Editor's Note: This column comes from the Downers Grove, Ill. Patch.
I’m sure by now that most of you have seen Time magazine’s latest cover story, with its provocative photo of a nubile young MILF breastfeeding her nearly 4-year-old son alongside the headline, “Are You Mom Enough?” The photo and accompanying article have bloggers and pundits everywhere lamenting over this re-ignition of The Mommy Wars, in which mommies are pitted against one another based on differing parenting philosophies, breastfeeding habits, working versus staying at home, etc.
But in my experience, the only people responsible for perpetuating The Mommy Wars are mommies, themselves. One of the singularly most miserable experiences of my life was when I decided to join a new mothers’ group shortly after my daughter was born.
I was living in California at the time and didn’t know many people. I felt that I could really use some new mom friends with whom I could swap stories, exchange helpful tips and get support from when things weren’t going as they should. Which was often. I mistakenly assumed that I wouldn’t need to have any more in common with these women than our shared role as vessel for human life to forge friendships that would last for years to come.
I joined the group when my daughter was just 3 months old, but already the competition was fierce: baby gear, milestone tracking, sleep habits, physical size, birth stories, how up-to-date your scrapbook was. There was nothing related to your child that wasn’t fodder for one-upmanship.
My daughter was still more than a year away from an autism diagnosis, but somehow we were already behind the curve. At the first meeting I attended, the mothers were competing over whose babies were rolling over, sitting up, clapping or cutting teeth. After a few months, all of the children were in some stage of mobility, with some of the earliest walkers starting at just 10 months old. As my daughter approached 1 year old, she wasn’t even crawling and the other kids were already running one-legged sack races.
Besides developmental milestones, the sheer physical size of your child was another popular basis for competition. Those height/weight/head circumference percentiles given by pediatricians at wellness checks were rattled off with scary ease. While most developmental anomalies are to be feared and shunned, gigantism is apparently the one major exception.
I’ll never understand why everyone wants to believe that their babies are off-the-charts ginormous. It doesn’t matter if you have to roll up a yard of denim at the bottom of those overalls, so long as you can lay claim to a six month old that is wearing a 4T. Also? Infant car seats are for pussies. As soon as their toes are within an inch of the edge of the infant car seat, you must loudly proclaim that they have outgrown it and get yourself one of those Barcalounger-sized car seats made for kids up to 60 pounds.
But by far the most prestigious event in the New Mother Olympics is Competitive Breastfeeding. Those who were still doing it might as well have been wearing mother’s group badges of honor across their hugely engorged chests. If your baby showed signs of wanting to ingest something in addition to breast milk, they advanced directly to sirloin steak because baby food was for wienies too.
I didn’t have much luck with breastfeeding, and was already approaching the end of the line after a few months. This drew pitiful looks from the rest of the group and recommendations for fennel tea. Even before my daughter started falling behind on her milestones, I was already setting us up for failure in the eyes of this group. We were turning out to be quite the pair. My daughter and I, that is; my boobs, not so much.
When it got to the point that the other kids were solving differential equations and their mothers were discussing the relative merits of the area preschools while my daughter still couldn’t right herself from lying on her back as she writhed around helplessly like an engorged tick, I decided that I’d had enough.
All this group had succeeded in doing was to put an even brighter spotlight on our shortcomings and make me feel even worse about them. No one was truly interested in being friends or providing a support system. All this group provided was a wider audience to ooh and aah over their child’s every accomplishment. And I was sick of always being the ooh-er and never the ooh-ee.
It wasn’t long afterwards that I realized my daughter wasn’t missing milestones just to make me look bad. Once she was diagnosed with autism, I was introduced to a whole host of new parenting challenges. But one of the big pluses of special needs parenting was being able to recuse myself from the competition that is parenting a “typical” child. For special needs parents to engage in similar competition would be ridiculously futile and degrading. And in learning that lesson maybe for once it’s me that’s a step ahead of the rest.