Why Mommy Wars Make Sense

It has been over two years since I wrote this, so if you wrote about mommy wars recently… This is only directed at you in a prophetic sense. ;-)

Okay, so I’m not a mother, but any outsider with the least bit of common sense can see that the so-called “mommy wars” are entirely reasonable and will not be going away any time soon.

Yes, I am serious.

Every mother participates in the mommy wars because she feels either unhappy, guilty, resentful, insecure, or some combination of the above. Our culture is set up to stretch and stress mothers by showing them all that they cannot have, and continually demanding that they be more. If you want to understand the extent of the mommy wars, look first to the women who despise them and seek to end the war by being kind and understanding instead.

Inevitably the women who most stridently declare their antipathy for the mommy wars are the quickest to take offense when another mother seeks to simply share her story. Any story which might alternately provoke jealousy instead arouses ire because the anti-war mother feels “judged” by the one who has a different experience of motherhood.

While many might dismiss this as women being irrational and emotional, it is actually the most rational response to the situation in which the mothers find themselves.

Remember that Carpe Diem post by the lovely Glennon Melton? Anyone not currently hating her life can see that Glennon is making the best of the stressful, often unhappy situation we call American Motherhood. Perhaps Glennon genuinely believes that this is just the way that everyone’s life is because her husband is equally stressed by his role in providing for their children financially. But as an outsider it is easy to wonder how sharing the misery around is supposed to make it better.

Here’s the thing: the average American does want to enjoy live and live every day to its glorious fullest.

When Josh was dragging himself to work rather than loving every day I looked at his situation as an outsider who loved him and told him that something needed to change. He did NOT need to take on more responsibility, he needed to reshape his life so that he could enjoy his work.

I put the question to the Twitterverse in the form of: “Ladies, if your hypothetical husband complained a lot about his work, would you just empathize or encourage him to look for a new job?” And the vast majority of them declared that they would do both. They wouldn’t just pat his back and tell him that tomorrow would be a better day and that eventually retirement would come, they would encourage him to change his life now.

Not only do Americans want to pursue happiness, it is especially nice to think that those who spend the most time shaping the next generation should themselves enjoy life. But this simply isn’t reality, and no one seems to want to admit that there is something uniquely messed up about the current culture of American motherhood.

So we alternate between telling mothers to enjoy these swiftly-passing years (easy for you to say when you’re not the one changing the diapers!) and acknowledging that babies are a royal pain so just hang in there and know that one day your children will take you out for brunch every second Sunday in May.

And somehow mothers don’t seem to find that especially satisfying. And so they tear motherhood apart looking for something to justify their ongoing misery. They bristle defensively at anything that indicates that other women have it easier in a way that might just be better. They compete in playgroups and read books about how French Tigers mother best.

They may savor a few blissful moments, but when you are both unhappy and incredibly stressed… well, lets just say that a full night’s sleep may seem more appealing than trying to remember what it was like to enjoy life in a way that did not require fighting for survival.

I could give a zillion examples from the incredible rate at which we perform major surgery unnecessarily on new mothers and call it a “life-saving Caesarian” to the employment situation of mothers of college students. But if you read this far and aren’t yet inclined to fight with me then maybe I don’t need to convince you that not only is our cultural setup for parenthood eating women alive, motherhood uniquely demanding under any circumstance. And if you’ve also dealt with a three-year-old long enough to watch your eyes roll circles back into your head then you probably agree that sometimes this uniquely challenging role is unlikely to feel uniquely satisfying much of the time.

And if you know all of that, then you can probably see why the Mommy Wars make sense: it is all about survival and holding yourself together in a world you feel is shredding your last chance at sanity.

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