Today’s mothers are all too familiar with the so-called “Mommy Wars,” an expression used to stereotype the struggles and challenges faced by stay-at-home mothers versus those of working or career mothers. Like with all stereotypes, the Mommy Wars conflict is far more complicated than that. When we talk about the Mommy Wars, what we’re really talking about is passing judgement. And not just society’s judgement about the choices mothers make, but the judgements that we mothers make about other moms, their choices, and their kids.
It helps to remember that other moms are simply doing the best they can, just like we are.
Why do we do it? Why do we engage in the no-win Mommy Wars, and how can we stop?
She must be a Bad Mother
See if this sounds familiar. In kindergarten, my son got invited to a classmate’s birthday party. Upon arrival at the party, he flipped out on the front porch and refused to enter. I was mortified. I cajoled, bribed, and strong-armed him into the house, sure that Linda, the host mom, was judging me for not being able to control him. Once in the house, he got no better. And so I took him home, feeling like a failure.
Linda never invited my son over again and even avoided me at school functions. I felt like she was judging me. My son was anxious, aggressive and loud. So it had to be my fault.
But, I judged her, too. Instead of sharing my fears that something was really wrong with my son, I labeled Linda as stuck-up, elitist, and rude. I didn’t invite her son over either, and I secretly passed judgement on him, too: he was too short, too loud, too bossy. My response to the situation was to silently wage war on Linda and her son. And this happens all too often: we judge each other as mothers by what we think of their kids.
A Desire to Protect
My reaction to the birthday party also stemmed from a strong desire to protect my son from life’s hurts. I wanted to be his buffer, his safety zone. I love him so much, his pain is my pain. And that probably sounds familiar, too. That deep love, that desire to protect and keep our children safe, can cause us to judge others either in response to criticisms, or (to keep with the war metaphor) so that we can “draw first blood.”
When We Assume…
As the mom of a non-traditional child (one who doesn’t behave within the narrow definition of acceptable), I know that other mothers of non-traditional children particularly feel the weight of judgement. We feel it when our child melts down in the store, pushes a kid at the playground, or throws their dinner all over the table because there are peas in the fried rice. We get used to the glares.
But what about the glares we give? What about the judgement we pass on the mom who won’t look at us as she scuttles past us in the store with her own two kids? We assume she is avoiding us, but what if she is trying to avoid her own kid’s meltdown? What if her daughter is triggered by other kids screeching?
So, how can we cultivate more compassion and less judgement and put an end to our own silent Mommy Wars? Here are five practices you can try:
- Parent groups. As the facilitator of numerous parenting groups, I see many guarded and defensive moms transform quickly to compassionate, friendly and available people. And I see groups of strangers who come to stand together and support each other.
- Weekly breaks: Parent groups are a great way to get out of the house without the kids, but it’s still focused on the kids. See if you can also do one thing a week just for you, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
- Reviewing with our partner or friend: Sharing our concerns moves them out of the shadows and into discussion and reflection. Be willing to examine an incident or experience and to see it from all sides. Talk as if the person you are with does not know your child. What questions would they ask? How would you present yourself? Your child?
- Journaling: For many, journaling is the next best thing to talking (for some of us, it’s even better). Write out your worries and your what-ifs. Write about your dreams and desires. Write about your first bike, or how you feel about rainy days, or a story about someone who helped you. Write for at least three minutes a day, no matter what.
- Breathe: Practice intentional breathing by taking three slow, deep breaths with long exhales. Do this while you are rinsing your hair in the shower, or are waiting for the garage door to open, or lighting a candle at the dinner table. Calm breathing can be done anytime, anyplace.
It also helps to remember that other moms are simply doing the best they can, just like we are. Perhaps we need a universal signal so that we can say without words, “I see you. I feel for you. I have been there and this, too, will pass. You got this.” Wouldn’t that change things?