Will personal choice end the mommy wars?

If you’ve been on Facebook recently you’ve probably seen these photos. Connecticut Working Moms launched a photo series entitled “End the Mommy Wars” in which mothers with “warring” ideas are photographed together with placards representing the two sides. The idea being that we can all peacefully coexist and there’s no reason to judge one another.

It’s a really nice thought. At the risk of sounding a bit like George W. Bush, being a mother is HARD. Every day there seems to be endless ways to screw your kids up and get it all wrong. The guilt-ridden voices inside your own head are enough to deal with without the judgmental voices on the street or the playground adding to the cacophony.

However, I’m not sure that the answer to the “mommy wars” is embracing every parenting decision as an individual choice.

First of all, sometimes these choices aren’t really choices at all. If you didn’t breastfeed because your insurance didn’t cover lactation support, then that wasn’t a choice. If you had to sleep train your child so you could return to work after 6 weeks, then that wasn’t a choice. If your children eat fast food because you can’t afford organic options, then that’s not really a choice. Putting the burden of these decisions solely on the mother does nothing to further the debate on these important societal issues and furthers the idea that mothers are solely responsible for any and all parenting decisions.

What about fathers? What about communities? What about schools? What about churches?

If you don't take your children to church because you had a horrible experience with religion as a child, then the church community needs to address that instead of just brushing it off as an individual decision. If you home school because you feel that testing was detrimental to your child, then the public school system needs to foster a discussion about those concerns and not chalk it up to another individual choice.

Reinforcing the idea that parenting choices are all about the individual mother’s ideology or history or personality does a disservice to us all and oversimplifies very complicated issues. Not to mention, it also implies that these choices are written in stone and define us until the end of time. At any given moment, I could have held some of these placards at the same time. I breastfed AND formula fed. I co-slept AND sleep trained. I felt amazing after one birth and terrible after the next.

And I learned from all those experiences and I am happy to learn from other’s experiences as well. When my dear friend and mother-of-four told me she thought sleep was a skill that had to be taught like any other, I took that TO HEART. I didn’t feel like she was judging me or battling me in an ongoing mommy war. I felt like she was dropping some knowledge and I was happy for it.

Knowledge of how our different choices affected us and our children is something we shouldn’t be afraid to share. If you think something works really well for your family, then go ahead and share that. Most mothers I know who share parenting victories aren’t doing so out of a superiority complex. They share out of a genuine joy over getting something right… for now anyway!

I’m so incredibly grateful for friends who have shared their parenting wisdom with me over the years. I’m equally grateful for my mommy friends who have looked at me and said, “I screwed this up. Don’t do what I did!” We do everyone – especially ourselves – a disservice when we cling to our mistakes under the banner of individual choice.

And I try to do the same. If you want to hear how NOT to get a toddler to stay in his big boy bed then seriously pull up a chair because I am an EXPERT.  I know it’s bad that I yell at my kids and let them watch too much iPad and don’t always read books before bed. Those aren’t my choices. Those are my real weaknesses as a parent and if you’ve got some suggestions, then please bring them on. I’m all ears.

Now, if you’re suggestion is “be a better mother,” then I’m busy. I think Tracy Cassels from Evolutionary Parenting said it best:

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 you’re poisoning your child, or something like that.  Folks – that’s not a mommy wars problem, that’s an asshole problem.  And sadly there are assholes everywhere and all the rhetoric about supporting each other isn’t going to change those people.

That's not to say I don't think we should support each other, of course I do. I think we should be compassionate and loving in all our relationships – especially those with other mothers.

I wish that was all it took to end the mommy wars. Unfortunately, I think the reality – much like parenting itself – is much more complicated.