Dear Miriam, Help! What do I do with my friends who are engaging in the dreaded "mommy wars?"
Help! What do I do with my friends who are engaging in the dreaded "mommy wars?" I'm talking about things like, "My kid did x MUCH earlier," smugly using the words "organic" or "natural" in every other sentence and passive aggressively putting down choices like co-sleeping or formula feeding. My standard answer is to brightly say, "Oh I'm sorry, I should have told you before – I don't participate in mommy wars. Want to talk about something else?" but it doesn't always get a great response. Usually, people just get really defensive, and I end up engaging in a battle anyway. Should I come up with a new one liner, grit my teeth and ignore the comments or just walk away?
Mommy wars ARE absolutely maddening. This whole internet thing that was supposed to help bring people together only seems to fuel the fire when it comes to figuring out which parenting choices are worthy of put-downs. Because of the astounding preponderance of online parenting groups and mommy blogs, it's possible to compare your kids to strangers' kids on any number of arbitrary accomplishments, from sleeping through the night to walking to being a "foodie in training."
When these pointless arguments are happening online, the best possible solution is to ignore them. Skip over those posts, unfollow the comments, whatever, just do not engage. However, when they're happening in real life right in front of you between people with whom you have pre-existing relationships, the situation becomes more complicated. First off, you have to be comfortable with your parenting choices, your child's abilities and your disinterest in self-righteousness. Then, if a friend says, "Oh, you're letting him eat goldfish? We only have cheddar bunnies in our house," you can say, "We eat a whole variety of snacks. I can make sure that Leo doesn't share his goldfish with Greyson." If your friend beams about how early Greyson started walking or talking or whatever, say, "Every kid is an individual." If a friend scoffs at your choice of diapering materials, just confidently say, "We made the choice that was best for our family."
The truth is, I think that everyone is making the choices that are best for their families, but because of the constant validation/criticism available online, we are always holding our choices up against other people's. I ask myself at least once a week, "If we'd done baby led weaning, would my kids be more adventurous eaters?" There's no way to answer this question, and it's simply not important, but I spend a lot of time with other moms, and I can't help but compare my kids to other kids. We all do it, and it's not great for any of us – not for the kids, not for the moms, not for the amount of collective energy wasted on pointless comparisons and judgements.
The next time a friend makes a comment that seems poised to incite the mommy wars, try saying, "Every family is different," or, "Every kid is different," or, "It's so interesting to hear about other families' choices." Then you can either continue the conversation from that perspective or change the subject. Naming the situation as "mommy wars," does seem like it would make people defensive, and it's worth remembering that when you cut through all the hypocritical, judgemental ridiculousness, of course there's a lot you can learn from other parents.
Now, to incite the mommy wars myself, here are two exceptions to my rules above: 1) If you vaccinate your kids (and I certainly hope you do) and you find out that another family doesn't, feel free to tell that family why your kids won't be playing together anymore. Don't argue or try to convince them otherwise, because you won't be successful, but you can state your position and do what you know is right to protect your family. 2) If you receive criticism for circumcising your son, feel free to explain that, while you know this is controversial to a lot of people, it's an important Jewish tradition and it isn't up for discussion.
One final note – I am a strong advocate for egalitarian parenting, for inclusivity and for gender-neutral language. However, mommy wars really do seem to be focused around mommies. Daddies just don't seem to get into this stuff with such passion or vehemence. It's not because they don't care about their kids, but there's a particular kind of toxic caring that often hovers around interactions between mommies that appears to be absent in most interactions between daddies. Let's all do ourselves a favor and lower the stakes so that we can be supportive to each other as parents and families because, deep down, I think that's what we're all looking for.