I don't parent like my friends. My friends don't parent like me. In a million and one different ways, we differ. Of course, we do some of the same things and, most often, those things matter the most. Things like loving our children with all of our beings, like making decisions with the best of intentions. You know, the stuff that really matters. Over the years, we've learned from our differences -- and learned to let some things just fall by the wayside. That's why I love the No More Mommy Wars Photo Project.
Image via Shauna Stewart, used with permission.
I initially saw the project at Moms Uniting Moms (M.U.M.), and reached out to Shauna Stewart to interview her -- mainly because I love to see other mothers getting along! We hear so much negativity, day in and day out, about these so called Mommy Wars. I mean, just last week, Parentdish.ca published a list of 10 parents we all recognize -- and might want to avoid. I read it and sighed my Big Sigh. In short: You're on that list, every mother you ever know is on that list, and we're all doing it wrong. I can't stand the constant need to nitpick at every decision, every style of parenting. So I turned to Shauna to see what was behind her need to pull moms together rather than pit them apart.
Where did the idea for this photo shoot come from? Was it one experience by one mom or a bigger, collective experience? Similarly with your Moms Uniting Moms blog – where did the need for the safe place stem?
I started a Facebook group for moms in my area when my daughter was about six-weeks-old. I was bleary-eyed and sore and in dire need of adult interaction, so I created the group as a way to cope with the craziness of the new-mom blur. One of the central tenets of the group was that it be a "Judge Free Zone." Creating a safe place for moms to share their questions and experiences was paramount to establishing a sense of community. Even as the group grew, it was clear to all that while opinions and discussion were welcome, we expected all members of the group to treat one another with respect.
About a year later, I came across a photo project called the Campaign for Judgement-Free Motherhood by CTWorkingMoms. The project was exactly in line with the ideals of the Facebook group and I asked the moms if they would be interested in lending their voices to this important message. The idea was met with a resounding, "YES!" As parents we are so often met with judgement for our choices. Over and over I heard stories of moms feeling torn trying to choose between whether to bed-share or have their baby sleep in a crib, whether or not to use a soother, having to defend their choice to use a midwife or a doctor while they were pregnant... and feeling judged regardless of what they chose. Having the opportunity to work together to spread a message rooted in inclusiveness really resonated with each of us.
I got in contact with CTWorkingMoms, they were excited, and soon we were spreading our message of support across the continent!
I figured, like all of us, she likely had one of those moments that really spoke to why she chose to form a group, to move forward with a project like this one. I was right.
Can you share one really “ugh” moment with us?
Until my daughter was about six-months-old, I usually wore her in a carrier rather than using a stroller. More than once I had people not-so helpfully inform me she wasn't comfortable. She rarely ever cried or fussed when I was wearing her, so I was fairly certain she was okay with the set up, but that didn't stop one woman from shaking her head and sadly pointing out that it would be good to put her in a stroller so she "be happier." My daughter seemed pretty happy blowing her spit bubbles, but this kind stranger figured I was missing something.
Handing a parent unsolicited advice is at its most benign, annoying and at its worst, confidence shattering. Most of us can shrug off being told here and there that what we're doing for our child is wrong. But when you're being told in what feels like a million little ways that the various choices you are making for your child are unsatisfactory, you start to question your instincts, which is the exact opposite of what you want to do a parent. Even the most confident mom is not 100% sure that everything she is doing is perfect. Poking holes in our efforts only serves to make us even more unsure. We're all trying to do the very best we can and our best opportunity flourish as parents is in an environment of support and community rather than judgment.
For me, it was a chilly day in which my toddler refused to wear a hat or gloves in the store -- and a cashier that told me how horrible I was for neglecting to properly clothe my child. That was a great time!
Image via Shauna Stewart, used with permission.
My next question is one that I find myself debating from time to time, as sometimes mothers on the Internet drive me batty and at other times, moms in real life make me cry in my car in the church parking lot.
Do you feel that “real life” moms or online moms are more judgmental?
There is the potential for things to get heated online and off, but the internet creates an environment that breeds negative momentum. An article in Scientific American outlines the "perfect storm" of "virtual anonymity and thus a lack of accountability, physical distance and the medium of writing." Since we feel it is unlikely we are going to run into the seemingly faceless people we interact with online, our passion and often our judgment are not reined in. I don't think moms are necessarily more judgmental online, but without the boundaries of normal social constraints, tensions build fast and far more is typed in tweets and Facebook comments than would ever be said in "real life."
The last question I had for Shauna is one I think we all need to read and consider.
What do you think moms who are lacking support in their everyday life can do?
I firmly believe moms were not meant to sit at home all alone with their babes day in and day out. I know lots of moms who were just like me: I could not remember ever changing a diaper before my daughter entered the scene and I had no real idea how to hold her without looking like I was about to drop her right on the floor. We need help. Even if we don't need help with diapers or baby holding strategies, we need warm food and laundry folded and someone to hold our precious angel so we can take a shower, or brush our teeth... or maybe even pee. Sure, it is POSSIBLE do it by yourself, but it is way more difficult. Why make the tough job of being a mom even harder?
In the absence of having a physical support network, we need to build our community wherever we can. While you are pregnant, meet with other pregnant women, go to La Leche League meetings, and sign up for weekly prenatal classes. Once your baby is born, find weekly mom and babe groups and go (some of the most valuable advice I received before my daugher was born: the days I hadn't showered, my daughter wouldn't stop howling and I thought I was going to win the Most Terrible Mom of the Year award hands down, were the days I had to make a special effort to be around other new moms. It worked. I always felt better, greasy hair and all), meet up with your fellow prenatal class "graduates," join Mom & Me yoga and bootcamp and music classes. And if you're like me and sitting with other moms once or twice a week is not enough, get online and find like-minded moms there so when you are up at 3am and can't move an inch lest you wake Junior up you can commiserate with other moms in the same situation. There are literally thousands of Facebook groups and pages you can join no matter what kind of parenting choices you make, and if none of them suit, you can make your own for free!
Whether we identify with a community in our local area or we seek our connections virtually, we need to be sure to be aware of the attitudes of the moms we are surrounded by. We need to be kind with ourselves and each other. Only we know the unique circumstances surrounding the choices we make for our children, our families and ourselves. We have an opportunity to model the compassionate behaviour we want for our children and we can start with each other. If we can remember the care we put into our own choices and recognize that other moms do the same, we can make an important step toward building a true community of support and inclusiveness and make strides towards ending the mommy wars.
I stuck my neck out there and went to the library story time, joined a moms group, and accepted an invitation to coffee from another mom who was pretty much a stranger. Those three things changed my local parenting life. Online, I found a group of moms with big, big hearts. I love each of them -- online and off -- so very much for the ways they have loved me over the years.
I am left thinking what my signs might say if I did a photo project with my friends. I know one might say, "I'm a work-at-home mom." Another might say, "I take a billion and twelve pictures, but stink at scrapbooking." And, "I formula fed one of my children and breastfed the other for 18 months." And, "I don't like to play Trouble with my kids." And my friends? Well, only they know what their signs might say... other than, "I'm a mom doing the best I can with and for my children."
What would your sign say?
More from parenting