Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Competitive Parenting (title credit to Catherineaq)

Since having a kid, I have come to realize that there's a weird side effect to parenthood. You bond easily with other parents, especially ones with kids of similar ages to your own. You compare sleeplessness, strategies for behavioral issues, worries over your kids. It's reassuring and a relief to know you aren't alone in a world that is suddenly dictated by a totally unreasonable and uncompromising infant. You've joined a cult without even sending in the pledge card.

Then there's the dark side: no one's parenting decisions are private or justified if they are different from your own.

For example: I am perhaps one of few in my generation in the U.S. to have been nursed as an infant. I feel pretty strongly that breastmilk is the best nutrition for infants. I also struggled quite a bit with getting my baby to gain weight. At one point I recall getting up in the early morning, aching with the desire for sleep, day after day, before the baby woke up to pump breastmilk, in an attempt to increase my milk supply. I was persuaded that I was an abusive mother if I gave my baby formula at all. Ever. Now, with a little perspective and time, I look back and see that for what it was. Craziness.

That was self inflicted punishment. But it doesn't come from nowhere. Despite these problems, my child managed to survive and nursed until he was 18 months. Not exclusively, but typically twice a day. And when I mentioned that to another mom in the midst of conversation, I felt a definite apology in her reply that she only nursed her daughter to 14 months. The breastfeeding hierarchy ironically ranks even women who make similar choices.

I've been reading an excellent book of essays recently called Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The title says it all, and I liked a lot of the essays. But I realized that the reason the book exists is because contemporary mothers are self defensive. Our mothers fought to make sure that we would get choices, and what do we do? We bitch about the choices other mothers are making, whether they are choices made out of need or desire. We criticize other women for breastfeeding in public; we look on snidely as women mix formula to pop into their baby's mouth. We claim the women who stay home with their children aren't doing anything important, but then turn around and glare at women who have to make compromises because they value their careers. (I won't even touch the discussion of fathers staying home with children, which would take me really far afield.)

Several essays in the book came to a conclusion that I agree with: the quality of your parenting is not determined by your work status. Good parenting is much more determined by what works for you and your child. I'd like to take it one step away from good and bad parenting. As parents, most of us are trying to do the best job we can, but sometimes it simply comes down to survival. We don't make our choices based on what seems most pure, most wonderful. We make our choices on what we need and what our families need from us.

This battle of the mommies is turning us against each other, and it's time to remember that this isn't about who wins mommy of the year. The battle of the mommies should be to raise children who will bring us all joy - no matter who brought them into the world.

1 comment:

MN Nora said...

I feel like you should send this to a parenting magazine. You've captured here a universal truth of parenting that no-one talks about!