Today I am going to rant. You've been warned ahead of time. For those who know me, you know what I'm like when I rant. For first timers, hold onto your seats.
Today's rant involves parenting. It involves the wars that happen in the mommy world. I'm used to some extent the dogmatic attitudes that divide people into camps. In the academic world there are always camps. There are those who think there are certain ways to use theory and if you use theory is any other way, you're a heathen. I've straddled that line as a scholar, and it irritates me but for some reason the parenting wars really get under my skin. Maybe it's because it involves these little humans I have been given the responsibility of raising. Maybe it's because every decision I make concerning them comes with a great deal of agonizing thought. I don't take parenting lightly, and I don't take even the smallest decisions I make in terms of my kids' life lightly. And yet every decision I've made always seem to entail an enormous amount of judgment from other mothers.
When I started working when Umberto was two and a half, I was actually kicked off email boards for attachment parenting. I didn't have a choice in working. We needed to eat. I had the ability to make more money than H at this point in our lives, and it was only logical that I would get a job. Working didn't get us a new car, or a pool or a big house in the suburbs. Working put food on the table and clothes for my kid. It provided him with health insurance, etc, etc. And it enabled H to finish school so he could get a better job. But the moms on these boards only saw that I was putting my child in daycare, and thus abandoning him to strangers. It never occurred to them that there were people in the world who simply couldn't afford to stay home. It had nothing to do with wanting stuff but with having the basic necessities these women took for granted. And it never occurred to them that a woman could work and still be a good, attached mother. They never looked at how they did the only parenting in their families as their husbands often worked huge amounts of overtime so that their wives could stay home. When I went to work, it was to feed us but it also enabled H to be as much a parent as I was.
The second wave of judgement swept over us when I had to supplement Camille on formula. I couldn't pump enough milk to feed her during the day when I worked. I tried. I tried until my nipples were bleeding and cracked. By the time she was four months old, I was lucky if I slept four hours a night before going to work long days. She didn't eat at daycare so I was up all night feeding her. I cried the first time I had to send formula to daycare. I felt like a failure. And not many of the moms I knew helped alleviate those feelings. Instead I faced nasty comments about how they didn't have to supplement why did I? The insinuations were that I was some how not good enough, not trying hard enough, not willing to sacrifice more to keep her only on breast milk. For a long time, I lied about how old she was when I began supplementing.
The latest wave has been about educating. I've faced this one no matter what choices we made. When I home schooled, I had a barrage of mothers who were horrified. When I sent them to the school, I faced another barrage of criticism. On one hand were the people who accused me of sheltering my children, abandoning the public system, on and on. When I decided to send them back to school, some mothers acted like I was sending my kids to prison.
What bothers me is the kind of self-absorption these attitudes represent. I've tried very hard in my public life to be supportive of other mothers' decisions. I'll be honest in that there are times when I thought that the choices made did not appear to be best for the children involved. But I've never voiced those opinions to the people. I didn't feel like it was my place. I don't profess to understand what the best decisions are for any given family. Many of the parents I know do what they have to do. They try to make the best world for their children. And I am willing to accept that even if I disagree with the decision. But too often that same kind of empathy just doesn't seem to exist among mothers. Too often it's easy to think that our parenting choices are the end all period. We don't stop to think that maybe other families have to make other decisions. Or that just maybe they're not willing to make the same decisions as we do.