My daughter is in daycare. When I walk or drive past a the park while she’s in daycare, I immediately suffer a bout of guilt. I see the other moms there with their young children, and I feel guilty that I’m not doing the same, guilty that my daughter is in daycare, guilty that I want a career and life apart from my offspring.
But then I start justifying. My daughter is gaining excellent socialization skills. My daughter is getting to do all sorts of crafts and activities. My daughter has a diverse array of friends. I try desperately to convince myself that I’m a good mom, even if that means looking down at stay-at-home-moms in the process.
The moment women become mothers, they are thrust into the “mommy wars.” Their every action is watched and judged, their every decision questioned, their very identity up for grabs. Are they going to stay at home, or are they going to work? Stay at home moms get a bad rap, stereotyped as women who lose themselves in their children and have no other identity, but working moms can also get a bad rap, stereotyped as women who abandon their children to pursue their own selfish dreams.
Why is it that, as women, we just can’t seem to win? If we don’t have children, we’re selfish. If we do have children, we have to wade through the mommy wars. And the mommy wars go on and on. Breastfeeding or formula? Cloth diapers or disposable? Organic, homemade baby food or store bought baby food? As mothers, we find ourselves judged and questioned every step of the way no matter what we do.
And the worst part is that women themselves participate in the mommy wars. It’s not hard to see why. Trying to survive the vortex that is the mommy wars, women naturally seek to justify their decisions. Justifications, in turn, can easily lead to a sense of superiority, as I noted in the beginning of this post.
“Unlike those moms who abandon their children to the dangers of daycare, I stay at home with my children and devote myself to my children as only a mother can.”
“Unlike those moms who stay at home and smother their children, I’m giving my children the best by sending them to a multicultural daycare staffed by trained professionals.”
Personally, I find myself using justifications because I feel judged for my choices. Growing up among people who demonized daycare and glorified the stay at home mom, this isn’t surprising. I know someone who was raised in a family where her mother and grandmothers worked full time, and she feels similarly judged when she considers staying home with her children while they are young. This feeling of being judged and needing to justify yourself is one way mothers end up perpetuating the very mommy wars in which they are so entrapped.
I see the mommy wars as just one more way of keeping women divided, and just one more way of making this world a more difficult place for women. We need to call the mommy wars off by acknowledging that there are many different ways to mother, and that’s okay. We need to realize that every woman is different and that every woman’s situation is different. Mothers have many more options today than in the past, but we need to be able to make decisions about what is best for ourselves, our children, and our family without worrying about being judged.
I am going to try to let go of my impulse to defend myself and my decisions when I see other mothers at the park with their children while mine is in daycare. I don’t need to look down on other mothers’ decisions to somehow “prove” to myself that I am a good mother. Every time my daughter throws her chubby little arms around my neck and says “I love you, mommy!” should be enough to answer that question.