The “Mommy Wars” and Me

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.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Latebloomer

    Well said!! People are so quick to put others down so they feel better about their own decisions…I guess it’s human nature. Here’s another blog post that I enjoyed on the topic, in case you haven’t seen it:

  • Syl

    There are multiple ways to be an effective mom – the trick is to find what works best for you and your family – and that my change over time. If your daughter and you are doing well then you’ve made a good choice, and that’s all that matters.

  • Elin

    One of the big challenges I see once I become a mother will be just what you talk about, defending my choices without making other people’s choices seem bad. I know there are many different ways of parenting and many choices will be good choices or at least acceptable choices. I grew up with a stay at home mom in Sweden where it is much more rare and state daycare is cheap (you pay according to income up to a ceiling which is not very high) and I have heard and hear all kinds of slurs against stay at home wives and mothers. I strongly defend the right to stay at home just as much as I defend the right of moms to work and not feel guilty or choose something in between, say work part time.

    However, everything you do as a parent will always be wrong from someone else’s perspective. I plan to stay at home one year after the baby is born and then the father will be at home for a similar amount of time. I have gotten comments from people who think I am staying at home too long and too short and that I either should put my child into daycare earlier than two years old or wait even longer. Some say that moms must be the ones who stay at home and others feel that I might be hindering the dad from having a relationship with the child as a baby… In short, you cannot simply do the right thing in everyone’s eyes and we must just accept that.

  • Courtney

    I try my best to support people in their decisions. I will never have children and I’ll be glad when people stop asking me why I don’t want children. It wouldn’t be seen as “polite” to ask why they had children.
    At the end of the day, I operate under this philosophy, “As long as it makes you happy and doesn’t harm anyone else, go for it.” We only get one chance at life so we might as well be happy.

  • Meghan

    As a SAHM to an almost 2 year old, I have experienced this everyday. I never thought I was a maternal type, and it turns out I love being a SAHM. I have been working to reconcile this with my previous goals (plans to use daycare or never have children).

    As far as feeling judged by other people, I try to remember that when people make parenting decisions different from mine that they are not attacking my choices.

  • Amanda

    I remember one conversation I was involved in on a local mothers’ message board. Someone was slamming mothers who use pre-made PBJs with “Tell me WHO doesn’t have time to smear on some peanut butter and jelly and slap them together?”

    Me! That’s who. Since I’m also known as the “cooks and bakes to the point of insanity” mother on that particular board, it kind of redirected the flow of the conversation a bit. No one knows my schedule, just like I don’t know everyone else’s schedule. I have no clue why X-mother is feeding her kid take-out while mine are having lentil soup. And you know what? Not my business. Because if you saw me Mondays when I’m driving the little darlings through Mickey Dee’s, you could wonder exactly the same thing about me. And it still wouldn’t be your business.

    That’s basically the mechanism I’ve developed. How others raise their children, barring abuse, is just not my business. And if others decide to express their opinions to include my personal practices, it’s not their business either, which I express to some degree or other depending on the offender at hand ;)

    In the end, I believe most parents are just doing the best that we can for our children. It may not be what we grew up thinking we’d do, and it may not be what our families believe to be best, or close neighbors, or random passers-by, but as long as we, individually, know that we’re doing the best we can do in this place and time… then we’re golden.

  • Joy

    I was raised by an at-home (mostly) mother and took for granted that was the way it should be–until a friend of mine, hearing me, told me about how much she LOVED being in day care, how many friends she made, and how proud she was of her mother’s professional accomplishments. I was grateful for that perspective, even more so now that I am a forty*mumble* working mother with 2 kids who went through daycare (and loved it).

    Part of being a mother is realizing how many busybodies there are in the world and learning to ignore them–while, of course, recognizing genuine good advice for what it is.

  • AztecQueen2000

    There’s a saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Yes, you could probably stay home with your daughter. But would you love it? Would it make you a better mom? Or would you be lonely, frazzled, mentally atrophying and resentful? Not everyone is cut out to be a SAHM (and I say this as a SAHM who grew up in daycare.

  • Sophelia
    I read this recently and loved it, especially this bit:
    “Children will win awards at school and no-one will say “I hear she was the first in her baby group to use a straw”. No-one looks at a child and says “I really like the way they walk, I bet they walked by ten months, they look like they’ve been doing it longer than everyone else.””

  • Naomi

    I do think it is important to let yourself have feelings about ‘the other way’ no matter what it is. When you see them in the park with their kids, there is part of you that wishes and wants to be with them because your child is lovely! When I am at the park with my kids and I think ‘how nice would it be to be at an office and doing XYZ and then going to the bathroom ALONE!’ Those feelings are really and valid too. The feelings we have as mothers don’t have to turn into ‘ALL MOTHERS DO THIS’ or “ALL CHILDREN OF MOTHERS WHO WORK or STAY AT HOME ARE THIS” I think moving your thoughts in that direction to ‘verify’ your own choices is just silly because all of us have specific needs and wants in our lives. We are individuals and women are smart and make choices based on their own ideas. Nobody makes you feel guilty, you make yourself feel that way by giving space in your head to the arguments from ‘the other side’.

  • Mara

    Ha! Try being a work-at-home mom! I have the best and worst of both worlds. On the one hand, I get a paycheck and I get to play with my kids. On the other hand, the working moms think I’m a slacker and the stay-at-home moms sneer when I admit that my kids sometimes watch too much TV when I’m behind on work.

    I’m all for calling off the mommy wars, believe me.

  • Caitlin

    I always try to get dads to share in the parenting guilt. They generally don’t get their fair share, so I feel fine about passing it on. For instance, when my friend said she had a “bad mommy moment” because she hadn’t cut her baby’s nails and he scratched himself, I suggested she chalk it up to a “bad daddy moment.” There can only be mommy wars if we don’t expect dads to be parents. So when you drive by the park, you can wonder why your husband isn’t in there with your daughter.

    • RQ

      Usually I play this card when the husband forgets something and comments “but you’re the mother”. I tell him he’s the father and he should have just as much instinct about these things as I do. ;) In his defense, though, he does do his share, willingly and with enthusiasm. Just has a slightly different priority scale for strict nap-times, eating times and other details.

  • RQ

    I’m loving your blog more and more.
    I get attitude from my dad about going to work (and yet, somehow I’m not thinking enough about my career development or education) while my husband encourages the idea of day-care as soon as possible (3 years old, in this country)… And while I can’t say that it’s the best solution, we’ve worked out a happy medium where the eldest does go to daycare (the younger one isn’t yet old enough), my husband takes a couple of afternoons off per week so that I can get in to work during regular work hours, and other evenings (sometimes weekends) I do the things that don’t require human interaction. The benefits to this system are many (I get to work, the kids spend time with their dad, I’m at home with them as well, the eldest gets the interaction and activities of day-care etc.), there are also several drawbacks, mostly in the non-standard work hours. It IS improvement on our previous system of me working evenings and nights only, which was hell on the whole parental relationship (half-hour chats between him coming home and me rushing off? Yeah… How we got to a second child in that situation, not so sure… ;) ).
    Either way, apparently I STILL spend too little time with the kids and (at the same time) spend too little time improving myself career-wise. As for me, I’m just waiting for the day when they’re all old enough to go to school for the entire day, and I can go back to school and try to put some serious letters behind my name.
    In the meantime, I have happy, (decently) intelligent children who constantly surprise me and make me laugh at all the little things they learn and discover all on their own, and that’s all that matters to me.

  • WMDKitty

    I’m no parent, but I know that, growing up, my parents took time for themselves as well as raising and guiding us kids. I believe that having “me” time is what kept them sane, and helped to make them effective parents.