Mommy Wars, “Me-ternity” Leave, and American Desperation

Lately, I’ve been thinking the term “Mommy Wars” is a bit of a misnomer.

Sure, there’s a lot of in-group bickering going on about stuff like using formula vs. breastfeeding, staying at home vs. going back to work, and whether we should be allowed to skip vaccinations.

But the term “mommy wars” makes it seem like we wouldn’t have parenting debates in America at all, if it weren’t for these endless, tedious catfights… as though parenting is somehow only a woman’s problem and we women just refuse to sort it out.

And I don’t get it.

Yes, biology means women have to deal with pregnancy and childbirth, but there is so much more to parenthood than that.

Weren’t all of us children once? Don’t children also have fathers? Even if we don’t all choose to be parents, doesn’t someone need to do it for our society, not to mention the human race, to exist?

I don’t believe the parenting problems in our country are caused by a bunch a disagreeable moms, but by a growing us vs. them mentality in general. The real hostility, in my opinion, exists between parents vs. non-parents.

I’ve been on both sides of this debate. Before having kids, it used to annoy me to hear them screeching on planes, in grocery stores, and in public places. I used to wonder why the world seemed to revolve around kids and why parents didn’t keep them under better control.

I had lots of ideas about what kind of parent I’d be if I ever became one, the kinds of reasonable solutions I’d have for every conceivable problem. When my kids acted up in the grocery store, for example, I’d threaten to march them out and drive straight back home if they didn’t straighten up and fly right.

And these reasonable solutions ALWAYS worked, of course, because they were imaginary. Scripted perfectly in my head.

Since having kids, I’ve had the chance to try these perfect solutions and watch them completely bomb. I’ve experienced the mortification of having your child come unglued when your grocery cart is packed full and nothing seems to calm them down, not food nor comfort nor changing nor distraction…

I’ve felt the hostile stares and seen the rolling eyes and panicked because there was no easy way out. We have to eat and there’s no food at home. The cart is full and I can either ditch it mid-aisle or try to get through the line as fast as possible. Threatening to leave is meaningless because the kids are too young to care.

Now that I’ve had children, I can’t believe how naive I used to be and feel terrible about any hard stare I ever gave a struggling parent on a crowded plane or in a packed grocery line.

My perspective has changed as I’ve felt the waves of palpable hostility coming from non-parents everywhere. Life isn’t a zero-sum game, so how did we end up on opposite teams?

For example, the blog People I Want to Punch in the Throat recently ran a rant about People Who Treat Their Dogs Like Children that exploded the comments section.

I’m an animal lover myself, but understood the point she was making: you may love your dog very much, but taking care of a dog in no way actually approximates the enormous investments required by parenting. You can’t leave your kid in the backyard with food while you go out, for instance, or put them up in a kennel while you’re on vacation.

As you’d expect, the comment section blew up with angry dog parents defending their relationships, but what shocked me most was the nastiness spewed toward human kids. Children were repeatedly called snot-nosed brats, inferior to puppies. Parents were called selfish, narcissistic monsters overburdening the planet with their vile offspring.

One woman talked about how upset she was when her four-month-old Yorkie was ran over, saying she didn’t think any parents would be that upset.

Reading that, I wished I could reach straight through the computer to choke her out. I love animals and have bawled for weeks over the loss of a beloved pet, but if something happened to one of my children? I don’t know how I could go on at all.

How did things get so ugly?

Some lady recently wrote an article for the New York Post about how she thinks women should be entitled to “me-ternity” leave without having to have kids. In her amazingly self-centered piece, she complains about how needing to have margaritas with her buddy is somehow not considered as sympathetic a reason to leave work on time as needing to pick up your kid from daycare.

Cue the parent vs. non-parent commenting outrage, with an added bonus of a bunch of guys explaining why her ludicrous argument justifies paying women less in general. Also, the author’s bizarre assertion that only women should be entitled to this so-called “me-ternity” leave, which seemed to undercut anything potentially salvageable about her argument in the first place.

The sad thing is, this shouldn’t be an us vs. them issue. We’re cannibalizing ourselves with these kinds of arguments.

Anyone who has stayed up for nights on end caring for a child who is projectile-vomitting every fifteen minutes won’t appreciate someone whining about their margarita needs not being met in a timely-enough fashion, yet there’s a larger argument about American work-life balance that is valid.

We have the longest working hours and shortest vacation time of any industrialized nation. Many Americans struggle to work multiple jobs to keep food on the table while suffering the uncertainties of inadequate healthcare and employment protections. We’re even afraid of taking the relatively low amount of paid leave to which we’re entitled, because we could get laid off or overlooked for promotion for doing so.

It makes perfect sense for American workers to be angry, to demand a better quality of life and more personal time. We’re completely out of step with our counterparts across the world and we have every right to demand better.

But in a nation with the worst infant and maternity mortality rates and parental leave options in the developed world, aiming your hostility at parents is the wrong way to go.

Folks without kids? We parents are not your enemy. We’re on the same side, or should be.

So I, for one, am vowing to never use the term “mommy wars” again. This isn’t about a bunch of prima donnas bickering for entitlements within the ranks of some special interest group.

And this isn’t about me expecting you to pick up the slack when my kid is in the hospital.

This is about everyone having a decent quality of life in a wealthy country, about having compassion for each other instead of fighting tooth-and-claw in some Ayn Rand-inspired nightmare. About having higher expectations than being used up for our production values then tossed aside.

The problem is not how we’re inconveniencing employers by having offspring. The problem is that the convenience of CEO’s seems to be our nation’s only priority.

Not you. Not us.

 

 

 

 

25 Comments

    1. Yes, it’s not a good situation at all!

      I’ve mostly tried to avoid politics on my blog, but just couldn’t help it this time. Maybe it’s because we’re gearing up to elect a new president.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Or new idiot as it seems to be going lol
        I was looking at what the UK provide and we can’t complain really. But considering the taxes you all pay you would expect better.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s bad. We have no federally guaranteed maternity leave, for example, and couldn’t pass a bill protecting women from strenuous tasks during pregnancy.

          It’s part of the larger lack of benefits though. High hours, little vacation time, etc. Charts always put us closer to developing countries than our Euro counterparts and we have higher rates of violence, mental illness, and homelessness too.

          I think people here are too isolated to realize how out of step we are? I don’t know.

          New idiot to be certain, haha. This could well be a very dramatic election.

          Like

    1. It’s very important, I agree!

      I just looked it up and you have more guaranteed maternity leave in India than we do.

      Here, it depends on the employer and whether the employee has built up leave and whether they’re allowed to use it. Many moms go straight back to work within days or end up leaving their jobs. I think that’s terrible… Bad for the mother’s health and baby’s emotional development 😦

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Though honestly, I think I sat on the Meternity article for a a week before I was calm enough to be reasonable.

      It seemed to embody so many of the heinous non-parent attitudes we parents deal with. I was livid.

      But then, what good does it do to keep fighting back and forth? It just polarizes everyone. I thought if we looked at this issue of needing a better quality of life apart from work obligations, outside of the parent vs non parent deal… it was less horrible.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Very well written/worded! I’m in the “childless” category right now and will definitely think twice the next time I feel myself getting angry when a child won’t stop screaming. Very interesting perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 🙂

      I’ve been on both sides of this, so I understand. Hearing kids scream was like nails on a chalkboard and I’d get very frustrated by it.

      But now that I’m in the trenches, I see it differently. Yes, there are bad parents, of course, but often they are doing everything they can and are mortified by the situation.

      I just want to hug anyone sympathetic at a time like this 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I would have loved to have read the comments from that dogs vs kids argument. That had to be entertaining. Btw, I have left a shopping cart full of groceries and walked out of the supermarket. I found it very effective. Eventually the kids learned not to throw a fit in stores and it decreased my blood pressure immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man, they’re still out there if you want to read it. Prepare to want to bang your head against the wall repeatedly, though

      You’ve actually done that? And it worked??

      I’ve always been afraid the kids wouldn’t care and the grocery employees would have to put all my stuff back. Maybe it would cause them less grief in the long run, though.

      I did solve the problem once in a crowded Costco by copying what my daughter was doing… yelling and rolling on the floor kicking. Most bystanders were amused but my daughter was so mortified, she quit throwing her fit.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s good to know. I’ll have to give it a shot sometime and see if it helps.

          Brontë is mostly past all that now, but we’re into Bridget fit territory. She’s two and completely in the terrorist phase.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on kirstwrites and commented:
    Did you read that whole “me-ternity” thing recently? Apparently child-free people are under the impression that mums spend maternity leave meditating, writing novels etc. I could think of a lot of responses to that, but this is probably the best one!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi-my name is Katie…I’ve become a friend of kirstwrites, and she reblogged you so got to read this…I am 61, Canadian, a mother of four and grandmother of eight…I also have had the privilege of being a dog owner to some very beautiful border collies…all passed on now…so I wanted you to know a bit about my background first, before commenting…this blog was excellent..really well done..so well, in fact I’ve just spent the last 30 mns. getting my outrage down from blasting level because of what ‘non parents’ think of kids in grocery stores (WTH? Even if you never have or had kid, YOU were kid once!Get with the program!)…had my share of kids and grandkids ‘creating’ in a store..infants can no more help their cries than they can help their body functions..Geez! Felt so bad about the projectile vomitting thing..sounded like 1st hand experience for you…had TWO of those myself…felt it all over again like it was just yesterday, trying to cope with an infant and a toddler a full grocery cart (shopping doesn’t do itself anymore than laundry!) and people staring you down with looks that could kill. I remember one person saying if I couldn’t control my kid (teething time), I should get out of line…and yes, I was frustrated, tired and had tried everything…I told them I’d be glad to do so if they put my cart through and paid for it, otherwise THEY could go to another line! Then there was the comment from my sister’s friend, self-invited to my home because she was ‘looking for’ my sister(small town thinking and not a mom)–something to the effect that I’d already had a kid, so I SHOULD know what I was doing now..OK….!st kid was a son, hyperactive; 2nd kid was a daughter, completely docile, but chose that moment to throw up her bottle..the uninvited lady got nailed with some of it…like you can know when that’s going to happen..sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t…you pray a lot that it won’t try every prescribed idea to help the baby because you love her and you don’t need the pain…hers or yours! What really blew my mind in that circumstance was NO understanding of boy vs. girl, active vs. passive, never mind individuality! The thing about dog owners had me about screaming (in my head) ! I had dogs in my life for 17 yrs. and loved them so much…knew them for the blessing they were, but they were not children…hell’s bells, what decent parent would just open the door mid winter and let their kid go for a run and an pee in the snow?!? Get a grip people, please! A dog at six months old, feeds itself, cleans itself from head to foot, even between its pads and toenails…and what can a six month old baby do? NONE of the above! From the two yr old mark a dog can go 24-48 hrs. without food, is totally self ‘pottie’ trained, can be left alone for hours with no issue…a 2 yr old child can’t be left in an adjoining room for five minutes! Most mature dogs (4-6yrs) can go anywhere, injest anything, and not suffer much if what they ate wasn’t hygienic…kindegartners…are you kidding me? That’s about the time you are finding out about things like, they’re allergic to peanuts or any product with same in it…red dye #4 and yellow dye#6 (found in ketchup and mustard), etc. and you go nuts reading the ingredients of every product that you’ve taken for granted up to that point because you never had allergies and you can’t test for some ie. colouring in food! Your sum up at the end was perfect..when you get down to it, we shouldn’t be the enemy…a little compassion, a little understanding and a little patience is all it takes…two seconds out of anyone’s life to do one or all of these things would change much…as my granddaughter would have it…”just sayin”. Katie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Katie!

      Thank you for reading and thank you so much for your kind words. I have two daughters (4 and 2) and so I’ve been going through these issues for the past few years. Before I had kids, I had NO idea how rough parenting could be.

      I blame television, haha. On TV, issues are simple and wrap up within thirty minutes, so it’s hard to get across the real wear-and-tear of infancy and toddlerhood. I figured other parents must be feeling these frustrations and maybe I could tap into them, or help inspire some compassion in non-parents for parents whose children are having a public meltdown.

      What’s tough is we all need to eat, we sometimes need to fly on planes, and children can be unpredictable. Sometimes they panic in unfamiliar environments, but you can’t train them how to act in public if you never go in public, right

      It can feel like children are unwelcome in public spaces sometimes, which is frustrating because we were all children once and kids need to be socialized. Dogs and cats “grow up” much faster.

      Good for you for sticking up for yourself in the grocery store! It’s painful to watch people be so impatient with struggling parents. Of course the parents are mortified by their screaming children and are doing the best they can. They are already stressed to their limits and a nasty comment is the last thing they need at a moment like that.

      Have you heard about the Nordstrom Rack incident that turned into a fight in Colma? It’s here: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/11/06/colma-shopper-attacked-after-telling-mom-to-calm-down-child-throwing-tantrum-natalie-bree-hajek-richardson-nordstrom-rack-punched-assault/

      Apparently, some woman told a struggling mom to make her kid shut up and that she should’ve never become a mother before following her into the parking lot, screaming at her. The mom eventually lost it and punched her.

      I don’t condone violence and don’t think the woman should’ve been punched, but I can understand how it happened. The lady was throwing gasoline on an already tense situation.

      You see so many rants these days about how parents are doing a terrible job because they need to teach kids to behave, how kids shouldn’t be allowed in grocery stores or in restaurants or on planes, that it makes a tough job feel that much harder. My four year old is very well-behaved now, but it took lots of time and patience to get her here.

      On the other hand, a little compassion at a time like this goes a long way. One time, my daughter threw a TWO HOUR fit in the parking garage before her sister’s doctor appointment and I was doing my best to manage it. A woman walked by, squeezed my shoulder, and told me to keep it up, that I was doing a good job. I wanted to hug her and cry! It picked up my spirits to see the tantrum through and it never happened again.

      Yes, the projectile vomiting sickness happened a week before I wrote the post! Both girls were sick and my husband and I were exhausted from staying up for nights on end. It was the absolute worst time to read a post about “dog parents.”

      Like you, I’m also a huge animal lover. I think the reason parents get frustrated with the “fur baby” talk is that it feels like it makes light of what we have to go through, that people may not realize the amount of time and energy a child requires because they equate it to having a puppy.

      Puppies of course, potty-train quickly. You don’t find yourself stuck in public with a dog desperate to reach a bathroom, find a long line, and are stuck with soiled clothes and a screaming, humiliated dog.

      Dogs can be trained to behave relatively easily. You can leave your dog in the backyard when you go out to dinner instead of having to manage tantrums in a restaurant. You don’t get daycare fines from picking up your puppy late from work because you don’t have to keep doggies in daycare… You don’t have to buy your dog a car or save up for dog college or worry about your dogs hooking up with tattooed motorcycle riders and getting knocked up, lol.

      Which is not to say dogs aren’t fantastic, but it feels like people might have more compassion for parents if they realized how much tougher it is than having a pet. Maybe they wouldn’t get so upset about maternity leave, or parents who need to take care of sick children, or parents struggling to deal with chaotic kids in public.

      And yes, they are all different! My four year old is well-behaved, now, but her two year old sister is putting us through the ringer. Even if you are experienced, you can’t wave a magic wand and stop kids from having tantrums… it takes time.

      My hat is off to you for raising FOUR children. Great job! My hands are full with two and I’m impressed by anyone who can handle more. 🙂

      And congratulations on your eight grandchildren! That’s wonderful.
      -Erin

      Liked by 1 person

  5. THIS! I love your writing style and what you are saying hits home. We are lucky in Canada to have paid maternity leave and insurance benefits but the parent vs non-parent war is the same. We are a culture that looks at kids as an inconvenience. That’s why we exclude them from our most important events like weddings and funerals. Other cultures celebrate children and parents. And that’s why there is a me versus them mentality

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, thank you so much and thanks for reading! I know you have much better maternity leave options up there (most places do) as well as universal healthcare, which makes many of us envious.

      I’m sad to hear there is still a culture war between parents and non-parents, though. I suppose I’d always pictured that if parenting was more respected by the economic system, social respect would follow. I wonder how people can bridge this gap.

      Hmm, kids are excluded from weddings? That’s unusual over here, though it happens. I think very young kids are sometimes not brought to funerals, but not as a rule… now I’m wondering.

      Like

      1. That’s ann interesting point you make about the economic system not respecting parenting and the society following suit. If you don’t allow women to take time off to tend for their young ones, you are legitimizing society’s views. You are creating the us versus them. I think generally kids from the immediate family would be there but a lot people expicitly invite adults only. But I meant that our culture generally frowns upon children’s presence in certain settings while in other cultures they are celebrated.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s a circular problem where people don’t want kids in public places because they misbehave, but kids don’t learn how to act in public places without being in them. I’ve known kids who never even grew up eating dinner with adults… they had meals in the kitchen. Later (as adults) they had terrible table manners because they never learned how to behave.

          I wish our culture celebrated the presence of children too! I wonder what it does to our psychology to be scowled at while growing up.

          Like

          1. Yes and that’s horrifying that kids never eat with adults! May be it can change an individual at a time? Raise our kids to know how to act in public and people will like being around them? I’ve been blessed with a smart, well behaved and too old for her years child and people always tell me how much they usually don’t like kids but enjoy hanging out with her!

            Liked by 1 person

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