Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sisters Are Doing It For...Themselves

It’s no surprise that when a woman becomes a mother she changes. Your body changes, your attitude changes, your pee schedule certainly changes but perhaps most interesting of all is how you suddenly develop super powers. You become adept at identifying the smell of your own child's poop in a crowded room, you wake in the night anticipating your imminent baby's cry and in defecting to large knickers over the floss string thongs, well, then super hero status is of no question. Yet perhaps her most honed talent, the one that sets her apart, is her newfound skill of stabbing other women in the back.

I had a hunch when I entered the minefield of motherhood that suddenly the idea of sisterhood was lost, trampled somewhere between conception and the announcement of impending baby. It became stomped on and replaced with women feeling forced to defend their lifestyles and actions. It typically starts with comments on your bump. Wow - you are huge!! How pregnant are you? They must have your date wrong! Or, you are tiny - Are you not eating? Why can't we just tell a pregnant lady - she looks perfect - just beautiful? A flood of what I thought was well meant advice would infiltrate the forty weeks - on best vitamins, best classes, natural childbirth, Lamaze or Bradley, midwife or doula, induce with pitocin or wait and do it 'naturally' with sex and bouncing balls and curry can be overwhelming. The advice comes flooding in - emails, voicemails, text messages and Facebook posts from people you haven't spoken to since you were 5 offering "Try having sex. It worked for me." Thank you, oh perfect stranger.

Then after you give birth comes the real fun - the piece de resistance - they just come out of nowhere - literally clawing out of the woodwork. Before they are five feet into the door and handing you a casserole dish comes the question - "So...are you breast or bottle feeding?" The disappointment shown with a head tilt and scrunched face when you say formula is paralyzing. You'd think they had just started with a urinary tract infection or something and before you can even explain why, (which you never need to do) they have moved on to telling you that it will be better 'next time.' Next time? What? My stitches are still healing and my hemorrhoids are still hanging out. Two words that I wished had used (and please excuse my vehemence) - Screw You! (And my anger is directed at one woman who made a snide comment in a park that will forever hurt). Shame on any woman to put pressure on another - particularly a new mum. I spent months hiding away from these breastfeeding nazis for fear of being confronted or shunned in public about my nursing failure. I had tried, dear God I had tried, and had more milk in me than a cow at market but it didn't work out and I will not now, not ever bother to defend myself again as I spent doing months after. It is no surprise that this perceived failure led me to fall down the rabbit hole into post partum depression.

And then for me the most recent line that I have noticed drawn in the sand by women 'Stay at home mums' vs. 'working mums'. Instead of supporting one another’s choices - because that is what feminism gave us - the choice - we instead make slight comments, questioning remarks. So, which bee hid in my bonnet today? Sadly, it's my own fault - my guilty pleasure is an online tabloid that spouts celebrity gossip. However, today my quick fix was not nearly juicy enough to avert my eyes from the juvenile journalism that makes up this crappy newspaper. Lesson learnt! There lay an article celebrating the 'Return to Housewifery' and after torturing myself through the whole thing I was left feeling inadequate and attacked. I shook myself out of the stupor realizing I had been subjected to something on the reading level of an 8 year old. Nevertheless, in an effort to perhaps make you laugh or cry or both... I thought I would share some with you some of this stellar commentary... Brace yourself.

Kate, who is due to give birth to her second child in six weeks, adds: 'The idea of leaving him with someone far less qualified than me while I go out to work doesn't make any sense. 'My education wasn't for nothing. I use what I learnt to make learning fun for him. We do so much together - swimming, football , tennis, playgroups, music groups and pre-school clubs. 'I love it at night, when we snuggle up and read books together. Paul agrees that I've made the right choice for all of us. 'We don't have many meals out or designer clothes, but none of that is important to me. We live in a two-bedroom cottage, and we would love a bigger house, but we'll have to wait." How wonderful! How delightful. Gosh, what a selfless woman you are. And to survive in a two bedroom cottage wearing non designer clothes?- Goodness me, what a sacrifice!

Another interviewee, Poppy Pickles, simply became a Saint in my eyes with this glorious assumption... 'Children have really lost out by being parceled up into day care. Surveys show that young children thrive through getting one-to-one care from a loving adult. Mums are best placed to do that.' English graduate Poppy Pickles is another highly- educated young mother who is adamant that she doesn't want anyone else looking after her children Daniel, five, and Rosanna, three. She says: 'I worked hard at school and I enjoyed university but I never saw myself as having a high-flying-career, leaving my children to be looked after by someone else. 'The best person to look after my children is me. They are both very secure, very loved children, and they take me entirely for granted - which is what I want. 'They know Mummy is always here, and always at home for them.'

Wow Poppy Pickles, (now there's a good working class name) who we later discover used to work at Sothebys - thanks for making us other mothers whose children have to go to day care feel really good about our 'choice'. Incidentally, those surveys that showed that "children thrive getting one-to-one care from a loving adult" - are they the same surveys that suggested that only children delivered naturally, exclusively breastfed and fed entirely organic produce would emerge as scholars and global leaders? Thought so.

Poppy who obviously feels she has a voice for the unheard generation adds: 'I don't feel as if feminism has passed me by - surely it is every woman's right to choose. I choose to be at home. (Absolutely right, Poppy, we do have a choice- now leave it at that) - "I want to see my children's first steps, hear their first words, and be there to take them to school and pick them up. Those tiny moments in the day are so valuable to children, and you can never get them back."

Oops, nope, instead of balancing your argument or throwing in a "but that's just my choice" you just had to throw a knife in the heart or back of every mother who doesn't follow your example or hasn't a choice in this. The article continued to voice the opinions of several other women - although none with such a perfect name. For me - it served only to reaffirm the thinking that when women become mothers they feel so under scrutiny and fearful of making a 'wrong' decision that they go on the attack to defend whatever 'choices' they make. Sadly, it ends up being something like - It's your choice - we all have a choice - except you are making the wrong choice. Even more frustrating is that it is just the women doing this to each other! We wonder why men don't struggle with the worry that their children will transfer the love that they have for them onto someone else during daycare. No - we claim that 'society puts such pressure on us' - but who in society? This is solely put on mothers shoulders...by other mothers.

If we choose to go work, the argument is that we are 'failing' our family. We might be championing ourselves or affording our family a better life but we can never quite escape the mud that is thrown our way by the homemakers, the domestic goddesses, the SAHM's that we are somehow denying our children and ourselves the most primal instinct. If we stay at home we are so fearful of appearing dumb or without drive by the 'career women' that we fight back claiming that our children will know their mother and as a mother we will never miss a thing. Why on earth are we so intent to pull each other down?

And then there are the mums that don't have a choice? That have to work for their families to survive. Whose belts are already tightened with both of them working and yes, they have crunched the numbers to know that 'one of us not working isn't a better financial choice than having a child in child care'.

One woman in the article actually addressed this - "it all comes down to having the right priorities. It is entirely possible to survive on one income - but you have to be prepared to live a far simpler life. 'We have very little money,' she says. We live on my husband's salary in a two-up, two-down, terraced house and there is nothing left over for any extras. None of us has had new clothes for ages. We drive one car, a Ford Focus, and we allow ourselves one meal out a month.'

adly, giving up new clothes or a trip to The Cheesecake Factory is often not enough and please don't suggest that our priorities are not in order. Food on the table and a roof over heads will always trump staying home, and that's not choice but necessity talking. However, the funny thing is - for the women that have no choice - they are perhaps least attacked. They are not a threat to their 'mother' friends and make no comment on their peers' choices. In fact, perhaps given that they have fewer friends to bemoan or compare themselves to at the end of the day they probably have more time spent focused on their children. Ah, it's a cruel irony.

We women fought so hard to have a choice and now we have to question each other by suggesting what exactly the right choice is. Of course I have no answer and even if i thought I did i wouldn't offer it to anyone else. That's because in all honestly I don't believe there is any one right choice. Not for the children. Not for the parents. Not for any of us. There is only what works for each of us.

So women, (and if I was Oprah I'd have you sign a petition) how about we try and do the following:

1) When a pregnant friend tells you that she plans to give birth naturally no matter what your thoughts - you respond positively, ignoring every urge to tell a horror story, or even worse throw a flippant remark like, "That's what we all say." Wacka wacka...

2) When you visit your friend that has just given birth, you do not need to ask her if she is nursing. If you stay more than an hour you will know and if you can't stay that long you probably don't need to know. If she is bottle feeding - NEVER tell her that it might be better next time. It might be but it might not and either way her nipples are never your concern.

3) When a new mother tells you that she is either going back to work or staying at home, you just say "good for you". That's it. If it's her choice it will make her make her feel good and if it is not her choice it will make her feel less anxious.

I've come to the conclusion that when offering unsolicited advice to a woman on motherhood, less truly is more. It's funny but the word sisterhood sounds so inclusive, yet motherhood can often feel terribly lonely. It shouldn't.

To view the article in full: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1294231/How-latest-generation-graduates-choosing-time-motherhood-high-flying-careers.html


  1. I will sign your petition! I think women do this in general all the time, but it's particularly painful when mothers do it to other mothers. It's clearly out of a sense of insecurity, and the feeling that the only way to buck yourself up is to put others down.

    I learned long ago after having my special needs kiddo to not judge anyone at all. We are all doing the best we can in whatever way we can. No one can know what goes on in another person's house. We all need to support each other on our loneliest of days and brightest of moments. Thanks for sharing

  2. BTW - it doesn't help when celebrity moms do the same thing, as Gwyneth Paltrow does here:

    (just my humble non-judgemental opinion of course...:-)

  3. I love you and your writing. I firmly believe that we are all just doing the best we can. The less judgement we pass the better we all will be. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts. You should write a book...or have your own column. :)

  4. Paula - you are a star. I am not a mother but I completely agree with everything you are saying. As you know, I think people should keep their mouths shut. I recall someone asking you if you were pregnant before anyone knew and we all know how I handled that. :) Miss you XX

  5. I have no clue why some women think that it is all right to tear others down. I feel like everything I've ever done with my kids has alienated someone -- I formula fed my son after a disastrous week of attempted nursing, I breast fed my daughter until the shocking age of 29 months, I worked full-time, now part-time, and am trying to conceive my third child via Intra-Uterine Insemination. There -- I think I've hit all of the hot buttons... Oh, wait -- I vaccinate and circumsize (well, not me, the medical peoples do that). We don't eat completely organic, but do avoid high fructose corn syrup. And my kids watch more TV than they should. Whew, that feels better!

  6. I to received a bounty of advice from others while pregnant and after...the ones that annoyed me most were from friends that don't have kids. I recall one friend instructing me to not pick up my whaling child as I will spoil her..that she must learn to fall asleep on her own..
    Excuse me!!!..A mother's instincts for "HER" child cannot be summed up in a book or from a non maternal friend or another mother for that matter.I felt judged very often and was even told by my pediatrician to get a back bone on this matter!!! Gasp!
    Women, I will never tell you how to raise your children, so please don't tell me how to raise mine! Umm Thanks!

  7. Right on NeuroticMom! :)
    I wonder how much of the condescension/judgment/advice/criticism comes from fear and the need for validation of their own choices? And since the proverbial wheel goes round and round, meaning they won't get the validation from other mothers, they offer their choices as the only true choice, imposing their beliefs on others in an attempt to FORCE validation?

    Just some circular reasoning. The bottom line is exactly what Paula says...
    Mind your own business.
    If it doesn't impact you directly, it's not your concern.
    Why the h*ll do you care what I do?
    Thank you Paula. You're a wonderful mother. You only need to see the joy and love in your daughter's eyes to know it.

  8. Paula,
    This is amazing!I get just as frustrated with the division that has become womanhood. Imagine what we could do if we pooled our energy into positive instead of ripping at the efforts of other women. I think like you do...that women are working to "defend" their choices, but I really think that if you are getting defensive it is because you are not sure about your choice in the first place. I love your writing and your content, and I want to try to read your stuff more consistently. What you write, makes me better!

  9. All the unsolicited advice has been completely overwhelming to me. As if the self-doubt and mommy guilt isn't enough to drown a girl, we have to hear it from voices outside of our own heads too? One thing I started to notice, though--a lot of people who offered advice most forcefully were the ones who were the most defensive about their choices. I think it might be a reaction to the guilt or self-doubt they're feeling in themselves.
    Working moms aren't alone in being attacked. Stay-at-home moms also get lots and lots of guilt from other women about their choice. I get the question regularly "So, when are you going back to work?" as if I'm not working being at home with my daughter. Lots of my college and grad school friends have insinuated that I'm wasting my talent and education. I think some of those comments and attitudes might be why those moms in the article sounded so forceful-- they just feel defensive. YOu're so right-- we need to stop attacking each other and just offer support and love for what is invariably the hardest job in the world (and some of us still have multiple jobs!)

  10. I'm still waiting for any person to go up to a microphone in adulthood and explain that he or she was bottle fed or breast fed and then go on to explain how that led to X,Y, Z in their lives...I just don't get the whole debate at all! Breast feed if you want to - use formula if you want to (thanks to science - it's now possible!)...I'm not sure why people feel the need to impose so much opinion into each other's lives!

    Well written Paula!


  11. Paula,
    A friend of mine posted this on FB today and I found it applicable. Enjoy...

    "If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, acting lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which
    way, that's perfectly valid - but don't go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to
    believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the... world, change yourself." —

    Tom Robbins

  12. Nothing has changed from when I was a young mother, many, many years ago. The guilt of staying at home, and not using your education, and then the guilt of going out to work, and other people bringing up your children. You know ladies, breast fed, bottle fed, nursery or home, they all essentially end up the same at 21 years! They all go through exactly the same stages, and they all know that East, West, Mum is Best!!!!Ladies, you are all doing a fantastic job.

  13. I agree- motherhood shouldn't feel lonely. I thought the comments and questions would stop once my daughter got a little older. Nope! Just different kinds of questions.

  14. You're preaching to the choir, sister! I've written about the politics of parenting, and believe that we should celebrate that we have choices - not try to dictate to other women which choices they should make. Great article.

  15. I absolutely 100% agree with you! It's like the day you concieve you are automatically thrust under a microscope and are up fir judgement, unsolicited advice and are made to feel like shat for anything. I never in my wildest dreams knew how women could really be...
    I am coming from The Girl Next Door ;)

  16. Women suck and that's the bottom line. We are jealous and petty and I think more competitive than men and it is so sad. SO sad. If women would just all realize that we are all human...

    I can't stand all of the BS from women which is why I have more men friends!


Go on...say something.