I’m sure that by now, most people will have seen this parenting video that was put together by an infant formula company.
And I’m sure that most of you will have giggled at some point, and then maybe even teared up towards the end. When I watched it the first time that’s just what I did. But the video stayed with me after that, and the more I thought about it, the worse it made me feel. Ironically, the same reasons that make it funny also make it incredibly sad, and of course that’s because it was meant to be a parody of the awful truth. It was meant to be an exaggeration of the notorious “mommy wars”, but the way I see it, it wasn’t an exaggeration at all. Those wars can be brutal; they can break you; they can make you question every little thing you do even if you thought you were doing okay. Those wars are so vicious, you wouldn’t believe how vicious they can be until you’ve actually witnessed them as a mother.
Now even though the video is well-meaning, its attempt at a comedic depiction of something ugly was, at least for me, just as ugly. It amazes me how fast we are as moms, or rather as parents, to jump at each other and rip each other apart when we’re in the same boat, doing our best to achieve one common goal: to raise happy and healthy children. And no matter how hard you try and how much you love, you will be put down in a second if you couldn’t breastfeed, if you didn’t have a “Hollywood” transition into motherhood, if you co-slept, if you didn’t co-sleep, if you gave your kids juice, or if you turned on the television to give yourself a break.
It’s unbelievable really. The other day, around the time I saw the video, I decided to seek advice on what milk to give my toddler now that he’s almost two. I posted my question in a Facebook parenting group I joined, and I must have received over seventy messages. Less than 20% of them were directed at me. The rest of them involved moms lashing out at each other for using one type of milk over another (and according to the discussion there seems to be over three thousand types!), or for for giving their kids milk at all. You go to a supposedly safe place to get support from other people who are all doing the best they can to achieve the same thing you are, and instead you get to witness mothers humiliating each other for the choices they made or didn’t make.
So if we can’t even be there for each other over our choice of milk, what happens when things get serious? Why are we made to feel so alone in this when in fact we’re all in it together? Why are we so quick to point our fingers at each other, confidently and passionately claiming that our way is the only way, when we all know there has never been just one way of doing anything? I don’t expect us to agree on everything, but you know something is very wrong when a discussion about Goldfish and Bunnies, or in other words, crackers, results in a bloodbath.
A few months ago, The HerStories Project announced an open call for submissions for their next book which will focus on postpartum depression. That was the first time I’d realized how rarely we openly discuss these truly difficult topics. I went through an awful time for months after I had my first baby and never once thought I should ask for help. I blamed myself for what I was going through; I was ashamed of the way I was feeling; I hated myself for having fallen apart. I did my best to hide from the world until I managed to pull myself back together. And why? Well because if I can’t discuss going back to work after having had a baby without being criticized, if I can’t consider stopping breastfeeding because it’s making me miserable for fear of being shot down, if I can’t complain about being completely exhausted because my baby still won’t sleep through the night at ten months without being blamed for having spoiled him, how on earth am I supposed to say things like “I can’t enjoy my baby because I’m miserable” or “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this”? I have never personally known anyone who suffered from postpartum depression and asked for help. I have never personally known anyone who admitted that her transition into motherhood was rough. And I am certain most people I know and love have no clue I had suffered in silence.
Stephanie Sprenger, writer at Mommy, for Real and The HerStories Project, put together a beautiful piece a couple of weeks ago, calling for moms to come together in the spirit of support and understanding, and change the way we talk about motherhood by being more open and honest with one another. Her #SoGladTheyToldMe media campaign has been a huge success and has had mothers everywhere sharing advice they were given, or wished they were given, that helped them in their struggle.
This is not an easy time to be a mom. Maybe having a child has always been the ultimate invite for unsolicited advice and criticism, but back in the day it was limited to family, friends, maybe even our neighbors or the occasional mean mom at the playground. Today, the internet has made it possible for a mother to have hundreds and thousands of strangers judge and point their fingers at her, often making sure they let her know they’ve got her “all figured out” while they throw their destructive comments at her, ripping away whatever confidence she had left when she made her transition into motherhood.
Needless to say, not everyone is like this, quite the contrary. In my online experience, most people have been kind and understanding and supportive. In fact some of the online private groups I belong to have offered invaluable advice and help without which I would have surely fallen apart. But I think we all know firsthand that it takes one negative comment to break you. No matter how much support and love you receive from other people who get what you’re going through, it takes one judgmental comment to wipe it all out.
It’s time we started to really talk about motherhood, not just the good stuff, the stuff you see on Facebook walls, but the real stuff, the hard stuff. It’s not always smooth. It’s not always easy. It’s not always love at first sight. Sometimes it is. For many women it is. But for many women it isn’t.
And that’s okay.
Join the #SoGladTheyToldMe campaign! Take a picture or use the hashtag to share the best advice you got as a new mother. Let’s make a big deal out of this!
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