Mass Media and The Mommy Wars

The exact wording may change, but the media always seems to be asking, “Are you mom enough?”  The Mommy Wars and Parenting Battles aren’t about actual parents at all. They are media-created bullshit.

The longer I’ve been a mom, the more I’ve realized the media’s role in creating and perpetuating the Mommy Wars.

In 1990 Newsweek coined the term “mommy wars” in it’s article Mommy vs. Mommy. Then, Newsweek was at it again in 2012 when it explored attachment parenting in “Are You Mom Enough.” If these were just silly fluff articles in a magazine I would let it slide. But these articles capture a larger sentiment that I see playing out in Facebook groups, blog comments, and at the playground.

A lot of moms are terrified of being judged. And I count myself among them.

Because of my flexible work schedule I feel like I sometimes walk both sides of the stay-at-home mom “versus” working mom discussion. I know about the hardships and benefits of both, even when I don’t experience each fully.

I get to be at the playgroups with my kids on weekdays when the SAHMs are out and at the parks the weekends, when more dads are in charge.

What I don’t see is moms (or any parents) duking it out over stay-at-home vs. working, or attachment parenting vs. non-attachment parenting, or bottle vs. breast.

What I do see is a lot of us worrying about being judged.

We start our descriptions of normal human experiences with statements like “I know it’s probably not good when I Iet Johnny . . . ” or “I know this probably makes me a bad parent . . . ” or “I know my kids are going to need therapy for this but . . .”

I hear moms feeling guilty about not wanting to play the Batman or princess game with their kids for the millionth time that day. I listen to moms make a point of explaining why they used formula, or why they are breast feeding their three-year old.

I watch stay-at-home mom’s and working mom’s alike look at me in envy when I talk about how I leave the house before my kids get up (which means not getting them dressed, getting the lunches packed, etc.) and I think about how sad it makes me that I sometimes see my kids for the first time that day at dinner, just before they go to bed.

Here is what I don’t hear. I don’t hear moms (or dads for that matter) judging each other for the choices we have all made. I don’t hear one mom telling another “Well, really, everyone should do X if they care about what is best for their kids.”

We’re all just muddling along, parenting as best we can, and mostly we respect each other’s parenting choices.

Sure, if you read enough online comments you will find a few judgy parents (or non-parents who think they know better) condemning someone else’s parenting choices. But that is just part of the internet landscape, and frankly, I read most of those toxic comments on articles like the Newsweek ones that are designed to spark “controversy.”

So here’s the punch line I recently figured out. The Mommy Wars and Parenting Battles aren’t about actual parents at all. They are media-created bullshit.

Newsweek writes articles like these to spark vitriolic comments, and to make parents (mostly moms) feel the need to defend their parenting decisions.

Articles defending stay-at-home moms engage in defending a side of the parental “wars” that isn’t even there. The real parents are busy just trying to be parents – we don’t have time and most of us don’t have the inclination to battle each other. We’re too busy battling our kids to get them out of their clothes and into bed.

So why even write about this? Why even give these silly fake “wars” any more air-time? Because this clever facade is distracting us from the big issues we need to come together for.

Every time an article comes out about parents fighting each other, or a divide among parents, or a “discussion” about different parenting strategies (designed to make one the clear “winner”) it distracts us from much more important conversations. The conversations I wish we were seeing front page articles about every year.

Where is the cover story on the poor state of family leave policy in the U.S.?

Where are the fifteen blog posts all coming out at the same time demanding there be some kind of financial compensation for the parents who leave paid work to become the primary caretakers of their children? Their work has huge economic value, yet there is no economic compensation.

Where are the viral New York Times opinion pieces about equal pay for women, or raising the minimum wage, and the beneficial effects of that policies on children in the US?

As long as the media can talk about the most recent “mommy wars” we don’t have media room to talk serious about family leave policies, equal pay for women, financial compensation for the work of being a caretaker that benefits the economy, etc.

And if we don’t address those real issues, then we have lost the only battles that actually matter.


Marie Levey-Pabst is a vegan mother of two, full-time teacher, and blogger at Joyful Vegan Family. She loves developing new recipes, biking, and reading whenever her kids let her. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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