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Face Off

By Tracy Cassels, MA

No one likes getting caught in the crossfire of the Mommy Wars. But calling for a truce is misguided and dangerous.

Ending the so-called “mommy wars” has become quite the news item, and one that everyone seems to get on board with. I mean, how can you not? It sounds so lovely to say that we have to support each other as moms, no matter what we do. After all, they’re just choices, and isn’t each choice as valid and wonderful as the rest? If we all just accepted this, the world would be…well, what would it be?

What would it be if we decided to no longer talk about breastfeeding versus formula, sleep training, circumcision, spanking, and the many other things that seem to constitute the basis of these “mommy wars”? What would it be if we said “anything goes,” and that using formula is just as good as breastfeeding, regardless of the reason you used it? Or if spanking was just one of many ways a person could choose to discipline?

It would be B.S.

Why? Because in very few cases are these parenting “choices” actually choices, and when we try to take these acts and turn them into 100 percent voluntary acts by every family, we ignore the problems that lead parents to make some of the so-called choices they do. I see it firsthand in the comments of the online parenting stories I write. People chronicle their personal experiences, angry that I would possibly suggest that another way is associated with better outcomes, or that “their” way is associated with a higher risk of bad outcomes. Yet, almost inevitably, they mention the numerous “traps” or problems they faced that led to their choice to use formula, sleep train, circumcise, spank, etc. But when confronted with research saying their “choice” isn’t just as good as what they had initially hoped, they take it as an insult.

By trying to get everyone to say all parenting acts are equally good, we are not only calling for an end to the sharing of information, but also giving up the fight for a society that lets families make true choices.

Sleep-training your 3-month-old because you have to be back at work at six weeks, switching to formula because your child has an undiagnosed tongue tie and you can’t afford an out-of-plan lactation consultant, or pushing your child to “self-settle” before he’s ready because you are bombarded with false information about what you should be expecting from your child, are not true choices. (Perhaps you’ve made these decisions after tons of research, believing they’re for the best. That’s a true choice, and one that should be respected even if disagreed with, as many people disagree with co-sleeping or breastfeeding a toddler. But when you don’t have a real choice, it’s a problem.) You’re being pushed into choosing between the lesser of two evils, a choice that only a society that is unsupportive of families and doesn’t freely share information allows. And that sucks. You should be furious.

Some of you may be ready to jump in about how you have been bombarded by a stranger at the store while buying formula, claiming that you’re poisoning your child. Folks, that’s not a mommy wars problem, that’s a jerk problem. And, sadly, there are jerks everywhere, and all the rhetoric about supporting each other isn’t going to change those people. But it’s also indicative of the larger problem, too—by framing the issue as a “choice,” this person believes you are making a true choice without knowing your individual circumstances. Maybe it is a true choice, and you’ve done all your research and come to this conclusion about what’s best for you and your family, and that’s why the person still remains a jerk. But for many it’s not a true choice. Yet calls to end the mommy wars are pushing for these false choices to be seen as true ones.

There’s a quote that says the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. I will say this: The people that benefit from the way our society currently is—the government that doesn’t want to offer family-friendly policies, the businesses that don’t want to support their workers, the formula companies who want to make a profit over all else, the baby “experts” who don’t read a lick of research but want to sell their books anyway—have managed the great feat of making us think the real problem is with other moms. Instead of turning against those who benefit from reducing our choices and fighting for a better place to raise our kids, we have turned on each other even more.

Only now, those of us who aren’t towing the line and continue to share information are viewed as the bad guys. Those of us who want to change things so that families are given real options are accused of trying to make people feel guilty, or saying it’s “our way or nothing.” We are heading down a path where families will have fewer and fewer true choices if we allow it. We can’t. We have to do something if we want families to really feel supported and cared for, and not just given lip service.

The mommy wars don’t need to end. In fact, they need to get bigger. They just need to be redirected at the real problem: A society that doesn’t support families.

Editor’s Note: Generally speaking, parents love their children and do the best they know how. And where does their know-how come from? It comes from their upbringing, their parents, and the structures of their society. It also comes from their emotional strengths and the wounds that they experienced growing up. Finally, it comes from their internal insights or intuition. That said, we all have different perspectives based on our multifactorial experiences. It’s not a matter of right or wrong— exposure to different perspectives can help us grow significantly. We take those perspectives, weigh them against our inner values, and then make our conscious choices based on our highest knowing. I’ve had some major epiphanies in my life when I listened to the perspectives of others and allowed myself to step out of my former, limiting beliefs. These led to major changes in direction for myself and my family. I feel that by presenting these different viewpoints as “mommy wars,” there is an insidious intent to devalue our individual perspectives and what they may offer. I appreciate the opinions of others and the freedom to share our opinions so we may learn more from each other. I appreciate the information to make more conscious choices every day!