The internet tells me we are having “mommy wars,” waged between, in particular but not exclusively, formula-hating lactivists, who want to jump you and smack the bottle out of your baby’s mouth, and harried moms who just think “#fedisbest.”
The thing is, there is no such war. Both parents who breastfeed and those who formula feed, as well as those who do both or exclusively pump, deal with bad advice, painful criticism, and needless pressure from medical practitioners, family, and random strangers about their choices.
The war is not between parents who have, for complex and deeply personal reasons, made the choices they have made; the war is between those same parents and a culture that shames, judges, and second-guesses them no matter what choices they make.
The victory of that adversary has been convincing parents that they are at war with one another, rather than the mechanisms that serve to continue to deny them dignity, respect, and agency in their journey as parents.
One of the great joys of becoming a parent for me has been finding a group of incredible people with whom to share the triumphs and trials. While we don’t do everything the same way, I feel our dialogue has always assumed that each person knows best what is right for their family and that no two situations are the same.
We lift each other up, learn from each other, support each other, regardless of what we’ve chosen to do about feeding or daycare or potty training. In so doing, we’ve managed to survive two years in the trenches of parenting, together, to the great benefit of our collective mental health.
We don’t need to explain in minute detail our reasoning for making our choices, for fear of reprisal; in the safe space we create for each other, we know things are challenging and complicated and we’re each figuring it out as best we can.
Slogans like “breast is best” and “fed is best” have been created (by formula companies, incidentally) to divide parents and keep them in fear of judgement. Mired in self-doubt and illusory conflict, we’re much more profitable and easier to manipulate. “Do whatever the hell you think is best” is not as much of a money-maker, but as long as parents are acting with all the pertinent information on hand, that’s just the message they ought to receive.
There are, of course, outliers: physicians who unnecessarily push formula, or insist that a parent continue breastfeeding to the detriment of the physical or mental well-being of their family; folks on internet forums who allege your child will need therapy because you sleep trained, or just as many who will say the same if you co-slept. We can’t invalidate the pain experienced by parents who come up against these challenging people.
But these are individual cases and not battles in a “war.” They’re symptoms of a society that denies parents the right to choose freely and without guilt how to operate within their families, meeting them with criticism at every juncture. Rather than ending the alleged war we’re engaged in with one another, we’d be better served to wage war on those who would deny us the freedom to make those choices, and work in those trenches, together.