We’ve all seen it — the seemingly innocent Facebook post that starts with a plea for advice for a baby that won’t sleep. This mama is desperate. She’s tried everything — including letting her baby “cry it out” — and that’s about when the vultures descend. Nasty comments roll in calling this mother a monster for not soothing her baby when he/she needed help. Another comment tells her she is causing her child permanent damage and that the baby will feel abandoned and unloved. Once one harsh comment rolls in it’s like an avalanche that can’t be stopped. A brave soul tries to chime in and defend this poor sleep-deprived mama and then the vultures attack her. This is what we would call a “Mommy War,” and they are taking place all over the internet and our communities as we speak.
We’ve seen Mommy Wars break out over everything from whether you choose to stay home with your kids or work outside of the home, breastfeed or formula feed, baby-wear exclusively or use a stroller, feed your child something other than 100% homemade organic food or give your child teething tablets or not. The list of what moms argue over is long and ugly.
Motherhood is not easy and the last thing we need are harsh critics scrutinizing each and every decision we make as parents (as if we aren’t doing that in our own heads already). Especially as a first-time mother, it can be challenging to find confidence in your abilities. That becomes exponentially more challenging when all around you you’re witnessing moms tearing each other down instead of empowering each other and building one another up. We believe that if mothers work together, we can end the Mommy Wars and build a village that we would all benefit from. Here are four tips for doing just that:
Assume the best. Mothers make every decision with their child’s best interest at heart. It is extremely rare that a woman would want to do intentional harm to her child, so your best bet is to give each mother the benefit of the doubt and assume the best intentions in her parenting decisions.
Practice empathy. There are a million and one decisions to make as a parent and you simply cannot and will not agree with every single decision other mothers and friends are making when it comes to their child. And that is totally fine. It isn’t your job to try to convince every mom to be just like you. It is your job to be empathetic, and instead of passing judgment when you see a mother doing things differently than you, consider if there is anything you can learn from them. It is also your job to be empathetic to every mother’s parenting decisions and understand that there could be many outside factors driving certain decisions.
For example, maybe you breastfed all three of your children for over a year and you are a strong advocate that “Breast is best.” You might go to the park with a friend and her infant and see her formula feeding her baby. Instead of lecturing your friend on the benefits of breastfeeding and telling her how you managed to breastfeed all three of your children despite many roadblocks, you should empathize with her situation. Perhaps she suffers from severe anxiety and the only medication that she can take is not safe for breastfeeding mothers, so she had to choose between nursing and making sure she is the best, safest version of herself for her baby. Maybe she tried everything to breastfeed, but despite many lactation appointments and her best effort, it just wasn’t working and the stress of it all was causing her to fall into postpartum depression. Maybe she carried the BRCA gene and had a double mastectomy before you even met your friend and she physically cannot breastfeed. The point is: there are a thousand different reasons your friend might not be breastfeeding. It is rude and insensitive to assume that you understand her circumstances and have the right to judge her and make her feel guilty for her decision. Assume the best, be empathetic and move on.
Follow the golden rule. This one is simple: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Speak up, kindly, only when the safety of a child is at risk. For the most part, we believe that it really isn’t necessary to get into debates over our unique parenting decisions and styles. However, it hopefully goes without saying that if you see a child in danger or if their safety is at risk, it’s a good time to step in and make sure this mother is in the know. But even when safety is at risk, approach the subject with caution and love. It is never okay to make a mother feel judged and terrible about herself. Come at the issue from a place of understanding and let her know that you would not be able to live with yourself if something happened and you didn’t say something, so you just wanted to make sure she knew that [insert whatever the problem might be here].
It’s okay to feel confident in your decisions as a parent. Having strong opinions doesn’t make you bitchy, but imposing your beliefs on others isn’t the road to take. Being a parent is hard enough, and we all could use a little more support and a lot less scrutiny. If we can all agree on that, our worlds could be a whole lot happier.