just gotten ugly.)
It’s ridiculous! I’m doing the very thing that I dislike! What in the world?
If I’m being honest with myself, I think that the primary thing I’ve started to feel is defensiveness. I still, ultimately, don’t care whether Friend A has an epidural or Friend B uses bottles or Friend C sews her own cloth diapers and drinks placenta smoothies while doing naked baby pilates in her front yard. Maybe I just don’t want them to disapprove of me. And isn’t that a stupidly normal sort of thing to wish? Ah, the pangs of caring what other people think… so dumb. So self-defeating. Such a waste of time and mental energy!
So I write this, both as a reminder to myself and a preemptive apology to you. I may not understand why you would choose to do such-and-such, and I may even think you are quite wrong. (There are, if I’m truthful, a few parenting issues that I think do have a universally right and wrong answer.) But I will do my level best not to preach, proselytize, patronize, or… er… something that starts with “p” that means condemn. And if I do — I’m sorry. The Mommy Wars… they change a person. 🙂