Written by Jan Cloninger
I know I may be hearing from all sides on this one. But I'll tell you up front, my intention is not to offend. It is my hope that we can just step back and think about the messages we send our children when we're publicly criticizing other people's choices -- especially when it comes to parenting.
The latest topic? The fitness mom who posted her photo with the title "What's Your Excuse?"
When my son was little, the big debate was about "working moms" vs. "stay-at-home moms" (which is ironic, because we all know staying home is also a full-time job!) and who was doing a better job of parenting. Over 20 years later, this debate continues. Now, it's morphing into social media wars on every imaginable mommy topic.
We need to remember that until we understand someone's intentions, it's difficult to enter into productive dialogue that creates greater understanding and connection. If we simply argue about issues at the surface level, there are going to be misunderstandings, unfair judgments and barriers that prevent us from supporting each other.
This isn't a new phenomenon. Mothers have been judging other mothers in private conversations and small group settings in schools, over the back fence and in the break room at work for a long time. It's just that now it has intensified because people are posting their stances on social media outlets, trying to rally support for their way of parenting or life. It's as if the number of people who agree with you, or the number of "likes" you receive on a post, will guarantee that your child will become a responsible, productive and overall good human being as an adult.
We now know that being a working mom doesn't damage your child, and that being a stay-at-home mom doesn't guarantee parenting success, either. What's most important is that an informed, conscious choice is made -- one that fits the values, personality and needs of each family -- so that the moms are happy in the decisions they made.
Name any parenting topic that you can find on social media today -- in the end, does it matter if one mom is extremely fit and another gives up on an exercise routine; one mom nurses and another one doesn't; one mom co-sleeps and another Ferberizes her baby; one mom has an epic birthday party complete with photo posts and the other opts for a small family gathering that's kept private; one mom puts her child on a select sports team and the other allows her child to opt out of all sports; one mom spends $1,000 on a prom and another says we're not spending our money that way? If a mom has made a conscious and informed choice, who are we to judge what works best for her and her family?
The bottom line is this: it's the intentions behind our choices that matter. And if we can focus more on our own, then perhaps we can be more empathic and supportive of each other.
If I debate the benefits of working outside the home or staying at home with my children because I want gain more information, make a decision about what's best for my life or determine if I need to provide my children with options they may not experience because I work or stay at home, then debate can be good.
But if I am entering into a debate on the benefits of working outside the home or staying at home with my children in order to justify my choice, prove I'm a better mother or attempt to get everyone else to see that my way is the best way, then it may be time to consider why I don't feel supported in my choice, or ways I can feel more confident about it no matter what anyone else is doing.
If I am putting on a lavish birthday event and sharing it with the world because I am creative, enjoy parties, have the means and time to put one on and am expressing the love I have for my child via this outlet (and my child understands that is why I did it), then that's great.
But if I am putting on a lavish birthday event and sharing it with the world to fill my own needs (receive positive feedback, impress family and peers, prove my self-worth), then it may be time to consider other ways to fulfill my personal needs that don't involve my children.
If I can and want to spend $1,000 on a prom, that's my decision to make. But if I am doing it because my child demands it, or I want her to fit in, or because I think people will think she is special, then I may want to take a look at the messages I am sending and lessons I am teaching her.
If I develop and devote myself to a strong fitness routine because it makes me feel better, good. But if I am working out because I think that's what I need to do in order for people to admire me, or need other people to join my routine to affirm that my choice is the right one, then I may need to take a hard look as to why I am so externally driven.
Can't we end the mommy wars, no matter what the topic of the day happens to be? Isn't it time to focus on the intentions behind our own choices and the results those choices bring? Isn't it time to think about how we can support and encourage each other so that our children can learn to relate to their peers in the same way?
We hear more and more children are involved in cyber-bullying. I wonder where they are learning it from?
You can contact Jan at http://www.aplacetoturnto.org
Follow Jan Cloninger and Rosemary Strembicki, LCSW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aplacetoturnto