Now Is Not the Time to “embarrass Mom”

I became a mom about a decade ago, during the so-called “Mommy Wars”, when parent bloggers, the vast majority of whom were women, often used their social media platforms to promote their parenting style. During this time, women felt the need to find their “tribe”. Their tribe of exclusive breastfeeding, their tribe of working mothers, their tribe of affection for their parents, their tribe of cloth diapers.

What started out as a way to connect with other moms (usually for the first time) and support them through blogs and virtual groups has turned into loud, tedious debates based on defense. Whether it was trying to give birth without medication, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, vaccinations, sleeping together, crying, staying at home or working outside the home – many people believed that there was a right way to get to mom and a wrong way – Mom.

Then – hurray! – these battles caused a backlash when the women realized that, hey, I can raise my children however I want. And you can too! Isn’t it better if we all support each other? You’re doing it! Every child is different! Stick with what works!

In particular, I remember this photo session of a group of moms in Connecticut . The women paired up and held signs that proclaimed their parenting strategies or philosophy. “I am engaged in the peaceful upbringing of children,” read the inscription in the hands of one mother; “Sometimes I yell at my children,” said a sign in the hands of a smiling mother next to her. The slideshow continued as follows: “I am breastfeeding my two year old baby” and “I chose bottle feeding from the beginning.” “I severely limit the amount of time I watch TV” next to “I let my kids watch TV as much as they want.” Etc.

The pendulum swung in the opposite direction when we realized that the way other parents really do have very little effect on us or our children (with the possible exception of vaccinations), so who cares.

Then came the pandemic. And everywhere, parents had impossible choices that could actually affect the health of others – their older family members, friends, neighbors, work colleagues, classmates, even the community at large. In particular, during the coronavirus, moms often bear the main psychological burden , and mums are more likely to be the kind of parents who are giving up their careers right now to manage childcare and education at home.

Reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sachs recently told The New York Times that the “you do” mentality that many moms have been able to adopt when it comes to breast milk versus formula has waned when it comes to the potential impact of the coronavirus:

Sachs sees a common psychological trap. “Competition and criticism of others is often a projection of insecurity and instability,” she said. A pandemic is the perfect storm for both: internally, people lack the confidence to navigate a new and unpredictable situation; outwardly, they lack the social and structural support systems they desperately need. Put these two things together and you can prove yourself as an embarrassing mom.

Now check your box, but also read the subtext: Are you a jaded mom, desperate for a normal life? Are you a super mom desperately juggling your kids’ online curriculum over your day to day work? A privileged mom with an expensive nanny or a private teaching booth? A traditional mom ready to throw her career under the bus to home school?

Shame manifests itself both discreetly and openly in conversations between friends, family and acquaintances, and of course also on social media. For example, you’ve probably seen a lot of comments “we’ll never send our kids to school in person during a pandemic,” followed by “gee, it must be nice to have a choice.” …

Parents like me who had some semblance of choice (eg, hybrid versus virtual learning) may have found themselves flipping from one stupid choice to another shitty choice. When someone is faced with a choice of the less shitty of two seemingly equally crappy options, the unreliability of that decision can make them feel defensive or need to substantiate their case. Especially if, say, their best friend, neighbor, or sister chooses the opposite.

On the other hand, those who are forced to make a decision because of the lack of options available at the school their children, or because of their own work or the situation of caring for children, may experience a grudge against those who have an opinion about that the rest of the year looks like.

One of the consequences of living and raising children during a pandemic is that we may inadvertently begin to feel like we are facing each other. Parents who are “taking extra care” for the health of their family and for the greater good of society, compared to parents who have to send their children to school or kindergarten because if they don’t, they will lose their jobs. Parents who weighed the advantage of face-to-face communication over the risk of COVID-19 infection and decided to send them to school – versus parents who cannot imagine sending their children to class during a pandemic.

The stakes are pretty damn high right now, no matter what we decide and no matter how we advance during this time. Much more than when we tried to choose between cloth diapers or disposable items, homemade organic products or cans. These themes have led to hyped “wars,” but during this time we have also learned that this is not necessary. Instead, we can support each other. Even when the stakes are higher; especially when the stakes are higher.

If we can let go of our defenses, we can also let go of over-explanations that can cause other parents to feel ashamed. If we can agree that someone’s decision is not our own comment, we can also agree that everyone is doing our best.

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