May 12, 2012

Convincing Ourselves We're Mom Enough, Or What is Really Undermining Women

As a relatively new mother, I'm still figuring out my role – in the house, in the family, in the workplace, in the business world, in the mothering world and in my own sense of self.

It's a nuanced, complex and challenging place to be. But, it's my place to be. And in this place, I'd like to think I am fully thinking, and feeling, my way through it all -- my own way through it all.

But the last few weeks, a debate has been building online and off that insinuates otherwise – that seems to claim that in fact, my decisions as a mother are made from a place of influence, or fear, or insecurity.

So, I'll say this as eloquently as I can right now: Hooey. Pure, freaking, hooey.

Let me just go ahead and save you the trouble of answering the rhetorical questions raised by this firestorm of pre-Mother's Day media, by these so-called “mom wars.” (Really? Inflame much? “Wars?”)

First to the most recent question – the one posited on the cover of Time Magazine: “Are You Mom Enough?”

The answer is: Yes. No matter if you're an “attached parent” or not, the answer is yes. You are mom enough. 

Ok, that's done.

Secondly, to the question raised by the debate over Elisabeth Badinter's book – the question of Has Modern Motherhood Undermined Women?”

The answer is: No. Absolutely not.

But you know what is undermining women?  This crap.

All of it.

This crap. And this crap. And this crap.

And what's worse – women participating in this crap -- women spitting at each other from across imaginary boundaries between the right way and the wrong way to be a mother, or a woman.

It's an old tactic, you know, making women think that the real enemy is each other.

And, we're so quick to take the bait, aren't we? (You need to look no further than that Time cover to see the evidence of "bait." See what they're doing there with that cover? To use “war” terminology, it's a blatant attempt to incite violence. And, I've been so disappointed to see, all over, that it's working.)

It's either:
Oh, so you make all your own baby food? You're probably totally be judging me for the Goldfish cracker I just fed my kid, but you know what? Screw off, you're the one doing it wrong.

So, your kid sleeps through the night? In his own crib? And, I bet you think I'm totally enabling my kid by sleeping with her, don't you? But, you know what? Screw off, you're the one doing it wrong.

You've all heard some versions of these conversations, right? I have. Both of them. Both in my own head.

But here's a little secret: that piously “attached” mom you think you see? The one so comically portrayed in these discussions? (The one chasing her kid around the playground with the homemade marmalade?) Or, the similarly ridiculously-crafted depiction of the BabyWise-reading mom who reportedly lets her 6-week-old cry for 3 hours straight to teach the baby to to self soothe?

They're just snippets of women made into caricatures -- caricatures that make for convenient news stories about "wars." Caricatures that are easy to use -- either to make blanket judgements against other women or to create imaginary judges of ourselves.

Are we that insecure about our own mothering? That we have to tear each other down to validate our own choices? That we see judgement in every parenting decision that is not the one we've chosen?

Why have we evolved to celebrate all manners of diversity within our gender except within motherhood?

Well, that's where it gets really sticky. Motherhood is a complex thing. Perhaps our most complex thing.

It's at once intensely personal and communal. Instinctual, but also intellectual.

It ties into our deepest, deepest sense of self. It's our womanhood. It's our legacy. We have a little life in our hands. It is the most important thing we will ever do. 

But, it's also something with which we can never truly measure our success. That makes us vulnerable. We want a right and a wrong way. We want measurement. We want studies. We want labels. We want something that can take this big, sticky, uncomfortable thing and make it nice and neat and black and white.

That is why we are so quick to buy into the belief that there are “sides” to mothering. Camps to join. Gurus to follow.

But we're destroying each other, our children and ourselves by thinking that.

Because when it comes right down to it, parenting is really about feeling your way in the dark, even in this modern, intellectualized, information-overloaded world. The true trick to parenting is that there are no tricks. If at first, you do no harm (and protect your children from harm), then you are Mom enough. The rest -- and how you do it -- is purely personal.

And, certainly, what we read or hear or listen to is bound to influence how we approach parenting, but just how we approach it.  We all need information and we have it and use it. But, to insinuate that outside information – outside influence -- is the pure reason we mother the way we mother, is to tell us that we aren't thinking for ourselves. (Talk about an idea that undermines women.)

I parent the way I parent not because of some book or some guru or because of my "situation in life" or because of something I fear or something I have to prove, or some trend I'm following -- as if making the world-shaking day-to-day decisions of parenting is somehow akin to picking out shoes.

I parent by the heart, not by the book.

And I can honestly say that every other mother I know does the same – whether we bottle feed or breastfeed, co-sleep or use a crib, cloth diaper or disposables, make our own baby food or buy it -- we're all doing what we feel is best, and what works for our children, our families and ourselves.

No one is allowed to put us into camps for any of those choices, individual or combined. No one is allowed to label us for them. And no one is allowed to define the value of our motherhood based upon them and them alone. Not experts, not doctors, not magazine articles, not authors, not grandmothers, aunts or uncles. 

Not other mothers and certainly, most importantly, not ourselves.

Happy Mother's Day.


  1. "It's an old tactic, you know, making women think that the real enemy is each other."

    So true. That was my first thought seeing this cover.
    And this tactic extends to every corner of human relations. Wars between mothers, wars between spouses, wars between parents and their children, wars, wars.... It's such an effective tool to keep us down and compliant when we can't even trust and support one another.

    Thanks for a great post.

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