I am a draft dodger from the Mommy Wars.
Recruitment to the rank and file starts early. Even before a baby is born, the mother-to-be is assaulted with questions: Epidural or hypnosis? Anaesthesiologist and physician or midwife and doula? Hospital, home, or birth center? Bottle or breast? Co-sleeping or crib? Disposable diapers or cloth nappies? Dummy or thumb? With each answer, she unknowingly pledges an allegiance to becoming this or that kind of mother.
The battlefields are many. The fiercely fought ground of working moms vs. stay at home mothers and all the gradations between can even degenerate to squabbles among would-be allies. Guerrilla attacks accumulate in surprising arenas: toddler groups, the playground, the school-gates, birthday parties. Rival factions raise eyebrows and make sweeping pronouncements on other mothers’ parenting styles, educational priorities, snack and toy choices, holiday destinations, extracurricular activities.
Like the worst of conflicts, discord runs deep, goals of the campaigns are unclear, and the adversaries are ignorant of their common struggles and dreams. Opponents are identified by a sidelong glance at their respective uniforms. Suit and heels or track suit and trainers? Homemade cookies or bought cakes for the PTFA? And often, once the lines are drawn, no further thought or conversation is given to the differences – the circumstances, the background behind the costumes. Good soldiers retreat into the safety of those who agree with them, who see things their way, who do not threaten. The losses in potential understandings are great; and as in so many wars, women and children suffer for an abstract ideal.
So, I withdraw from the havoc. I’ve burnt my draft card and binned my nursing bra. I’m going AWOL. I refuse to engage in combat. Call me Switzerland. These are false dichotomies – on different days I could fly my flag in any of the camps. I’m a mother, not a fighter. We all are.
Our children are not battle spoils. Neither are they products, status-symbols, DIY projects, or even human embodiments of admirable parenting practice. They are something far more mysterious and infinite: individuals. Like shooting stars and cats, we cannot know when they will arrive or how they will leave us. We cannot predict which melodies will enchant them or if the sight of mountains will make their hearts sing. No amount of strategy can forecast what strange magic will bewitch them, capture their imaginations, entangle their passions. As parents, we have a duty of care to keep them from launching themselves off jungle gyms and toddling into traffic when they are small. We attend to the scraped knees and bee stings of childhood. We try to be steady beacons as they navigate the storms and swells of adolescence. And for these allegiances, for this kind of unconditional surrender, we gain the greatest victory of all: We witness them being and becoming themselves. Amid such a grand revelation, the din of the Mommy Wars fades away.