Monday, March 16, 2009

A Thought about the Mommy Wars

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

Lisa Belkin of Motherlode, the parenting blog at The New York Times, has a post today about how breastfeeding supposedly isn't the end-all be-all in infant nutrition it has been touted to be. In her post, Belkin quotes author Hanna Rosin, who has an article coming out challenging some of the science behind the benefits of breastfeeding.

Reading the quotations from Rosin's article, I was struck by how, well, grumpy she is. For example:

On learning that the findings that show a correlation between formula-fed babies and future obesity are "inconsistent" Rosin writes:

Inconsistent? There I was, sitting half-naked in public for the tenth time that day, the hundredth time that month, the millionth time in my life — and the associations were inconsistent?

On the career-related trade-offs nursing mothers have to make in order to breastfeed:

It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way.

On the biological fact that women are the only ones in the relationship equipped to actually nurse the baby:

. . . I was propped up in bed for the second time that night with my new baby (note the my). My husband acknowledged the ripple in the nighttime peace with a grunt, and that’s about it. And why should he do more? There’s no use in both of us being a wreck in the morning. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to seethe.

I have no wish to start breastfeeding vs. formula battle here on this blog. I have nursed three babies and I'm all for breastfeeding, even if the inverse correlation (Note! correlation and causation--NOT the same thing, btw!) between nursing and obesity is "inconsistent." I have friends who have exclusively nursed, some who have exclusively formula-fed, some who did a bit of each.

How is it that we were able to remain friends despite our differences?

I'd like to point out something critical that is often overlooked when people think about, write about, or personally engage in the so-called Mommy Wars. Mommies (and Daddies) who have not aligned their values properly--selfishly--get grumpy and defensive when they are challenged.

Which brings me to Amy's recent post on Selfish Parenting. It's a good post so you should go read it right now. Back? K.

Parenting, just like any enormous human endeavor, requires vast amounts of time and effort to do it properly. It requires so much time and effort that you will be unable to choose to do certain other things for a good chunk of time. In economics, this is known as an opportunity cost.

When you have chosen to become a parent for selfish reasons, because you really, really want to, then you will see the other things that you can't do as an acceptable trade-off. If you haven't really thought through your values, or if you allow yourself to be pressured by what you believe others (aka "society") would have you do, you'll see those other things you traded off in order to become a parent as sacrificed values. And you'll get grumpy because sacrificing values is something to get grumpy about.

When I was pregnant with Ryan, I knew I was going to breastfeed for at least a year. But I also knew I was going to resume my career at the end of that year. When he was about 9 months, I realized several things all at once: that I didn't want to give up being a full-time parent if I didn't have to; that my career was less of a value to me than it had been; that most of the money I earned in my career would be sucked up by childcare expenses. Brendan and I had several long discussions and I chose to stay home full-time with my small child.

It hasn't always been an easy situation and there are certainly times when I miss not having a "real job" (ha ha!), but I'm happy with my decision because it's what I wanted to do. I chose a higher value over a lesser value. I was selfish about it. The decision was selfish for Brendan, too. And then we selfishly chose to have two more kids.

If I had REALLY wanted to go back to work and stayed home with my child instead, I would have been grumpy. If I had REALLY wanted to formula-feed but allowed myself to be guilted into breastfeeding because of the "Mommy Wars," then I would have been grumpy, and/or guilty if I had been unable pull off the nursing gig. If I had REALLY wanted to send my kids to school instead of keeping them home, then I would be grumpy about this homeschooling deal.

And if our circumstances changed and I needed to go back and earn a wage, I'd do it. Heartbreaking as it would be, I'd do it if we needed my income (after childcare!) to eat or pay our mortgage or gain some other higher value. While that situation would not be my ideal, it would not be a sacrifice; allowing our home to be repossessed would be sacrificial.

I guess what I'm saying is that I see so many women wrestle with these "Mommy War" issues--breast or bottle, disposable or cloth, stay-at-home or career--who end up feeling somewhat guilty about their choices. And there's absolutely no need for guilt if you have considered where your priorities are and chosen accordingly, chosen the things that will make you happiest.

If women were properly focused on achieving the values that are dear to them, then they'd have no time for such silliness. They wouldn't second-guess their decisions, even if someone else chose differently. They wouldn't accept unearned guilt for their choices either. And I suspect these silly "Mommy Wars" would disappear.

Anyway, reading that Motherlode article made me realize why I've never really become caught up in this battle. Because I'm happy about my choices; because I haven't sacrificed.

Besides, with the economy going the way it's been going lately and our needing a new roof on the cabin (don't get me started), I've got enough to be grumpy about already.

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