The mommy wars.
For so long, I deeply engaged in them.
They made me think I was a better mother and sent me into deep depression at the same time because I could never measure up to the impossible standards.
I remember being in my teens and thinking, this is it. This is who I am. These are my beliefs. This is my genuine self. There is no possible way that I can grow past this.
I was in high school. I was living with my parents. I saw the world and the people in it through the narrow scope that my underdeveloped teenage, immature mind saw it in. The world was black and white. I am with these people. Those people over there are not my people. This is what I wear. This is what I don’t wear.
I get embarrassed looking back at myself and remembering how rigid those black and white lines were in my mind.
I feel guilty about the people I once mentally dismissed that have turned out to be some of the best people I could have ever met.
High school: a time when we are inundated with so much information, so many hormones, and so many questions. It has become extremely clear to me that even though we were teens and not infants, our teen minds operated on much the same level as infant minds.
When an infant is born, its eyes can only perceive black and white. The vision is blurry, but the newborn can see the mother’s dark nipple. This is so the newborn knows where to get food and how to survive.
When we are teenagers, our brains can only process the world in black and white.
With so many options and paths in front of us, our brains do heavy lifting. They erase the distracting details and only focus on the surface. It makes the infinite daily decisions and learning process of this immature mind much more efficient and the teenager, hopefully, will survive to adulthood. Teens make choices that will keep them alive, even if they may be entirely superficial.
Then we move out of our parents’ house, maybe we go to college, live abroad or simply live on our own for the first time. Our brain begins to mature. We still see the world a bit in black and white, but now there are shades of gray added to it.
Hmmm. Just because someone smokes, doesn’t mean they’re a rebel. It just means they smoke.
Isn’t that funny? Just because someone swears, it doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent, it just means sometimes a four-letter word is the only word for that situation.
Huh, tattoos can be a person’s physical diary, documenting their lives, their choices, their fleeting or constant passions. How beautiful and brave.
Wow, I have friends that enjoy the sexual company of friends with the same sexual parts they have and they seem really happy.
My twenties became what I call, “My Gray Period.” I began to see the world in massive subtle shades of gray. It was such a confusing time. Part of my brain wanted to hold onto the comfort of black and white because I thought it was easier. But it became impossible. The more people I met, each one a new shade of gray, the more that conflict inside of me became exhausting and over time, as my twenties progressed, I let it go.
Suddenly, something happened. In the letting go, the black, the white and even the gray all disappeared. Suddenly I began to see the world as it is. A huge array of vivid colors, shades, hues, opacities and the most incredible part was, I was walking through them easily, without the weight or guilt of enjoying them on my chest. I had become a color myself and it was wonderful to be part of the big picture without judging or categorizing everything.
One day, I watched a group of kids, high school age, climbing onto a bus after being on a field trip. I watched the little groups, the band kids, the rebels, the drama geeks, and the loners all file on. Each group seeing black and white in each other because it was the easy choice. I smiled, knowing that one day, hopefully, their minds would shift and be able to accept the wild color variation in our world.
It would be great if my personal growth story ended here. How Eric Carle would that be? “The Girl that Finally Saw Color”. But, I wouldn’t be writing to you right now if that were the case, would I?
My twenties went on. The color was great and even, on amazing personal growth days, high definition. But then I turned thirty and my son was born.
I woke up to this child in my arms and it was as if someone had turned the television color dial all the way down. To my shock, the world became black and white all over again.
I will exclusively breastfeed.
My child will not watch television.
I will be a stay at home mother.
I will hand make my Halloween costumes every year.
My child will only eat organic food.
Those mothers who wear makeup are clearly spending too much time on themselves and not on their children, as are those who are physically fit.
And anyone who does or does not do any of these things is a poor parent. I am better than they are. I am a good mother because I do or don’t do these things.
The black and white had returned and so had the anxiety and weight in my chest. But, the other things had returned as well, the endless choices and decisions and all of it on little to no sleep. My brain was doing the heavy lifting again, and the endless details were too much. I hung on for dear life to these values because it was all I could do to keep going every day and feel like I was doing a good job.
But then, my son got older. We moved. I was suddenly in a community and finding myself talking to more mothers, more parents, and meeting more children from more backgrounds and my “Gray Period” returned.
Hmmm. This woman is feeding her baby a bottle with formula in it and she and the baby are happy.
Huh, they did sleep training and are a great family and their children still love them.
Wow, the mom is so organized and put together, but that’s just who she is. It’s not a personal affront to me or my child raising.
Isn’t that funny? All of us look so different and raise our kids in so many different ways. But when I talk to each of these parents, they’re all scared as hell. Just like me. They’re all feeling like they’re making a million mistakes. Even the ones that have schedules and look so put together, they’re just as vulnerable and want to be accepted just like I do.
Over the past year, I’ve met so many amazing parents. I’ve heard so many stories and seen so many great acts of parenting. I’ve gotten tips from people I never would have talked with unless we both had children. Our kids are the biggest equalizers there are. Once you become a parent, you are given the greatest gift to empathize with anyone on the planet that has a child. Isn’t that incredible?
Screw math being the universal language, it should be the love of our children.
The mommy wars are real. You hear it all the time because it’s true. Mommy wars are perpetuated by those who are stuck in the black and white immaturity of their own minds. They have been given the same gift of love for their child/children, but haven’t reached the point in their own personal evolution to accept it.
I take part wholeheartedly in the mommy wars some days. I make comments, share views and engage. But I hope that I will evolve. This past year has been incredible. So many different parents and all of them doing the best they can with what they’ve got and who they are.
Last month, I made the decision to get off my antidepressants. With my hormones returning to normal after my daughter’s birth and my willingness to finally begin the process of letting go of those damn black and white lines, the anxiety is lifting and the world is filled with more color again and so many more friends.
So, if you find yourself engaging in the mommy wars, don’t worry. Maybe your brain, like mine, just hasn’t matured quite yet. But, maybe you and I can make a pact that we’ll both take the classes needed to graduate from the high school of real life and evolve past the mommy wars.
Also, that list I made when my son was born, my own personal do and don’t list?
Here’s the honesty of that today:
I breastfed my son for 5.5 months before switching to formula and my daughter for 3 months.
Both of my children watch television. Yes, the under two year-old too.
I am still a stay at home mother, but there have been days I wish I was working again.
My kids have both worn store bought Halloween costumes. (So funny that this was ever a concern.)
My kids eat organic food when I can afford it, which is rare.
And finally, I have realized that caring about my physical appearance and my health helps my mental state and my confidence. It has nothing to do with the amount of time I spend with my children. Being a martyr does not make you a good mother.