This post is going to be a little different than my usual Family Fridays posts, where I talk about, you know, books – this is after all a book blog. As of writing this, I’ve just entered the third trimester of my pregnancy (THE END IS NEAR!), so I’ve been thinking alot about being a mom, and especially those months after my son was first born, when I was navigating the murky First Time Mom waters.
*warning – serious navel gazing ahead – proceed at your own risk*
If there was one thing I’d like to say on behalf of all new moms it’s this: send food. We don’t have time to sleep or shower, let alone figure out how to keep ourselves or anyone else living in our house fed. Or money. Money is also good, because it can be exchanged for food.
But if I had TWO things to say on behalf of all new moms it would be this: please assume that we are a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars. Assume that we are doing our best to figure out what how to raise this tiny helpless poop machine that we have somehow become entirely responsible for, and that if we ask questions of you, or make choices that are different than yours, we are not attacking you – we are merely doing the best we can. (This goes for all moms, but especially new moms, who are sleep deprived and hormonally imbalanced on top of the other typical mom stuff.)
Let me give you an example. When my son was still little, I met another mom. I thought that I remembered hearing she worked with her husband, so I asked her that. Silence, then a tight little smile, followed by “I’ve raised [number of] children. Is that enough for you?” This was from one stay at home mom to another.
Somehow the question of “what do you do?” – which is a fairly standard ice-breaker, small talk, get to know you kind of question becomes fraught with peril when children are introduced to the mix, though typically only for women. But here’s the thing – it only is a dangerous question if we let it be. I think deep down we’re all a little insecure about the choices we make for our families (and that’s a good thing, because it means we care about making the right choice for our families), but becoming defensive and entrenching ourselves behind fortified walls is not the best response. This is where the whole “assume we are noncombatants” comes into play. Most of the time, questions are just questions – asked for information or small talk or whatever reason – and not made with the intent of being snide.
It’s kind of like the grownup equivalent of “what’s your major?” that college students ask each other (first three questions: name, major, hometown). Now, if Bob has just failed Basket Weaving 101 and is realizing that he is never going to become a Master Basket Weaver (which was his lifelong dream), then that question is going to feel a little bit (or a lot) like a slap in the face. Is it the fault of the person asking? No – it’s Bob’s insecurities that made a neutral question feel like an attack.
Similarly, if someone asks what you do, or where your kids go to school, or if you cloth diaper, or how much tv you let your kids watch, what if we all assumed that the asker is not judging us, or trying to point out their own superiority? What if we assumed that they were simply trying to get to know us, or maybe they wanted information because something wasn’t working well for their family and were trying to find alternatives? I think what would happen is that this whole mom thing – which is really, really difficult, would get just a little bit easier.
For example, I often ask about what people have decided to do for their children’s schooling. I’m genuinely curious about what they’ve decided to do (public, private, homeschooling, etc.) and why. I come from an education background and it is something I care deeply about. I want as much information as possible when it comes time to make those decisions for my kids. I also didn’t grow up in the US education system, apart from a few years (grades 7-10), so I’m not familiar with all the options or how they work from a first person perspective.
I really do understand that sometimes people are asking with mal intent. I get it. People can be jerks, that’s just a sad fact of life. But I’ve seen in my own experience that the more insecure I am about something, the more often I feel attacked. The stay at home mom thing is hard for me to get worked up about, because I actually feel incredibly blessed and fortunate in that I had a choice whether or not to go back to work, and I was able to choose to stay at home. I understand that not everyone has a choice, and I consider it a privilege to be able to do what I want. I do also really get why some women are very happy to be working outside the home, and for what it’s worth, it seems to be the more socially acceptable choice amongst women of my generation.
**second warning – I’m going to say breast! watch out!**
Here’s something I can get worked up about: I had really wanted to breastfeed my son. (I said breast!) Not only because I’m cheap (free food!), but because it seemed like the best option nutritionally. Here’s a funny twist of fate – my son has numerous food allergies (he’s almost two and we’re still struggling to find out what exactly he can and can’t eat) which culminated in three weeks of constant illness and a screaming, unhappy, sick baby (our record was going through more than a package of diapers in a day – that’s 40 plus diapers, which works out to a diaper change more frequently than every 36 minutes. Around the clock. On no sleep. And my husband was working nights! Fun times.)
We put him on a hypoallergenic formula and he was well in four hours. Four hours. After three weeks of hell. I had eliminated dairy and soy, and was on a “bland diet”, so I was pretty much eating plain noodles, rice, and boiled chicken, and then after we switched him to formula I still pumped for a week on the awful diet to try to give the toxins time to work out of my body and then out of his body, but the second we reintroduced breastmilk, it was back to sick baby. So I can confidently say I gave breastfeeding my best shot, and not only was my milk NOT the most healthy option for him (due to the whole malnutrution thing) we also ended up on a $200 a month formula. Ah, fate.
What’s my point here? This was something that I had really wanted to do for my son, but it just was not going to happen. So when I see all the “rah rah breastfeeding” posts on facebook, or tweets, or blog articles (it was recently “breastfeeding week”), it feels personal. I know that for the most part, these women are well intentioned, and I think trying to promote and normalize breastfeeding is a good thing, but the “everyone SHOULD breastfeed” message feels like a direct attack on me, because I couldn’t. Many women can’t. Either they don’t have enough milk, or they’ve adopted, or they are working out of the home and just can’t keep up with pumping and trying to provide for their families, or whatever. And some women can, and choose not to. Maybe they hate it, or are desperate for sleep, or know that they have to go back to work soon and just don’t feel it’s worth the effort.
So I have a choice. I can take my personal insecurities and assume these breastfeeding cheerleaders are judging me for putting my son on formula and fight back with all I’ve got, maybe changing the arena to one I can feel morally superior in (though at the moment I’m at a loss for what exactly that would be), or I can let it go and remember that they are trying to do the best they can for their children, as I am, and that they care enough about other people’s children to try to make a positive impact there as well. When we’re insecure about something, it feels like the subtext in those discussions is a whispered, “You’re doing it wrong.” But that’s what we hear, not necessarily what’s being said.
We all have a choice. Whatever the issue – breastfeeding, education, tv, electronic toys, organic food, cloth diapering, working outside the home – whatever it is, we can make this whole parenting thing easier on ourselves and each other if we start off with the assumption of best intentions on the part of the other person. Assume they are a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars, that whatever they just said was not an attack on you. I really do believe in the message of this book – if enough of us choose to be pleasant, we really can make the world a better place.
Except for those people who really are being snide. You can punch them in the face.