When Judging Comes Back to Bite You
The circularity of those who judge the judgmental is a delicious irony that has long amused me. To be clear, yes, I'm judging those who judge the judgmental, but there is a significant difference in the judgment I'm making and that of the judges of the judgers. (Follow that?)
The judges I'm referring to are those who single out people who make judgments, claiming it's wrong to be judgmental — seemingly not realizing they are doing the same thing they are claiming is wrong. I, on the other hand, have no problem with judgment. It's necessary and good (when used appropriately). And my judgment is pointing out the hypocrisy of being judgmental while decrying others who are being judgmental, merely for being judgmental.
In other words, if you think it's wrong to be judgmental, you'd better stop noticing when other people do it and you'd better shut up about it, lest you be exposed.
The other day a friend and fellow author, Angie Gardner, lead me to a post that went wrong from the get-go. The post — titled “End the Mommy Wars” — started out with a photo saying “Let's love more and judge less.” It featured multiple photos of women holding signs, describing what women are supposed to stop judging each other about.
In other words, the author wrote an entire post judging people for making judgments.
Top that off with the fact that the post has soft-peddled every “controversial” issue into an opinion-based statement that makes any kind of discussion almost meaningless. I mean is there anything to argue with when someone says, “I felt amazing after having my baby!”
Are there really women who shout back, “Liar! You felt awful! We all do! No exceptions! Admit it!”? I doubt it. Instead women who experience postpartum depression might hear, “That's not a real condition.” So the arguments usually begin because someone makes an explicit statement or strong implication about what someone else ought to be doing. Not when women give the fluffy, happy, watch-me-carefully-and-thoughtfully-choose-the-very-best-for-my-family statements shown in most of the photos.
Judging Is Essential
Next up came this cozy sounding but nonsensical tidbit:
Who cares if some moms choose to homeschool vs. use public schools or if some moms breastfeed and others don’t or if some moms let their kids watch more TV than others? The only choices we have control over are our own. What another mom chooses is her decision – who are we to judge that? And when you really think about it – what’s the point? It feels so much better to treat people kindly with loving intentions than to go straight to a place of judgment. We should be supporting women’s decisions instead of critiquing them and making snap judgments based off our limited knowledge of other people’s situations.
Now don't get me wrong. Hating on everyone for every choice they make isn't the goal in life or mothering. Being kind, loving, and compassionate are crucial. I also agree that “to go straight to a place of judgment” isn't sound — if by that she means going straight to a decision that another woman is wrong/stupid/lazy for a decision just because it's not the same as my decision.
But most reasonably intelligent women I know don't do that and discernment — meaning the ability to make sound decisions based on relevant facts — doesn't occur in a vacuum. Discernment, by definition, is judgment. We can't make good choices unless we've analyze what a “good choice” is, and that only occurs by also judging what a bad choice is. The one doesn't exist without the other. (You know, that opposition in all things deal.)
In case you're confused about all the “don't judge” chatter, remember our scriptures and general leaders don't tell us not to judge, they tell us not to judge unrighteously and they tell us not to pretend we can impose (or divine) final judgment.
If we, as women, really want to be empowered, we should spend more time thinking, discerning, and acting on our decisions. Not telling other women to just quiet down and keep sweet so we can all go to our happy places.
No, We Should Not Support Women's Decisions
I'm stunned by the explicit declaration that women “should be supporting women's decisions.” Doesn't this depend entirely, 100%, unequivocally on the specific decision we are discussing? The idea that mothers should ipso facto “support” other mothers just because they are other mothers is just harmful nonsense.
We should support other women's decisions only when they are sound and good. And in order to determine whether they are sound and good, we have to judge.
Mommy Wars Redux
Objection to the “mommy wars” needs a redirection. Judging isn't the problem. If we think, we judge. We have to judge. We want to judge. We can't choose a breakfast cereal without judging.
Supporting other women's decisions for the sake of holding hands and singing kumbaya makes no sense. The real debate in the mommy wars is to decide what issues are worth warring over. And some are.
As a homeschooler of 19 years, yea, I get really tired of stupid arguments against homeshooling made by women (and men) who've never actually thought through the logic of their objections. But that's not to say that the debate isn't worthwhile. Education is important. It's critical. So, of course, people have strong opinions about it and even defend their choices. Would you demand all women have a lassai faire attitude toward education just so we can all smile and sip our (herbal) tea?
To me the real questions about the mommy wars are:
- Which of the items mothers debate about are critical, consequential, and worth debating?
- Are we presenting sound, logical ideas to support our positions?
- Are we maintaining civility and avoiding ad hominem?
Arguments of the Mommy Wars
With all that in mind I'll add my thoughts below to the specific items listed in the photo blog. For the most part, I intend to discuss merely the veracity of debating the particular topics addressed. I'll add my own opinions when I can't help myself.
For the record, I'm going to ignore the soft “I language” used in the photo blog and try to get to the heart of the debate. As I said above, in my experience, few arguments arise from people merely saying what they choose to do. It's only when that choice is presented in contradistinction to the other possible choices as being universally better that the debates arise. So I'm going to try to address what the real debates — or “wars” — are really about.
Please add your thoughts, ideas, and issues in the comments. Tell us which items you think are “worth fighting for” and about which we should “all just get along.”
I felt amazing after having my baby vs. I had postpartum depression
Maybe I'm out of the loop. I haven't had a baby since 2003. But I've never heard people fighting about this.
I know people who bounce right back and don't miss a beat after giving birth and I know a woman so consumed by postpartum depression that she was hospitalized and nearly catatonic. So I've seen all the extremes, but I'm unsure what the debate would be about on this issue.
I lost all my pregnancy weight vs. I'm still working on losing the baby weight
Except for the silly (judgement) Maria Kang — who implies that she does not recognize that bodies are very complex and different and that even working hard won't always give identical results — I haven't heard much of this supposed “mommy war” between mommies themselves. Most of the dribble comes out of general celebrity liposuction discussions and female objectification that exists within and without pregnancy.
Has your experience differed markedly? Do you hear skinny moms telling fat moms they are lazy slobs? Do you hear fat moms telling skinny moms they are neglectful? Is this typical?
My excuse? I've been pregnant 11 times from the time I was 23 to 39 (not a pitiful three times, all before age 31), have struggled with a sluggish metabolism my whole life, and still worked by backside off.
I only used disposable diapers vs. I only used cloth diapers
Ah, an argument I've actually heard of!
The crux of this argument seems mostly based on environmental concerns. Some people think the earth needs saving and some of those think cloth diapers will save it. If they're right, then isn't this a discussion worth having? I mean if we're all going to burn up in a fiery man-made abyss due to disposable diapers, then why would you get your Pampers in a bunch about debating the issue?
Sure, you can disagree. (I do.) But does it make sense to tell people the issue is not worth discussing?
I give my children mostly organic food vs. I let my children eat fast food
One of my blogging clients is a food blogger. More specifically, she's a school lunch reform blogger. Until she hired me, I honestly had no idea how hot the topic was and how politically polarized it could be.
Being the libertarianesque person I am, I think school lunch is a crock that should be abolished. If not that, at very least, can't we just say, “Hey, we have this minimal, subsidized, institutional lunch program going on. If you don't like what we serve, bring your own lunch!”
But on the issue of what we personally feed our kids in our own homes, don't we all agree that what we put into our bodies matters? And, if it does, then why shouldn't this be a point of discussion?
Must we say, “Ladies, ladies, stop arguing about food choices and hug each other!” Instead, let's allow women to think and discuss. For example:
- What is a good cost/benefit analysis of organic food vs. non-organic? (What is the best use of resources?)
- What is the basis for a healthy diet? (The government changes their criteria every few years and the first lady's inconsistency in food rhetoric/implementation isn't a good model.)
- How often can one eat fast food and be healthy? (Which fast foods are actually unhealthy and which are not?)
- What claims in food health are politically motivated or otherwise rooted in power structure? (Can we trust what we read?)
I chose to have a large family vs. I chose to have one child
Multiply and replenish the earth. There is it. The scripture that causes all this alarm.
This is not a command that the LDS church has rescinded, nor is it one that we've deemed (on a general level, anyway) to be an out-of-date artifact. It's still part of the deal for the Mormon folk.
The specifics from a Mormon view, however, are also clearly defined within the stewardship of the couple in question, not the general public.
It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.
Almost never, then, are we in a position to debate whether or not someone else should be having more kids. (Or…ahem…less.)
When it comes to the general principle, however, it's certainly reasonable to discuss the dynamics, pros and cons, and even practical applications. And apparently it was important enough to God that he brought it up.
I let my baby (reasonably) cry-it-out vs. I never let my baby cry-it-out
I actually don't believe anyone who claims the latter position. Even if unintentionally, I don't think there's a kid on the planet that hasn't cried until they stopped on their own at some point, for some reason or another. (Mom in the shower, baby with dad who couldn't breastfeed on demand?)
Assuming that to be true, all kids actually live on a continuum between utter neglect and near 24/7 immediate attention to all needs. We felt, generally speaking, that kids cry because they need something and so if they were crying we'd try to figure out what they needed. It seems to me most responsible parents don't vary too much either way from that.
What experiences do you have on this topic that causes intense debate?
I couldn't wait to get back to work vs. I wish my maternity leave had been longer
Why would you ever want to broadcast to the world that you were chomping at the bit to get away from your baby so you could finally get back to the important, valuable, rewarding stuff in your cubicle?
To be clear, I don't really care about how you feel. Feel however you want. I know many people really would rather fill out insurance claims or clean dental plaque or book cruises than deal with children. But do you really want your baby to hear how (not) cherished she was? Because, you know, paperwork and year end bonuses.
And, no, I don't care if you're the leader of the free world. (You're not.) And I don't care if you're a super model or a broadway star. Why would any woman want her child to feel that she came in no more than a distant second to the sacred, self-actualizing job?
Cindy, you were super duper cute and all, but I had this awesome movie to shoot on location in France. I'm sure you understand that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. And, anyway, you have birthdays every single year!
P.S. If you're going to get your knickers in a twist over this section, at least respond to what I actually wrote, not to what you're projecting on me. Deal?
I co-sleep with my child vs. My child sleeps in her own room
- Suffocating your baby
- Lack of private time with spouse
- Neglecting your babies needs
- According the the CDC, “overlaying” (when a person who is sleeping with a child rolls onto the child and unintentionally smothers the child) is the major cause of child suffocation. Legitimate concern.
- According to co-sleeping friends, co-sleeping can interfere with intimacy and “pillow talk” with spouse. Legitimate concern.
- Logic dictates that a baby sleeping down the hall or up the stairs is more likely to be distressed for longer than one who is seven inches from your face. Legitimate concern.
Who's to say that mothers shouldn't discuss the pros and cons of various sleeping arrangements? Are these concerns so inconsequential that we should expect parents to ignore them for the sake of keeping peace?
My family is not religious vs. I'm raising my children with religion
As members of the church who believe that religion is critical for salvation, I'd guess most Mormons think this issue is more than just a little important.
Of course, many of us would be uncomfortable with the term “war” used to describe our efforts and, as a church, we tend to take the soft sell approach to spreading the gospel. But that hardly means we must all just cheerfully go along with the notion that whether families have religion or not, is really no big deal.
I'd file this issue under definitely worth discussing.
I'm breastfeeding my two-year-old vs. I chose to formula feed from the start
Is “breast the best”? Probably. I mean given that breast milk was actually designed to feed infant humans, reaching that conclusion doesn't require much imagination. But is it so much bestness that it's worth beating people up over?
I was adopted nearly 50 years ago, so even if my mother had been a breast-feeding advocate (which wasn't a common thing back in the day), it would have been a tough row for her to hoe. I'm still here in spite of the fact that I never learned to latch on properly.
I have six kids and although I nursed all of them a little, I had tremendous trouble doing so. Only one of my children was breastfed exclusively and for a significant (to me) period of time (seven months).
Generally speaking, I don't care what people do because I don't think the method of feeding is terribly important and I don't think the difference is generally so significant that it's worth the guilt trip. Some breastfeeding advocates, however, are so adamant about their position, they are harmful to mothers.
When I was trying and trying and trying to breastfeed I did everything I could to succeed. I read and watched videos and took a class in the hospital. But the process still felt like a hot iron was being pressed on my chest. I was a bloody, crying mess and dreaded the every excruciating session.
As a two-time breastfeeding failure with my third baby starving, I called La Leche Leaugue. I got a scolding. They told me (on the phone) that I was (obviously) doing it wrong. They told me the baby was (obviously) latching incorrectly and I was (obviously) causing the problem. They told me if I had correct technique, obviously, it wouldn't be painful and the baby wouldn't have problems. I told them I was sure that wasn't the case because I'd watched so many videos and seen so many pictures and watched for all the problem signs. I'd had the nurses in the hospital make sure it was right. But they were sure I was just an idiot who could only be helped by an in-home visit from an “expert.”
They sent a woman to my home. Total loser mom who needs a helper to do normal mom stuff. But, hey, it was for the best, right? It was for my baby.
She watched me getting the baby started — as I cried in pain. Oh, yea, you are doing it right…I guess.
Well, you're just too fair-skinned. Sometimes redheads are just too fair.
No, I'm not kidding. Yes, it was an official La Leche League International representative in Palm Beach County, Florida, in 1993. Yes, it happened. And then she left.
Four years later with baby #4, I did not call La Leche League. I called a “lactation consultant.” She was an RN who — if I remember correctly — ran a business called The Breastfeeding Boutique. She came to my hospital room and in about 90 seconds told me I was “dry nursing,” a term I had never heard in all the books/videos/presentations/years/visits/scoldings. She explained it as the situation when the mother doesn't produce enough colostrum to satisfy the baby. So the baby nurses nearly 24/7 until the milk comes in because the baby's getting nothing. (This occurred with my first three babies.) By the time the milk finally comes in, you're such a cracked, scabby mess that if you haven't already given up, the engorgement and other problems will put you over the edge.
Sounded about right to me.
The nurse got me some surgical tubing , surgical tape, a syringe, and a bottle of glucose water. She filled the syringe with the water, attached the tubing to the syringe, tucked the syringe under my bra strap, and taped the open end of the tubing to my breast, right near the nipple. Then I nursed the baby again with the little tube sticking into the corner of her mouth.
Baby fills her tummy in a reasonable time, mommy's body still works toward producing milk without massive pain.
Unfortunately the magical technique did not work with babies #5 and #6. I have no idea why, it just never resolved. I already knew that breastfeeding isn't the only way to start out healthy, happy adults. But what I did learn is that every mother and baby combination is different and so it's hard to predict what will work with whom.
What are we arguing about, again?
I had a natural home birth vs. I scheduled my C-section
Well, if you scheduled a C-section, then you are obviously a terrible, terrible — did I mention terrible? — mother. If you were actually a caring, conscientious mother you would have stayed home and had your high risk baby in a blow up pool of warm water in the living room with all the siblings and in-laws — plus available neighbors and free-range farm animals — basking in the glow of you screaming your guts out while your husband played soothing rhythms on his marimba whilst simultaneously wiping your brow with lavender oil.
Put your dukes up, I'm ready to jump in on this.
OK, really, I'm not. Yes, I tried natural child birth. Once. With our first baby. For about 13 hours. After that I begged and pleaded for an epidural. Since then, I prefer to get the epidural at about week 17 of the pregnancy and then just wait it out lying on my side.
If you want to have your baby at home and it's reasonably safe (which would be most of the time), then go for it. If you prefer to take advantage of modern medical procedures to aid you on your way, then go for it. I don't really care and I don't think most people care.
Yes, there are a few evangelists on the natural side (the ones who talk about “real women” and all that) and there are those who make fun of the evangelists on the natural side (like Dr. Judd (who wasn't my doctor but, unfortunately was on call when I gave birth to #2) who said, “I have no sympathy for women who don't make use of modern medicine.” Ahem.).
For the most part, in my experience, most people are happy to let others do it the way that makes most sense to them. Obviously, both methods have pros and cons. In my mind, none of the arguments are worth evangelizing over.
Do you try to persuade others to your method of birthing?
I work outside of the home vs. I am a stay-at-home mom
Now here's the big one. The. Big. One.
We all know the prophetic statements. We all know the exceptions. We all know the punch and counter-punch on this issue.
I am a stay-at-home mom. I did it expressly because President Benson said I should (when I was just a few months pregnant with my first). I did it even though we were the exceptions. (I was just about to graduate, Sam was in grad school, we were dirt poor, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.) I didn't have a testimony of the counsel at that time. In fact, it made me furious. Within a few weeks of her birth, however, I gained one. Experience changes people.
Still, I'm not convinced that all women must stay home. Mostly, I'm convinced someone must stay home.
[Yes, I know there are still exceptions. I know there are the widowed and people who've been deserted. I do. So can we just agree to understand that I'm not talking about the exception? Can we also agree that most people (no matter how much they'd like to be) aren't exceptions because otherwise it's not, by definition, an exception?]
Children are the issue. Not self-fulfillment. Not self-actualization. Not recognition. Not “me time.” Not accolades. Not position. Not wealth. Not comfort. Not preference.
If you have children, their well-being (true well-being, not indulgence) should be central and should take precedence over the fluff that surrounds us.
I have a friend who is a nanny. On her birthday and holidays, her employers offer lavish gifts and treats. They “spoil” her and don't want to lose her. Of course they don't. She's a dream nanny. She spends all day with her charges. Almost daily she posts pictures of these kiddos on Facebook. She loves the children like a mother and they adore her (she is adorable). And of course they do, she is their mother. She is as much their mother as my adoptive mother was my real mother.
Real parenthood isn't biology. It's love. It's nurture. It's care. It's teaching. It's doting. It's attention. It's affection. It's time.
And while these parents are both at work all day at their very important jobs, it's the nanny who is giving them love and nurture and care and teaching and doting and attention and affection…and time.
So, yes, they are being well cared for. But they are being cared for by someone who has no eternal or legal relationship with them. By someone who will likely, one day, leave to have her own family. Her own family.
I'm sure it will break her heart. But not as much as it will break the children's hearts. The parents have willfully and intentionally created a system that will leave these children abandoned by the “parent” who knows them best.
In the end, I don't care whether it's the mother or the father (or a combination of both) who stay home to raise the children and give them what they need. There are probably a billion ways to do that. I trust that loving, faithful parents can work together to figure out the logistics. But I also trust parents to accept the responsibility for the children they choose to have, rather than hand her/him over to temporary help. Temporary help who will one day leave and take all their memories and connections and experiences with them.
That one, you can fight over.
Making different choices & Raising healthy children
The premise of the entire photographic piece was to present the idea that mothers collectively are “making different choices and raising healthy children.”
That feels super warm and fuzzy, but it's just false. We raise healthy children by making healthy choices. Some choices simply are healthier than others and some are more consequential than others. They don't become healthy just because we all decide to engage in a worldwide motherly hug.
As intelligent, thoughtful, caring mothers, we should never believe it's a good thing to smile sweetly with raised pinkies, sipping our tea while chaos reigns around us. The truth is, it's tough to raise kids because we live in a culture that doesn't often support gospel values. And we need to use all our of thought and discernment to make the best choices we can.
At the end of my 4,000+ word essay, I want to point out one more thing. Seldom when working out important issues are men told they should embrace and stroke each other's hair. Or just put on their happy faces. Or use their indoor voices. Seldom have I been told to do that by men. Rather, it's been other women who deem any kind of serious discussion as either “contention” that must be abhorred or anti-feminist, patriarchal cowering that doesn't “support” whatever other (feminist) women say.
Dealing with difficult, complex issues takes work. It's even more work when we are trying to “stand as witnesses of God” while we do it. (I should know, I usually fail miserably finding the sweet spot.) It's a learned skill many of us have not been taught and that some of us have been taught to avoid. But if we want to be seen as intelligent, thoughtful, capable women, we have to stop pretending that we can't handle it and stop accepting erroneous cultural labels.
Discussing — even debating — issues isn't unladylike. It's not unchristlike. It's not wrong or bad or evil or sinful. It's not synonymous with contention. It's not anti-woman or anti-feminist. And as the world moves further away from gospel standards, it is critical that we learn to speak up, to make sense, to present our positions with reason and clarity. It's time to up our game.