Why Mommy Wars Exist

May 16, 2012

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The latest TIME magazine cover, featuring my friend Jamie Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son, has reignited the mommy wars in many a combox over the past week.

I have to say, I never knew there was such a thing as “mommy wars” until my friends began having children and complained of criticisms they experienced from other moms about the way they were parenting. On one hand, this didn’t make sense to me: Why would moms — who know first-hand that raising kids is the hardest job in the world — spend their precious time and energy criticizing other moms? But then I remembered I had a masters degree in counseling and a great deal of experience working with women, which has given me some insight into why women criticize each other.


This isn’t just a problem among moms; it begins long before children come along, when we learn to compare ourselves to other women and judge ourselves (and them) as less then, better than, prettier than, skinnier than, smarter than, more talented than.

Every mother spends many waking hours wondering how she’s doing: Has she made the right choice about which diapers to use? Would it be better to let Junior cry it out or pick him up at every squawk? What should she do about the fact that breastfeeding is not going as planned? Is she making the right school choice? What if she’s screwing up this kid? What if he turns into her worst nightmare and then blames her for it? What if she could find some guidebook written by God to tell her exactly what to do for every parenting challenge?

Every mom wants to get it right. She wants validation. She wants to know that her choices are the right ones. And while she might say there’s more than one right choice in parenting styles and decisions, deep down, she’s still afraid that hers are not the right ones unless everyone else agrees. And the best way to feel sure of yourself — or so it can seem — is to judge someone else who’s doing things differently.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still rights and wrongs in my book. But there are so many parenting issues that don’t belong in the right/wrong paradigm. How long you breastfeed your child is one of them. Whether you use attachment parenting techniques or whether you don’t is another.

There’s no quick fix to ending the mommy wars. Peace begins at home, as they say. Each mom, each woman, has to make a conscious decision to give the benefit of the doubt, to encourage rather than tear down, to be okay with differences. And each of us needs to dig deep and admit to our own insecurities — not necessarily to tell the whole world about them, but so that we can find support and grow in confidence.

We can also just smarten up and put things in perspective. Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan wondered in a recent post why we’re so petty — why we care about things like breastfeeding toddlers in public when there are children out there who don’t even have mothers. I have to agree. When you think about the things women and children and families face across this world, including right here in our own country, you have to wonder why anyone bothers with the stuff of mommy wars. I guess because it’s easier to gossip with girlfriends or pass judgment on a website than to do something to reform the U.S. foster care system, or address the orphan crisis in places like Haiti, or solve the problem of human trafficking. The media frenzy around Jamie and the TIME cover reminds me of just how backwards things can be.

Do you agree?

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