Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Mummy Wars

After writing about go-with-the-flow-parenting - or in other words, do what works and is best for you parenting - it got me thinking about why women can get such a hard time from other women when they become mothers. I'm sure almost every new mother, experienced mother, or pregnant woman can cite at least a few stories of unsolicited advice and unwelcome opinions.

It seems that somehow motherhood means women's lives become public property, open to anyone and everyone's opinion on how they are parenting, eating, living...

Why is that? Why do women make each other feel guilty or insecure far more often that we make each other feel supported and empowered in this area?

Partly it is within us - when we read or hear another woman talk about their successes, rather than just feeling happy for that woman, we put ourselves down. We feel insecure, like we aren't doing the same and maybe we should be, or why are they doing better than me?

And then sometimes it comes from outside. Sometimes well meaning advice ends up being condemning, but sometimes it's not so well meaning either.

What would motivate any woman to put another woman down?

If it was a life threatening behaviour that we were attacking you could understand it - if someone was driving with their newborn lying on the front seat of the car, well that would be one thing.

But mostly the strong reactions, the unsolicited advice and condescension comes for small reasons, like whether or not you use a dummy, formula feed or co-sleep.

Granted there can be harmful effects of improper use of just about anything, but mostly mothers are doing the best they can. Why do we not just give each other the benefit of the doubt that a woman has weighed up all the options and is doing what will work best for her and her family?

Instead we often seem to jump straight to 'that woman has no clue and I should set her straight'.

I think it is because we are easily threatened. It hits at our identity. Whether we consider ourselves career women or stay at home mums, it is natural for a woman to find the most validation in feeling that she is successful in the domestic sphere. Anything that makes us feel like we are failing, or not living up to the same standard as others, makes us feel that perhaps we are failing at being a woman.

No matter how feminist our society might become, women are always going to feel their value linked  to the issue of having children, because it will always be our domain. It something that will always separate men and women. So whether we do or don't have kids, whether we do or don't have a career as well as a family, we find our choices under scrutiny. Childbearing is entirely universal, so it ends up being something on which everyone, and certainly every woman, feels she is qualified to comment.

And that is on top of the pressure we put on ourselves. No matter how confident we are in the decisions we have made regarding children, there is almost always a voice of doubt because so many other women have made so many other decisions. How can we help but compare?

So when we see someone else we can criticise, it makes us feel better about our own choices. When we find someone else who is more inexperienced that we can impose our advice upon, we feel validated in our experience. When we see someone else failing, we respond with sympathy heavily tinged with relief that we are doing better.

We have to stop. We have to make a conscious decision to remember how hard we find it at times, and respond with grace to others. Support other mothers in their struggles and decisions. Choose to assume that they are trying their best. Make other women feel confident in their ability to succeed as a mother, rather than trying to give advice just to make ourselves feel better. Be honest about our own failings so other women don't feel like they are all alone.

Genuinely celebrate the success of other women.

When you respond with positivity to others you will find this actually washes away your own insecurities far more than negativity ever can.

Just because someone else does things differently to us, doesn't mean they are saying our way was wrong. They are a different person raising a different baby in a different family and perhaps even a different time.

Raising children can be the most challenging thing we will ever do in our lives - lets make it easier on each other by being in it together, rather than making it a competition. Lets put down the weapons and quit the war.

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