Recently, a friend confided in me that she was dreading a play date the next day. My friend’s son and the other mom’s kid were good friends, but my friend — we’ll call her Mel — was worried about spending hours with the other mom. Just exchanging playground pleasantries, Mel knew that the other mom was of a different age demographic, had a different family structure, and didn’t share the same beliefs toward COVID response.
In short, she was sure that spending two hours with this woman would be torture.
The next time I saw Mel I asked, knowingly, “how was that playdate?” And much to my surprise, she glowed. Although Mel and the other mom seemed to have nothing in common other than boys the same age, they thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company, so much that they had already agreed to get together again.
“Shows me not to jump to conclusions,” Mel said.
It’s a reminder that we can all use. The so-called mommy-wars have raged since the early days of blogging, with women pitted against each other over choices ranging from whether to breastfeed or not, how long to leave kids rear-facing, whether and how to work, and even whether playground rules like “don’t go up the slide” are silly or meant to be enforced.
The pandemic, however, has added a new intensity to the splits over parenting decisions. Suddenly, parents aren’t just making feeding decisions or car seat choices that may or may not keep their kids a tiny bit safer. Now, we were facing decisions that could have life-or-death consequences, like whether to socialize, vaccinate and wear masks.
“The choices that I make are going to be the difference between my family staying alive and dying,” Angela Garbes, author of the book Like a Mother, told Vox recently. That fear drove mothers even further away from people with different perspectives, practices or lifestyles, Garbes said.
Of course, social media makes it all worse. As we’re learned through politics, social media can be an echo chamber, where you’re surrounded by people who think like you do and can conveniently “mute” those with a different perspective. Mom groups are becoming more and more niche, letting moms connect with others who share their beliefs or identities, which can range from “belief in science” to “plus size moms” to “outdoor adventure moms” (just a few of the segmented Facebook groups I’ve been part of).
While it’s great to connect with others who are similar to you, being in such closed-off spaces can make people with different identities or beliefs seem unapproachable.
“You can really silo yourself into those different communities,” said Jenna Abetz, who has studied American motherhood as a professor of communication at the College of Charleston.
The lack of support for parents, and moms in particular, drives people even further apart, experts say. Without adequate daycare or healthcare options, there’s an idea that moms need to grab what they can, leaving other moms to figure it out on their own.
“We’re all competing,” Garbes said, feeling a “need to hoard resources because there’s not enough to go around.”
In reality, moms have more common ground than differences. Most of us would agree that policies like accessible early childhood education, paid family leave and affordable healthcare would help not only us as parents, but also the next generation. Coming together around these causes, Garbes and Abetz say, can help moms call a truce, and possibly even end the mommy wars for good.
“If American family life was better, if people had the support that they needed overall, we really wouldn’t care what other people were doing,” Garbes said.
And from there, we might be able to make more genuine friendships, just like Mel discovered.
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