By Lisa Keane | MAMFC, LPC-S, REGISTERED PLAY THERAPIST SUPERVISOR, NCC
I have never been more keenly aware of other people’s opinions until I became pregnant with my first child. A simple grocery-shopping trip would lead to people giving all sorts of unsolicited advice: “You don’t want to eat that being pregnant,” or, “You know if you eat all those strawberries, your child will have red hair.”
It would take a turn sometimes even when good, well-intentioned people asked common questions, such as, “When is the baby due?” I remember one such incident when I told a sweet lady that I was six months pregnant, and she responded, “Oh, really? You look like you could have that baby tomorrow!” Comments like these, while they may seem innocent, can quickly lead a mother down a path of feeling insecure and less confident. But as shocked as I was by the unsolicited advice or comments while pregnant, I was even more in awe by the amount of unsolicited advice I received once my child had arrived.
In new mom social circles, some of the first questions you hear are, “Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” or, “Are you breastfeeding or formula feeding?” or, “Are you working or staying home?” or even, “Is she a good baby?”
It seemed that each of my answers were quickly followed up with unrequested advice or personal opinions about what I should be doing or what that person felt was best. While I don’t feel it was necessarily intentional, I remember feeling judged and compared as these questions were peppered into just about every conversation I had after the birth of my first child. Quickly I realized all of this could lead me down a wrong path of feeling like a bad mom who was going to ruin my child forever if I made one wrong choice. All the pressure felt heavy and overwhelming. And sadly, it was unnecessary.
And so began my journey through the “Mommy Wars.”
“Mommy Wars” are nothing new to our current society. They are birthed out of the traps of comparison and have been around for ages. The reality is that all parents have different life stages, circumstances, and situations that dictate what they can and cannot do as a parent. There are working moms versus stay-at-home moms, breastfeeding versus formula feeding, and sleep trainers versus non-sleep trainers. This is just a short list of groups who are often pitted against one another in these wars of comparisons and opinions.
Why do we do this? Because we want to be able to justify our choices as being the best, and to accomplish this, sometimes we feel the need to put down the choices of others. We typically act this way without even realizing we are devaluing that person’s choices. Most families are doing all they can to keep their heads above water and make it through each day. When they are put down or judged for how they are handling different parenting crossroads, this can cause undue stress, which is especially unhelpful because many moms are already stressed!
Barna Group found, “A majority of women (59%) are dissatisfied with their balance between work and home life. Among moms with children still at home, this rate increases to 62%. Eight in 10 moms (80%) feel overwhelmed by stress (compared to 72% among all women), and seven out of 10 (70%) say they do not get enough rest (compared to 58% of all women).” (Barna Group, May 2014)1
With statistics like this, we should be reminded what it means to come alongside moms who are struggling or who are dissatisfied. Instead of division and discord, we should be looking for ways to help each other strike a better work and life balance.
As moms, we should be focusing on building one another up and supporting one another. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” He was reminding the church to be living their lives as God had called them to live. Part of living a life called by God is to be encouraging of one another and to be building one another up. What do you think a working mom needs to hear more: criticism and judgment, or encouragement and love?
A sleepless, tired parent whose child is not sleeping well does not need to hear about how your child has always slept all night or maybe even all your great ideas for getting that child to sleep. What they do need to hear is that you know they are trying their best, and maybe you could ask questions that would invite advice if wanted, or offer to watch the baby while they nap. There are many ways we as moms can support, love, pray for, and be there for one another regardless of what parenting choices we make. This is how we neutralize the “Mommy Wars” and fend off the daggers of comparison and judgment.
While you may make a choice to keep your opinions and advice to yourself, what will you do with all the unsolicited advice or influences of social media that will come your way? We cannot control what other people do or say, so it is vital to filter these communications and make sure you are not allowing your own internal Mommy War to take place. We all internalize the things that we hear and see and allow it to influence how we feel. But an important step in that process is to weed out the words that are not healthy and not based in truth.
Barna Group also found, “When practicing Christian women compare themselves to their friends through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, they are 11 times more likely to say their friends have more status and privilege and are 10 times more likely to say others are more creative. They are also more likely to believe others have a better career and a superior ability to accomplish tasks. On the flip side of the comparison coin, practicing Christians are 13 times more likely to say they are better than their friends when it comes to parenting skills; they also feel superior in physical appearance and overall quality of life.” The traps of comparison can ensnare use very quickly and cause us to spiral down a very negative path.
As a therapist, I see firsthand the damage of unfiltered words or social media comparisons on a person’s psychological health. One counseling technique I found myself needing to use as a new mom was to focus on Philippians 4:8. If I left a conversation feeling overwhelmed, judged, or like I was making all the wrong choices, I would try and measure those thoughts against what Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
If my thoughts did not align with these guidelines, I knew I needed to work to replace that thought with something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, or something worthy of praise. It was not an easy task to do as an exhausted new mom, but it was a necessary step to keep the internal Mommy War at bay.
When I became a parent, I gained a new, deeper understanding of my need for Christ in my everyday life. Parenting is hard regardless of circumstances. Parenting is exhausting, and some days, the only fuel I had came from scripture or prayer. What I know to be true as a therapist and as a parent is this: all you can do is the best you can with what you have.
Be fully present with whatever time you have with your children. Make sure they know that you love them, not just by your words, but also by spending good quality time with them. Take care of yourself so that you have something to give to your children when you are with them. Don’t allow other people’s opinions or ideas dictate how you feel about yourself. Let your measuring stick for how you are doing be from God and from His Word.
This article was originally published in The Alabama Baptist newspaper, as part of the Faith and Family series.
1 Tired & Stressed, but Satisfied: Moms Juggle Kids, Career & Identity. (2014, May 5). Retrieved December 13, 2016, from Tired & Stressed, but Satisfied: Moms Juggle Kids, Career & Identity - Barna Group @barnagroup - https://www.barna.com/research/tired-stressed-but-satisfied-moms-juggle-kids-career-identity/