As I sit reading the latest edition of the ongoing saga that is The Mommy Wars, as reported in various newspapers and on my favorite websites, I get tired. Irritable. Anxious. Not least because I don’t seem to fit the exhaustingly rigid constraints that these labels suggest – it’s okay, neither do you – but because as we all know, there is no longer a one-size-fits-all style of parenting. Heck, there is no size at all these days!
According to a Washington Post article entitled “The Mommy War Machine,” the so-called Mommy Wars is first and foremost a trend story— a media-generated marketing missive aimed directly at women, who as it turns out are vulnerable to suggestions analyzing and questioning not only their personhood, but their motherhood. Go figure. The original mommy wars, if you will, was designed to pit career women “against” stay-at-home-mothers by suggesting that if a woman chose one over the other, she would somehow create some sort of irreparable harm to her offspring and the economy.
As it turns out, this is neither entirely true, nor is it entirely false. Still, the notion that the war is “real” and whether we will see the end of it in our lifetime, will be determined by the amount of energy we mothers put into these conversations in spite of ourselves.
Which brings me to the new mommy wars: Are You a Slacker Mom or Super Mom? The slacker mom, as the name implies, takes pride in being ultra laid back. In fact, she’s so “cool” that no amount of outside criticism can touch her. Wine at play dates? No biggie. She might very well relish being called a Bad Mother, that’s how commercially bad-ass she is. The Slacker Mom is disinclined to over-schedule her children and is more apt to go with a self-regulated flow as determined by her; not her children. She has likely read a parenting book or two, but it is unlikely that she’s following them to the letter. You might say she’s a tad unconventional.
The Super Mom is exactly the opposite. By definition, she is the ultimate mommy-warrior, able to multitask without conceit or complaint. She’s certainly more A-Type than Slacker Mom, as she subscribes to so-called traditional parenting practices with a view to incorporating new, ostensibly less oppressive, methodologies and trends as soon as they become available. Either by design or dint of will she has the irritating ability to “make” other moms feel inferior — either through action or words — by her seemingly endless supply of Stepford Wife-ish/hippie-dippy-like energy and goodwill. Oftentimes the Super Mom’s arsenal of super powers is commiserate with her financial and educational station in life. This status affords her the luxurious ability to feel utterly overwhelmed and superior at the same time.
Both of my sisters had children before me, and I was the proverbial slacker auntie – albeit one who endured a 60-plus hour work week – but a self-absorbed slacker auntie nonetheless. I used to make plans with my sisters and conveniently forget that I had done so. There was always something “better” to do. And in terms of how I viewed my sisters’ lives at the time? Club and restaurant openings, dates, travel and shopping sprees were far more appealing than reading stories, giving baths, making cookies and playing dollies. I know, awful, right?
Then I gave birth to my own baby girl. I had seen the beautiful development of my sisters’ children through the ages and even though I had my moments of fucked-up-ness, I was still there – present and accounted for when it truly mattered. It was my big sis who introduced me to Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting and all the joy and bliss associated with being a “Good Mom.”
I had never ever really seen her falter as a parent – was she a Super Mom? – which meant that whatever parenting benchmark and milestone I had to achieve, hers was it. A few words about my sister. She’s smart. Very smart. Gifted smart. That is all. Ironically, I do recall a conversation with my younger sister in which I sat singing the virtuous praises of our big sister’s mothering abilities, to which she replied, “Yeah, you just watch, nobody can sustain that, you don’t see what happens when you’re not around.” Ouch.
In 2005, the year my daughter was born, I first started to pay attention to something called The Mommy Wars. Before then I was sanctimoniously oblivious – unlike the general population of today. I bet that if you took a random sample of folks on the street you’d be surprised to find somebody who didn’t know what a Mommy War was. And why it’s a (fabricated) point of contention. The term is that prevalent. And every day the concept expands and contracts to include some (new) grievance amongst mothers. Yes, MOTHERS. You see, it is not men or the childless for whom the competitive sport of mothering hath wrought much dissenting verbiage and angst. It’s women. With offspring. And blogs. Lots of blogs.
Unfortunately for children everywhere, the Motherhood Discord/Discourse has reached a feverish pitch. We’re damning one another if we do, and we’re damning the others if they don’t. It’s no longer the judgments and pronouncements that hurt; rather, it’s the caricatures and stereotypes that have developed as a result of the awkward labels that hurt. A few weeks ago I read a post on this very site in which a newly minted SAHM deduced that her inability to distinguish farm animals meant that she was a dumb bunny. That’s right, now that she had traded in her lawyer’s cloak status to be at home with her child she proclaimed that she was now officially instantly stupid. Never mind the umpteen studies that show that mothers have EQ scores that register off the charts, but according to one new mom’s personal account, the transition from career to home is particularly egregious when it involves child’s play. This type of story plays smack dab into the war ideology that career women are smarter than women who’ve chosen to be career parents.
Remember Tiger Mom? The Mommy Brigade saw fit to annihilate any of the good qualities that Amy Chua clearly possessed to determine that she was evil personified because in her own mothering story, she chose to highlight what she valued in parenting. Chua was swiftly vilified in the mainstream press – and in the Mother’s Press, aka “Mommy Bloggers” – as mother after mother took her to task for “failing” to parent in the ways that we deemed appropriate. Chua had to go on the offensive showing how fun and lighthearted and what a great personality she had to counter-act the perceptions of the so-called Super Mom – now described as Tiger Mom – qualities created in the press.
And what happens when you can’t or aren’t willing to meet the impossible, so-called mothering standards that we, the mothers amongst us, have set? Why then you become a low-achieving Slacker Mom — albeit a slacker mom with the financial resources and educational background to, you know, slack off. Another post I read here at Mommyish was the funny, yet incredibly earnest account of a mom who used to cook gourmet, organic stuff, but now makes meals, previously frozen, from (gasp!) a box. I thought to myself, well, food is food — just ask the underprivileged — and so what if you “used” to do stuff that you no longer do? Are you insinuating that you are no longer “good enough” to maintain and sustain the Super Mom metaphor, so you’re now going to brag about taking pride in doing exactly the opposite? Interestingly, so-called slacker moms are purportedly viewed as “more fun,” “less stressed,” and could conceivably have better adjusted children, but what of it?
Unwittingly, we moms have successfully made the leap to proclaim that preachy judgments are no longer satisfactory, appropriate or tolerated. But, curiously, the Archetypes in the Mommy Wars still are. We’ve accepted that it’s no longer okay to pass judgments on mothering, but sticking labels onto what we do, how we do and why we do continues to carry valuable currency in the Mothering Market and so, hell, no – we’re not letting them go!
As a result, with the inevitable by-product of these unachievable mothering states of being comes an over-abundance of feelings of guilt, failure, shame and comparison. The self-flagellation and blaming has been successfully kicked into overdrive thanks to the burgeoning marketability of Women’s Insecurity. But it’s time we moms take responsibility for what we can handle mentally, emotionally, physically and psychically based on the resources we have at our disposal.
How about it doesn’t matter what school of parenting you follow this week, or what kind of mom someone thinks you are as long as you’re okay and your child is okay? No blame, no shame.