In a lengthy cover story, Time magazine studies the myths behind the Mommy Wars. It’s a worthy read for anyone truly interested in why so many women on social media seem to be obsessed with breastfeeding and C-section rates. But in their rush to end the judgment and shaming “flying off the fingers” of online moms, Time fails to address the real cause of the crisis. “Mothers will do anything,” the author writes. What she fails to observe is that today’s mothers often don’t know what to do. As a result, they’re turning to the wrong sources for guidance and getting nothing but guilt in the process.
The sad fact is that women are so culturally alienated from motherhood that they approach the topic much like a college class or career change. Often these women are in their 30s before they give birth. Generally white and upper-middle-class, they have excellent credentials to put on a resume but know next to nothing about getting elbow-deep in bodily fluids at midnight on a Tuesday. Their solution is to read endless amounts of books and join countless online mom communities in search of advice and support.
In other words, these women (who comprise the core demographic involved in the Mommy Wars) create the infamous “they”: “They” say I need to breastfeed; “they” say I must co-sleep for the first year; “they” say I need to hand-mash my own organic baby food. Suddenly the nameless, faceless “they” are responsible for everything from mom guilt to the rise in postpartum depression and anxiety. Or, are they?
Fear is the current running strong underneath all that mom guilt and the kind of new-mom anxiety written about in Time. Specifically the fear of failing your child. While TED Talk experts and former first ladies love extolling the virtues of failure, no one – and I mean no one – sees virtue in failing the most vulnerable of human lives. Especially not educated, careered women who’ve already been brainwashed into believing they’ll never break the mythical glass ceiling hanging over their heads. So, they approach childbirth and rearing the way they approached their educations and careers: With a solid plan the author at Time calls “The Goddess Myth.” Natural birth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping — all the things “they” recommend.
If only babies and bodies followed syllabi and job descriptions.
One woman interviewed had a perfectly laid out home birth plan, complete with tub and midwife, that got shot to hell along with her desire to exclusively breastfeed for two – that’s right, two – years. (The average mom doesn’t make it to the 6-month mark.) This mom was so distraught she “went dark” on her Facebook mom groups, feeling judged for not having met the mark. She commented, “I prepared so much for the birth, but the one thing that’s not talked about as much is how much support we need, and how vulnerable we are afterward.”
This “need” for “support” is something both my mother and grandmother would laugh at. Support? You have a healthy child! What more do you want? In the weeks following my own son’s arrival, I can recall my mother clearly telling me she wouldn’t be coming by very often. “You need to figure things out for yourself,” she advised based on experience. “I’m here to answer any questions you have, but you need to figure out your baby and your house on your own.”
Today’s new moms aren’t empowered to figure things out on their own, let alone follow through with a sense of independent authority. They’ve been trained up to read manuals, follow instructions, get in line and wait. In other words, they’ve been acculturated to think and act like employees, not mothers. When their birth plan doesn’t go accordingly, or they realize they don’t want to co-sleep or grind organic avocados for years on end, they do what any other disillusioned college student or employee trained to be wholly dependent on a pre-existing system would do: seek anything ranging from wine, to counseling, to drug therapy to fix their emotional mess.
The author at Time concludes that mothers “…have to talk about our failures and realize there are no failures.” No, actually, if we want to fix the serious problem facing new mothers we need to address the fact that culture, on the whole, has failed both mothers and children. That is why otherwise well-educated, successful career women are falling apart over what should be the most empowering experience of their lives: motherhood.