We should all talk to the moms we disagree with

Opinion

March 10, 2020

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Photo by Meghan Holmes

Have you heard of “Mommy Wars?” It’s that epithet used to describe moms criticizing one another for their parenting choices. The internet is rife with this type of behavior, and it can be pretty terrible. 

Posting a harmless picture of your two-year-old eating ice cream in the car can solicit remarks like: “Anyone who hasn’t forward-faced their child’s car seat at that age is crazy.” Or: “Wow people are so ignorant of the ills of dairy.” Maybe even: “I guess home-cooked meals aren’t a priority for some families.”

How did we get here? 

Social media opened the door for us to blast other moms around the world, people we know nothing about in real life. The pseudo-anonymity of communicating through a computer screen can embolden and sharpen our words as we lose sight of the feelings of others. 

As more and more moms felt attacked and isolated, an effort to quell the Mommy Wars emerged in the form of a “you do you” mentality. 

And it kind of worked. Now, everything is tolerated. You’ll do your thing over there, and I’ll do my thing over here. No one should voice strong opinions about nursing or C-sections or working or sleep training, for fear it might rekindle the “war” and offend someone who thinks differently. 

The problem with the “you do you” mentality

Although it is a good thing to encourage moms to form their own opinions and forge their own paths without fear of an internet takedown, an unfortunate consequence of the “you do you” sentiment is that it can end up restricting the expression of any values at all. 

“You do you” proponents may have inadvertently called a ceasefire on all discussion, rude and scolding or otherwise. We need to relearn how to express our values and our differences, this time through honest and charitable dialogue. 

Although it can feel daunting, engaging in non-judgmental and loving conversations with other moms who have value systems that differ from our own is extremely helpful in building real friendships and community. It is also personally edifying. 

An unfortunate consequence of the “you do you” sentiment is that it can end up restricting the expression of any values at all. 

In expressing our values and opinions aloud, we’re forced to honestly think through what we believe, why we believe it, and how that governs our mothering. In charitable conversation, we can see for certain if our beliefs and values are founded on something solid and real. 

After beliefs have been tested in this way, we either grow in confidence and security in the knowledge that what we think and value is in the right order, or we can begin to restructure our values for the better.

How perspective shapes our values

It’s pretty essential to have a rank order of value, to filter the good from the not-so-good, and to be honest with ourselves and others about why we do what we do as moms. 

When we are willing to have a productive conversation, we also open ourselves up to understand other mothers whom we might otherwise publicly criticize (in a Mommy War) or internally dismiss (à la “you do you”).

This is not an argument for relativity or for universal open-mindedness. There are absolute moral principles that separate right and wrong. But these principles don’t exist in a vacuum. Individual capability and circumstance can allow for a difference of perspectives while still maintaining objective truth. 

Here’s a silly example: Imagine three moms describing a hot air balloon. One mom is on the ground directly beneath it, one is inside the basket, and the other is a mile away.

That hot air balloon is going to be described three different ways because each person’s perspective is unique. It also follows that each mom’s actions in regard to the hot air balloon will also be different. You’ll have three different descriptions of, and thereby different actions in relation to, the hot air balloon, and none of them will necessarily be wrong.

Individual capability and circumstance can allow for a difference of perspectives while still maintaining objective truth. 

But it’s also important that these differences in perspective are not breaking from an absolute reality. It’s a fact, no matter where you are in this scenario, that the thing in the sky is a hot air balloon. No perspective could give credence to the opinion that it is a floating tiger.

Dialogue helps us understand where we are, what we think, and why we think what we do. It helps the mom on the ground understand how and why the mom in the basket treads with more caution than she thinks necessary. It helps the mom a mile away understand why the mom on the ground feels like the hot air balloon is a huge and immediate issue. It helps the mom acting like tigers can float to realize this is not the actual case. 

Avoiding conversation drives us further apart

Smothering all expressions of personal values, disagreements, or differences under the blanket of “you do you” is unhelpful and even damaging. It weakens the community of mothers by closing the door on potential improvement. It also cements us within our ideological armies, allowing us to grow in contempt for others while pretending to be libertarian about all styles of mothering. 

To a certain degree, the “you do you” mentality has its place, and is important and helpful to the extent that it dampens undue criticism and judgment. We should never judge the heart of or shame a mom who does something differently—especially since decisions in child-rearing are rarely black and white and differences of opinion and practice are natural. 

Because the sentiment tends to discourage dialogue, however, it easily devolves into “you do you…even though you’re wrong and I’m right.” 

Yes, the proclamation that voicing different opinions is tantamount to reawakening “Mommy Wars” may prevent us from publicly dragging other moms through the mud in order to rally the troops who share our perspectives. 

Because the sentiment tends to discourage dialogue, however, it easily devolves into “you do you…even though you’re wrong and I’m right.” 

But the fear of dialogue has only moved the war into our hearts. Others are calcified as others. The battle becomes internalized. 

Bridging the divide

Talk to the mom who has unmedicated home births, especially if you’re the mom who values an elective C-section. Have a discussion with the mom who bottle feeds, especially if you’re the mom who nurses into the toddler years. Bounce ideas off of the moms who homeschool, especially if your child has been in school for years. 

Let’s speak the truth of what we believe and practice, and open our hearts to real conversations with moms who believe and practice something different.

There’s always something to learn and, more importantly, someone to understand. 

Every instance of disagreement is not an act of war. And disagreement doesn’t need to be aggressive and catty. Maybe communicating in charity will allow us to make real connections, to hold our own beliefs upon a purifying fire—and maybe, just maybe, it can help us fine tune our own perspectives and values for the better. 

There’s always something to learn and, more importantly, someone to understand. 


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