You've heard the gripes. Mothers all over are judging each other and stirring up strife just to make themselves feel better. Women are at war with each other over how they parent and using guilt trips to do it. Shame rules the internet and we must put an end to the battles that pit mom against mom and support each other.
Let's face it, it's a common narrative. A catchy cliche. A seemingly obvious truth we can't escape. That's all it is.
It's time to debunk this false premise once and for all. There are no mommy wars. They do not exist. Not in the real world of critical thinking and evidence. In anecdotes? At a baby shower? On the playground by the school? Sure, there you might find a few catty bitches rolling their eyes at you. That's not a mommy war. That's a woman being a bitch. There's a difference.
Are there some fanatics on soapboxes feeding off subculture and fostering divide by perpetuating these myths? Of course. But that's not a mommy war either (we'll tackle the internet is the new town hall myth in a moment).
Let's hit some of the hot topics one by one and show you the data so the next time someone accuses you of being part of the battle that pits mother against mother you can send them this link and invite them over for dinner.
Working Mom V SAHM
Women are divided over whether staying at home or being in the workforce is best for their children. Women in the workforce believe stay at home moms have it easy. Stay at home moms think women who work outside the home are denying the best for their family.
The majority of women are in the workforce either full or part time at one point in the seasons of their child's life:
- "The labor force participation rate of mothers with children under 18 years of age was 69.9 percent in 2013, 74.7 percent for mothers with children 6-17 years of age, and 63.9 percent for mothers with children under 6 years of age, 61.1 percent for mothers with children under 3 years of age, and 57.3 percent for mother of infants (2013 annual averages)." - United States Department of Labor, 2013
There's a slight increase in the number of women currently staying at home with their children:
- "The share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. This rise over the past dozen years represents the reversal of a long-term decline in “stay-at-home” mothers that had persisted for the last three decades of the 20th century" - Pew Research, April 2014
Reasons for this are varied, including the current economic environment. From the same study:
- "The recent rise in stay-at-home motherhood is the flip side of a dip in female labor force participation after decades of growth. The causes are debated, but survey data do not indicate the dip will become a plunge, as most mothers say they would like to work, part time or full time." - Pew Research, April 2014
Did you catch that? Most mothers would like to work either full or part time. Most are also satisfied with the amount of time they stayed home:
- "Mothers who had transitioned to paid work were asked if they had stayed home as long as they wanted, and nearly three-quarters (72%) had stayed home as long as they wanted." - Listening To Mothers III, Child Birth Connection, 2013
But what about this great divide? Where does the general public "side"?
- "Among all adults, only 16% say the ideal situation for a young child is to have a mother who works full time. A plurality of adults (42%) say mothers working part time is ideal, and one-third say it’s best for young children if their mothers do not work at all outside of the home." - Pew Research, March 2013
Most mothers want to be a part of the workforce, are a part of the workforce and want to return to the workforce.
The majority of the general public believe a mother being in the workforce is optimal.
A third of the general public wants mothers to stay at home. A third of mothers are currently staying at home.
This is not a national divide by any stretch of the imagination. It's certainly not a battle mothers are fighting as most mothers, even those at home, state they want to work full or part time.
Not a mommy war.
Home Birth/Natural V C-Section/Hospital
Women are in battle over the proper way to birth babies.
While C-Sections have become more popular and a few women are opting to go without drugs at home, the majority of women are still giving birth the old fashioned way: through the vagina, in a hospital, with drugs on hand.
Basically, hardly anyone is having their child at home:
- "After a gradual decline from 1990–2004, the percentage of out-of-hospital births increased from 0.87% of U.S. births in 2004 to 1.36% of U.S. births in 2012" - CDC, 2012
And cesarean births are still not typical. From the same report:
- "The 2012 U.S. cesarean delivery rate was unchanged at 32.8%. The cesarean rate rose nearly 60% from 1996 to 2009, declined slightly from 2009 to 2010, and has been stable since." - CDC, 2012
A fraction of cesareans rise above the threshold of "optimal":
- "Once cesarean delivery rate reached 10 percent, with adjustment for HDI and GDP, further increase in cesarean delivery rate had no impact on maternal, neonatal, and infant mortality rates. a population-level cesarean section rate above 10-15 percent is [not] justified from the medical perspective." - Searching for the Optimal Medically Necessary Cesarean Delivery, 2014
Again, with such a small fraction of women opting for home birth and only around a sixth of all surgical births exceeding recommendations, this is not a battle between mothers as much as it is a discussion regarding reproductive choice and medicine.
Speaking of choice, when asked, the majority of mothers felt a decision to have a home birth or cesarean should be left completely up to the mother:
- "Two thirds (64%) thought a woman should have a right to a home birth if she chooses. Mothers also strongly supported the right of a mother to choose a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) (69%)." - Listening To Mothers III, Child Birth Connection, 2013
About 98% of women are giving birth in hospitals, and just about a third are delivery surgically (either elective or due to medical necessity).
Ask any woman who has ever been pregnant and I'm fairly certain she'll tell you when it comes to birthing, the goal is just to get the baby on the outside of your body.
Not a mommy war.
The Breast V The Bottle
Women are shaming each other over how they choose to feed their infants. Formula moms are given guilt trips and breastfeeding mothers think they are god's gift to everything. Women who choose formula only do so because they are lazy and breastfeeding women are nazis.
In the United States, the majority of infants start on the breast. Those stats do not sustain themselves for a variety of reasons and by the first 12 months, the majority of children are fed infant formula:
- "79% of newborn infants started to breastfeed. Of infants born in 2011, 49% were breastfeeding at 6 months and 27% at 12 months." - CDC Breastfeeding Report Card, 2014
The majority of women, mothers and adults in general are unaware of campaigns or marketing to promote breastfeeding and have limited exposure to breastfeeding in society. The majority of women, mothers and adults in general recall exposure to infant formula marketing in mass media.
Infant formula and bottle feeding are the cultural norm in the United States:
- "In the United States, bottle feeding is viewed by many as the “normal” way to feed infants. Moreover, studies of mothers who are immigrants that examine the effects of acculturation have found that rates of breastfeeding decrease with each generation in the United States and that mothers perceive bottle feeding as more acceptable here than in their home countries." - United States Surgeon General, 2011
Breastfeeding was practically eradicated in the U.S. by 1969 and a push to promote the practice since isn't proving very effective. A small fraction of birthing facilities have decided to stop the default distribution of a commercial product. Less than 9% of infants are born in these facilities.
In addition, the majority of women, mothers and adults in general place qualifications on the practice of breastfeeding children. Not all laws offer protection to nursing mothers and even nursing mothers demand other women to use discretion, wean early and all sorts of other guidelines for doing it properly.
The majority of women, mothers and adults in general believe infant formula to be a perfectly acceptable nutritional source for children.
Most all adults were fed formula and most all children are currently formula fed and most all adults expect its use.
There is absolutely no stigma in the general population or among the majority of parents against commercial infant formula or bottle feeding children.
Breastfeeding is viewed as the anomaly in society and the majority of adults, including breastfeeding mothers, have no interest in normalizing the practice in the United States or are even aware of efforts to do so.
There is no infant feeding battle. Most people believe breastfeeding is optimal but don't care if infant formula is used. Most people just want moms to feed their babies and assume they will use infant formula or breastfeed when they do.
Not a mommy war.
Mainstream Parenting V All Things Crunchy
Every few decades a new philosophy springs up on the best way to care for children. Attachment parents helicopter over their children and mainstream parents neglect the vital needs of their babies. The new parenting trend is raising entitled adults who have no independence or work ethic.
Outside of the very obvious false dichotomy and Strawman fallacies, the reality is that every family parents the same and every family parents differently. Most of the similarities can be traced to cultural influence, most of the differences can be chalked up to individuals adding their own spin. This isn't a mommy war. It's a discussion in social sciences. The truth is that child rearing has always included both tradition and trend and there is no cookie cutter way to parent.
Geography and heritage factor largely in child rearing:
- "Moms in Kenya carry their babies everywhere, but they don't indulge a baby's cooing. Rather, when their babies start babbling, moms avert their eyes. It isn't uncommon [in Japan] for 7-year-olds and even 4-year-olds to ride the subway by themselves. It's not uncommon to see kids bundled up outside during a Scandinavian winter, taking a nap in their strollers." - Global Parenting Habits, NPR, 2014
In the U.S., cribs and bassinets are common. And most parents have co-slept (same room/proximity) or shared a bed with their children at some point as well:
"One in eight mothers (12%) reported that their baby always slept in the same bed with them in the first six months after birth, and an additional 29% stated the baby often (12%) or sometimes (17%) did." - Listening To Mothers III, Child Birth Connection, 2013
Infant carrying methods aren't at battle either. Baby strollers or sleds and wraps or slings have been used since the start of birthing babies:
- The modern versions include wheels, straps and good advertising campaigns, but the reality is that moms have always used some sort of on or off body device to transport babies.
There isn't a fight going on with diapers either:
And what about the new trend of the often coined terms "Attachment" or "Tiger" or "Helicopter" parents? Not actually new and are more philosophical ideas than set systems of rules (if they even exist at all) :
- Attachment Parenting International describes basic ideas behind this age old model summed up as preparation for parenting, feeding on cue, building empathy with a child, nurturing with touch, safe sleep, love and care, positive discipline and balance for moms and families.
- "Chinese immigrant moms and dads are not that different from American parents with European ancestry. Despite the popular image of Chinese-American parenting that Chua’s book bolstered, fewer “tiger” parents emerged from Kim’s analysis than did “supportive” parents. “Easygoing” were similar in number as “tigers,” and the fewest parents were deemed “harsh.” - Slate, 2013
- There doesn't seem to be much evidence that Helicopter Parents even exist.
In other words, these labels are really no more than labels. Even when assigning "parenting styles" or methods, each of the styles cross into each other at some point in the individual family's journey.
And in case you didn't know, there is no such thing as "Mainstream Parenting":
- "Mainstream: a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence" - Merriam-Webster
Because there is no such thing as a Mainstream Family:
- "Families and living arrangements in the United States have changed over time, just as they have developed distinct regional trends because of factors such as local labor markets and migration patterns. As a result, it is difficult to talk about a single kind of family." - American Families and Living Arrangements 2012, U.S. Census
- "Researchers who comb through census, survey and historical data and conduct field studies of ordinary home life have identified a number of key emerging themes. Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen. Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago". - The Changing American Family, New York Times, 2013
And customizing traditions is common with all parents:
- "Two recent studies explore how and why parenting changes from one generation to the next. The conclusions: parenting patterns are passed down from one generation to the next, but only to a point." - New York Times, 2009
- "They will take traditional advice from their mother and grandmother but through the modern filter of Google until the best solution is reached" - The Truth About Moms, McCann, 2012
It should go without saying that socioeconomic status factors into how we each parent:
- "As parents become more distressed due to economic pressures associated with low SEC, they take on a more authoritarian parenting style. Neighborhoods rich in resources are likely to present more decisions involving the child to the family." - Understanding The Links Between Socioeconomic Status and Parenting Styles, 1995
- "Where an infant actually sleeps is not a medical issue at all but mostly it is social relational based on economics. Rarely do infants sleep in only one kind of micro-environment." - McKenna, 2005
And moms look to both their families and friends to figure out what might work for them:
- 67% of GenX Moms and 74% of Millennial Moms look to family and friends for parenting advice and support - Baby Center's 2014 Milennial Mom Report
- "61% of U.S. moms choose their mom or other female family member as one of the two best sources for providing advice and information they trust." - The Truth About Moms, McCann, 2012
Yet while there are minor differences in methods and styles, based on a variety of trends and traditions, most all parents across the globe agree healthy, happy children are the priority:
- "[When choosing between happiness, riches and success], 83% of moms want their children to be happy" - The Truth About Moms, McCann, 2012
Parents are also all pretty much in agreement on what to do when it comes to teaching children responsibility, work ethic, good manners and independence:
There is no one size fits all model for parenting. Most mothers will use a variety of sources and personal preferences in making decisions on how to care for their babies, including their own parents and friends. Differences and similarities in parenting styles can be traced to heritage, culture, economics and geography. Most all parents and the general population are using traditions and trends to teach their children important values and ethics.
Not a mommy war.
Spanking V Spoiling Your Children
If you don't spank your children you will raise entitled spoiled brats that end up in prison and have no respect for anyone. No one has the right to judge how I choose to discipline my own children. I was spanked and I turned out fine, parents who don't spank their children is what is wrong with society today.
Outside of the very obvious fallacies in reasoning and inaccurate statements regarding the evidence we have on corporal punishment, this isn't a case of mommy war.
The false premise here is that adults are able to decide how to treat their children (or others) simply by virtue of birthing or custody. This is clearly not true. The other problem is the belief that other members of society have little or no right to judge the conduct or treatment of members in said society. Again, false.
While the Supreme Court has ruled that the rights of parents to instruct and educate their children are fundamental in our society, these rights are not absolute.
In fact, education of children is heavily governed by the state:
- "Every person who shall have any child under his control...shall send such child to some...school within the town or city in which he resides." - Compulsory Attendance Act of 1852 (since revised)
As of 2014, even parents choosing to instruct and educate their children outside of public or private institutions must meet minimum requirements mandated by the state.
The state also has an absolute right to limit and restrict instructions or directives from parents. For example, a parent is not permitted to impose a religious requirement upon a child if the welfare of the child is at risk:
- "Parents are free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow that they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves." - Prince V Massachusetts, January 1944
A parent is not permitted to force a child to work outside of child labor laws, even in many family businesses:
- "The federal child labor provisions, also known as the child labor laws, are authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. These provisions were enacted to ensure that when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities." - U.S. Department of Labor
A parent is not permitted to abuse or neglect their child (although, prior to 1874, there were no such provisions for children):
- "The “Mary Ellen case” was a classic child protective intervention. Within forty-eight hours of Wheeler’s initial report, an investigation was conducted, a petition filed, a protective removal effected, a hearing commenced, a temporary placement arranged, and a criminal prosecution initiated." - The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Parental entitlement is a misnomer.
As to judging another parent's treatment of children?
- "Society: people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values." - Merriam-Webster
We shouldn't need to expand on this, but we will. Societies are, by design, interpersonal. Norms, mores, laws and ideologies are decided based on what members will tolerate and what they will not. The United States is not a dictatorship, it is not a democracy. It is a democratic republic, where citizens vote on law and voluntarily submit to the process. We are not governed by appeals to tradition or appeals to the masses. We are a nation built on the premise of civil discourse, civil disobedience and fair exchange of dialogue and debate in the public square. Members of society do not only have a right to judge the conduct and treatment of members within it, they have a responsibility to.
Fallacies in reasoning are used to justify the treatment of members of society.
Parental entitlement is not absolute.
Members of societies have a right to judge decisions made within said society.
This is not a battle between discipline methods. This is a battle between public opinion on conduct and opposition to it. Calling this a mommy war makes about as much sense as calling spousal rape legislation a private matter between married couples.
Not a mommy war.
So how did the term get started and perpetuated? Author Deborah Copaken Kogan traced the idea back to a cookie contest between politicians. Columnist Helaine Olen said the term was coined in the late 1980s by Child magazine. Regardless of where the cliche started, it's obvious it's nothing more than a fabricated lede that capitalizes on the feelings and experiences of women, exploiting the complex emotions of guilt and shame while denying any real call for empathy.
It just isn't real.
The fact is that most mothers state they have some level of guilt about just every decision they make. It's a pretty daunting experience reproducing and raising another human being. Whenever a task carries that much responsibility, there is bound to be some level of self reflection and second guessing. This is normal:
- "71% of moms [said] if they could do it all over again, they'd do it a little differently." - "Mom Confessions", Today.com/Parenting, 2011
Stress appears to be par for the course for moms:
- "91% of moms surveyed report they’re either “frequently” (39%) or “occasionally” stressed out (52%)" - State of Moms 2014
In the workforce? Staying at home? Makes no difference, you will feel guilty about something:
- "Working moms (51 percent) feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids. And stay-at-home moms (55 percent) worry about not making a contribution to the family finances." - The Working Mother Research Institute
But that's not because you're battling with another. From the same study:
- "Women overwhelmingly say, “I am my own worst critic.” This response, selected by 49 percent of working mothers and 47 percent of stay-at-home moms, is at least ten percentage points higher than runner-up responses. On the work front, judgment by co-workers is a relatively minor factor, with working moms more than three times as likely to say they judge themselves versus feeling judged by coworkers." - The Working Mothers Research Institute
Birthing at home? Choosing epidural? Either choice comes with its own internal struggle:
- "Women’s perceptions of risk are widely recognized to influence decision making in general and are known to involve both conscious and unconscious biases that shape desires, hopes, and decisions." - Choice? Factors That Influence Women's Decision Making for Childbirth, 2013
Trying to breastfeed? Ready to wean? Odds are you will experience a level of worry:
- "Ninety-two percent of participants reported concern [with breastfeeding] at day 3." - Breastfeeding Concerns at 3 and 7 Days Postpartum and Feeding Status at 2 Months, 2013
But these are not even the top worries of mom:
- "87% of mothers feel they suffer more stress today than their own mothers did a generation ago, indicating their top stressors are: 1) concern over health (both their own and their family’s (70%); 2) financial pressures/making ends meet (65%); and 3) balancing work and family duties (56%)." - The State of Moms, 2014
Moms are stressed. They worry. Decision making sometimes comes with second guessing.
And yet, despite the internal struggles with guilt or worry, most all parents rate themselves as doing just fine in raising their families:
- "Among all parents with children under age 18, 24% say they have done an excellent job, and an additional 45% say they have done a very good job. Some 24% say they have done a good job, and only 6% rate their job as parents as fair or poor." - Modern Parenthood, Pew Research, 2013
- "Three-quarters of all adults (76%) say their family is the most important element of their life [and] 75% say they are “very satisfied” with their family life." - The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families, Pew Research, 2010
Turns out, mom isn't even at war with herself.
So who is actually in battle? A small subculture of a subcultural of the general population. A few random soapboxes propped up on social networks and random chance encounters with an asshole at best.
The internet is the new town hall where women are constantly sharing stories of judgment and shame.
Women spend about 14 hours a week online. Most of that is spent checking email or on social networks. Of the 76% of women using social media, when it comes to online communities and sites like Facebook, they aren't using them (or their time) for infighting:
- "A recent joint study from BlogHer and iVillage [reported] that three-quarters of women use online communities to stay up to date with friends and family, and 68% use them to “connect with others like me.” - Forbes "What Men And Women Are Doing On Facebook", 2010
- "58.1% of mothers (defined as women aged 25-54 with a household size of three or more) follow brands on social media, and 50% of these moms do so to quickly stay updated with the latest products and/or services by brands they like." - Burst Media Survey, 2012
- "29.2% [of moms] say all or most of their online time is spent on content sites, versus 21.7% who say social media sites." - Burst Media Survey, 2012
- "Women are much more likely to share posts related to recent purchases or experiences with businesses, including restaurants, beauty salons and retailers." - Social Media Today, 2014
- "58% of women used social media to consume news in 2013." - Social Media Today, 2014
- "Moms with young kids are 62 percent more likely than the general population to use their mobile phones to look for local coupons while shopping." - Experian Marketing, 2013
- "73% [of moms] use parenting social media for brand & product recommendations...92% share family milestones on Facebook." - Baby Center Social Mom Report, 2013
Rather, they are using the platforms similar to their favorite magazines. For fashion, entertainment, coupons, recipes, and brand discovery. They are using them to socialize with family and friends through sharing photos, talking about products they like (or hate) and looking for a some laughter to lighten their day. They are making friends and finding ways to help others.
They are not engaged in mommy wars.
Take a look at the infographs on how women and mothers use the internet. Even with the popularity of social networks, we don't see high engagement in controversy, forum participation or even time spent in parenting communities.
Let's look at some numbers:
Parents Magazine has approximately 1.5 million fans on their Facebook Page. HuffPo Parents has about a half million. Entertainment Weekly has over 2 million. Women's Health has over 4 million. Being a Mom has approximately 800k. These pages all have official websites where those numbers obvious increase. Cafe Mom's official website claims to have over 7 million unique users. All of these numbers reflect a worldwide audience. Baby Center, the #1 rated mobile platform for pregnancy and parenting reports 15 million users in the United States.
There are about 100 million women between the ages of 18-65 in the United States. Close to 80% are mothers. As of 2013, there are 34.4 million families with children under the age of 18 in the home.
According to Edison Research's Moms In Media 2014 study: 92% of moms are online. 78% have a social media profile. 69% use Facebook. About half check social media accounts more than once in a day. While watching TV and using their cell phone to do it.
Experian's 2013 whitepaper found the most active social media moms are those with children under the age of 5 who use the networks to follow brands, enter contests and search coupons.
Baby Center's Social Mom Report found the number one use of Facebook was to share photos and family milestones. Their 2014 Millennial Mom report showed just 29% of Millennial moms and only 16% of GenX moms use parenting or baby apps for advice on parenting. (Three fourths go directly to family or friends).
Of the 80 million mothers and 34 million families with children under 18, only a third of all mothers visit various online parenting communities and only 20% seek out parenting information.
Of the over 300 million people in the United States, only 5% of them subscribe to the most popular pregnancy and parenting site.
When women and mothers use social media, they share photos, search for coupons, and stay connected to their friends.
Not a mommy war.
So exactly where are these "mommy wars" happening? The fact is they aren't. What is likely happening is a few power users of social networks and online communities will be more vocal and engaged than the average user. In your day to day, you might encounter a conflict driven personality or a narcissist who lacks empathy. Engaging in those discourses will feed a confirmation bias we know as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. You might believe moms are engaged in battle, but the evidence shows they actually aren't. The truth is if you submerge yourself in anything, it will surround you. It becomes a self perpetuating cycle of division and feud.
So how do these ledes keep getting used? To increase impressions, sensationalize headlines, sell products and pander to the notion that there's always someone or something to blame for how we're feeling. I'd chalk it up to a lack of ethics in journalism and a saturation of media that forces a story where no story exists.
Now, there really are wars on women. Actual battles that deserve our attention. Wage gaps, discrimination, coverture legacies and reproductive rights of women are facing onslaughts daily. If we're going to pick up weapons, let's use them to fight true injustices and not myths about infighting. Let's educate ourselves about the facts and stop perpetuating notions not based in reality.
There are no mommy wars. There's you. There's me. There's she. Doing things the same. Doing things differently.
We learn from our families and share with our friends. We work and stay home and care for our children. We second guess ourselves while we pat each other on the back. And we'd rather use our time to discover a great deal than fight a stranger on the internet. Because really, who's got time for that?
Not you. Not me.
So, while I get our dinner ready, who wants a martini?
*While some surveys show that moms judge other moms, these results don't represent anything out of the scope of other judgments made in society. We judge hairstyles, clothes, figures, tan lines. We judge sexual activity, career choices and house size. We wouldn't validate an argument that women are at war over office attire or hair dye. Then again...