The notion of ‘The Mommy Wars’ is incessantly covered in the media. Some of it good, some of it repulsive. Most recently, I saw ‘The Mommy Wars’ come up in the Analytical Armadillo’s An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver about Breastfeeding.
“I’m a tad unimpressed with the whole situation too to be honest, particularly the newest trend to try and silence all discussion surrounding infant feeding for fear of offending, well, everyone,” the author writes. “Honestly if I hear the words “mummy wars” one more time, I fear I may lose it entirely.”
The letter brought to mind exchanges between two different friends.
The first was with a friend who feels very judged and stigmatized for her decision to breastfeed beyond infancy. During our latest exchange, I shared my inspiration from Anna Blair’s International Breastfeeding Conference presentation Motherhood: Identity, social stigmas and resilience. Blair’s insight allowed us the opportunity to not only acknowledge my friend’s feelings of being judged, but to talk about how and why we judge others.
I told her about Abby Theuring, MSW, The Badass Breastfeeder’s I Judge You piece, and how it’s helped me to own my own judgement of others. It also helped me to be cognizant about what I do with that judgement. My friend and I made an agreement that we would try to be more open to learning from our judgement. We agreed that instead of passing judgement and leaving it at that, we would attempt to ask respectful questions to learn more about the choices people make different from our own.
Several days later, another friend and I chatted while our kids played together. We talked about my upcoming anatomy scan, and learned that the OB I was going to see was the same OB who performed one of her son’s circumcisions. She told me she would recommend him if we end up with a boy.
Instantly I remembered my earlier conversation with my other friend.
“We won’t be circumcising,” I told her. Then I took a deep breath– because I was afraid of what my question might turn into– and said, “May I ask why you chose to circumcise your boys?”
She told me, and then she asked why I will not circumcise if I have a son.
I gave her a very honest answer. We are still friends.
I wanted to share this exchange, not to start a debate about genital cutting (which it inevitably will, right?) but to demonstrate that mothers can and do have dignified conversations about our parenting choices, even when it comes to something as sensitive and controversial as circumcision.
My friend and I might not see eye-to-eye when it comes to genital cutting, but I respect that her decision was not mine to make. She reciprocates with the same respect.
The Analytical Armadillo’s letter continues: “The great infant formula marketing machine (protecting its multi billion pounds profits), has done a great job of shutting down dialogue by suggesting mothers should feel guilty or are being judged…”
As I continue to reflect upon this experience, I wonder if it is too bold to think that companies not only have a hold on our conversations involving infant feeding, but that they have infiltrated and influence nearly every parenting choice that we make.
The exchange of ideas is a debilitating thing to those that profit from our silence. Cindy Turner-Maffei reminded me of the Crucial Conversations approach (find the book here,) a technique developed to start conversations about touchy subjects like circumcision. Cindy explains that “the approach trains one to think of the other as reasonable, and to inquire about their rationale for holding belief/opinion from that position (rather than just ‘othering’ people with differing opinions.)”
What a powerful tool this could be for parents! (Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc also recommends Crucial Conversations for lactation professionals to help them establish mutual purpose and mutual respect with physicians and other colleagues.)
Please tell us about your respectful conversations about tricky subjects in the comments below!