This weekend I received a thoughtful message from a reader, Kathy, who had been thinking a great deal about what she’s read during the past week. She responded to my post about “the breastfeeding wars” and Similac’s Strong Moms campaign to stop moms from judging each other. Kathy had previously shared her story about breastfeeding guilt, “Your Road to Mommyhood is Your Own” on Suzanne Barston site, Fearless Formula Feeder. Read her thoughtful response and let me know what you think.
I had a real revelation when I was reading the comments about the Scary Mommy post “15 Things They Don’t Tell You About Breastfeeding” and the Twitter feed last night from the Similac Strong Moms campaign. There is an interesting common thread that a lot of breastfeeding advocates are mentioning: that this type of post from Scary Mommy is not humorous but instead actually fear-mongering and that it could sway a person who is on the fence about their feeding options. This wasn’t just on your site.
I started to find it insulting that people really think that we, as women, in this day and age are so sheltered that we might be swayed by a humorous blog post that we would actually base a life-altering decision off of it.
At the end of the day though, I truly find this entire war to be incredibly bizarre. Mostly because I am positive that what we actually want, our long-term goals, are exactly the same as parents. If I could say anything to every mom that I know, both online and in-person, it would be this: Go spend time with mothers that are not like you. It doesn’t matter how you choose to do it. But spend some time with a group of mothers that DON’T believe what you do. You might be astounded at a) how much you have in common. And b) why they feel the way they do.
I think the biggest hindrance in our community is an unwillingness to learn, which is ironic because we as a culture seem to be very into education, and it’s the benchmark of advocacy on any side of the parenting fence. But we not only need to learn correct, unbiased facts and figures, we need to learn about each other.
You mentioned “cognitive dissonance” in your post about Similac. I realize that this is where the biggest obstacle comes into play. I’ve experienced it myself recently, in a big, big way. I decided to step out of my comfort zone, and wrestle the old bear, “cognitive dissonance,” head on. I had no idea what it was called at the time, I just called it “that oogy feeling.” But you are right, you literally feel lost, you IMMEDIATELY feel defensive. And it feels… wildly uncomfortable. It feels scary, you feel like you may be throwing everything you believed into question. But the deep, deep dark secret is that that’s not what happens.
Instead, it’s seriously been the best thing that I’ve ever done for myself as a mother, because it’s given me a whole different perspective on myself as a mother, and it’s helped me to understand things that I genuinely didn’t, both emotionally and mentally.
In every community that I’ve stepped into there is a recognition that judgment is terribly toxic, in any scenario.
Oddly though, this war seems to rage hotter and hotter, even with a lot of chatter about how toxic judgment and negativity is in our community. And most sadly, even something like Similac’s Strong Mom campaign, a campaign that is an anti-bullying campaign, can’t seem to get our community as a whole to drop their gloves and hug it out.
This, for me, has been honestly one of the most baffling few days. I thought, surely, if anything can get us to hold hands, even for one second, it would be this. Something that focuses on the mother, and something that discusses BULLYING, a subject that is on the forefront of any parent’s mind in this day and age… Nope. I read through these comments and the feed over and over, trying to understand, trying to see the common thread, the basis, trying to make sense of it, and I truly couldn’t. I could not reconcile the absolute vitriol that was being doled out like Halloween candy.
I think that the most vitriolic segments of our community, whether it be hard-core lactivists calling formula feeders lazy or saying they should have never been parents, or formula feeders calling breastfeeding advocates Nazis, all words I’ve heard or read multiple times, and all unacceptable rhetoric. I think that it’s driven by exactly what you mentioned. It’s cognitive dissonance. It’s that sense of fear, that scary place that we end up in so often when we have opposing viewpoints being thrown at us.
Oddly, if you think about it, for formula feeders, we sadly have to engage that pain center every time we pick up a can of formula. We have to read “Breast it Best” every. Single. Time. As we’re mixing our formula. We have to process that, and reconcile it in our heads every time.
No wonder we’re angry. No wonder we’re scared.
But here’s the final common thread amongst all moms that I’ve engaged, breastfeeding and formula feeding alike, and by far the most important. We’re all scared to death. We’re scared OF death. We’re scared that we’re doing the wrong thing. Even the proudest, most “secure” Mom has experienced that, and that fear of doing irreparable harm to our children via some choice or action that we’ve taken.
And I think this is where unbiased education becomes incredibly, profoundly important in our culture. And that’s where I think you come in. We need unbiased education. We need to feel that there is equal footing that is not based on philosophy, but on real information. It’s going to be slow, as Suzanne Barston has talked about on her blog, Fearless Formula Feeder… but the only way for us to start to work around this is for people to realize that we have FAR LESS to reconcile, to experience dissonance about, than we have in common. The common ground is actually much wider, flatter and more inviting than we think it is.
We all have kids that cry, that won’t sleep, that will sleep, that won’t eat, that will eat everything, that will produce an unbelievably stinky diaper, that will break things in spectacular fashion, that are amazing, that are frustrating, that are profoundly joyful, and that make us want to pull our hair out one minute and then smother them with kisses, and yes, I will read Goodnight Moon to you for the eleventy millionth time.
We all experience this, this is something that has no demographic qualifier.
Strong Moms has it right. We need to stop bullying. But in order to do that, we also need to stop thinking that we’re all so damned different or that our style of parenting is actually that important. The style is just a vehicle that takes us all to the same exact place.
How can we promote more understanding and tolerance between mothers? Do you think that Kathy’s right about the possible solution: spending time with mothers who are different than you? What are your thoughts about Similac’s campaign?
Here is one thing that moms can do: Take the Mom Pledge. It’s an online campaign to create a supportive online environment for moms. I’ll be writing more about it later in the week….
Mary Kathryn says
Yes, I think she’s right. Even in our own extended families, spending time with sisters-in-law can reveal much. Women often choose mothering ideas based on their own histories and childhoods. We need to make allowances that other women may have had more troubled childhoods, more insecurities, more fears. These things play into mothering.
The challenge with allowing your children (and yourself) to spend time with those different from you is that you must accept the risk that your children (whom your tending with so much care) will be exposed to ideas you may strongly disagree with. It’s one thing to tell an atheist that she should have play dates with the Baptists mom down the street. Will she want her child exposed to religion? Will the conservative want her child playing in a liberal home? We have some pretty deep divides in our nation. Tolerance doesn’t run very deeply either way.
But if we do step out, we find friendship. Friendships really aren’t always based on common worldviews. Friendships are based on friendliness. The ability to extend love to someone with whom you strongly disagree is a skill most don’t have.
This is such a perceptive point, Mary Kathryn. As the mother of a toddler, I don’t yet worry too much about the influence of values from families other than my own. He’s just too young. But as a teacher, I’ve seen what a profound impact that peers — as well as culture — can have on a child’s development. And I’m not sure what the answer is. I guess we do have to teach our kids that there is value in spending time and getting to know people (as friends, as neighbors) who may think differently than we do. And hope that we’ve instilled our own sense of right and wrong in them well enough so that they can make decisions for themselves about what to think. But it’s a hard question!
Stephanie @ Mommy, for real. says
This was excellent. Thank you both for sharing this. I loved your points about spending time with people whose philosophies and parenting styles are different, and noting how much we have in common. I particularly appreciated the commentary on how we are all scared to death, scared OF death. Well done.
Janine Huldie says
I do think Kathy does bring a valid point to the table on this one, but not sure this would indeed work, because I know how I feel, but still could try to see the other point of view, but many others are truly stuck in their beliefs and might not be as open. I am not saying it couldn’t work, but just unsure I suppose. hank you so very much Jessica for sharing though and will say you and Kathy, too have left us with much to contemplate and think about now.
Moms have far more in common than what separates us! This post is very inspiring!
Kristi Campbell says
Wow. You know, for some reason, I was never engaged in the “war” between sides when my son was little. Perhaps that speaks to me needing more friends than it does me staying out of it. I do, however, really appreciate the point that we all have more in common than we do differences. I feel like I say that A LOT. As a mom with a boy on the autism spectrum, there are times when I feel like other moms don’t realize that we have more in common than we don’t. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. And thank you Jessica for sharing it.
Your blog is a great example of Kathy’s point, isn’t it? We really do have more commonalities than differences. And the differences create lessons that we can all learn from!
Anne G. says
“Strong Moms has it right. We need to stop bullying.” On the surface a call to stop bullying seems commendable. However, accusing some moms of bullying introduces a bit of a bullying conundrum. Falsely accusing other moms of bullying is itself a form of bullying. So one must ask, is Strong Moms right? Are moms who do not use Similac predominantly bullies? Or is Similac’s call to stop bullying paradoxically bullying in the form of false accusations?
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