In my experience, division starts early in the world of mothers. When I was roughly seven months pregnant with my first child, I did a crash course on all the labor, delivery and parenting classes offered at my local hospital. Starting a family in my 30s, I was keen to do the whole thing “right.”
To my relief and terror, the one and two-day lessons—covering topics ranging from labor to diapering—made it very clear that there was a “best” way to do just about everything.
While the labor class presented the idea of epidurals, it was evident in the way this class was taught, that the mothers able to give birth naturally would be the happiest. I wrote furiously in my notebook and scanned my partner’s eyes to see if he believed I had it in me to go the distance without drugs.
Recounting tales of the seminar at a barbecue that weekend, a mother of two spoke to me with intensity. “If you use drugs or an epidural during your baby’s delivery, you will regret it for the rest of your life,” she said.
I wrapped my arms around my precious bump and wrapped my heart around her words. Would I fail at being a mother before I’d even begun? How different that moment would have been for me if she had extended welcome and support instead.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My girlfriends, sisters, aunts and mom are my absolute bedrock. It is upon their love and reinforcement that I thrive. But mothers seem to be expected to choose sides when it comes to parenting—often to the detriment of our emotional well-being and our gender as a whole, I believe.
But, how wonderful would it be to have a conversation with someone whose mothering decisions differed from our own without judgment or feelings of inadequacy? According to our 2021 State of Motherhood survey, more than half (56%) of mothers say they lack a non-family “village” to rely on for support. Mom friends can absolutely be this village; we just need to try.
On another day, I attended a nursing class. A confident midwife welcomed us anxious 20 or so moms-to-be. “I’m going to write the three most controversial words you’ll ever hear on this board,” she said with marker in hand.
Instantly perched as far forward on the edges of our seats as our beautifully full bellies would allow, we watched her undertake a flurry of arm movements, her back to the room. Moments later, she turned to reveal in bold, all-caps letters: FEEDING. SLEEPING. DIAPERING.
She went on to explain that as mothers we would develop deep devotion and almost radical conviction to the ways we decided to care for our babies.
Would we co-sleep or never allow them in the bed? Was using a pacifier worth the possible nipple confusion risk? Considering the resources required to launder cloth diapers, which diapering choice was nobler for the planet? We would have to decide and then we’d have to commit.
I called my mom afterward, wondering how she chose to formula feed.
“I had a difficult time nursing in the hospital. The nurses suggested I try bottle feeding,” she said. Adding, “My generation wasn’t really told there was one right way to do everything. We just loved our way through.”
The idea of relying on love over facts did appeal to me. But as I hung up the phone, I went back to reading statistics on my screen about breastfeeding and formula feeding and everything in between.
That midwife’s warning proved true in my life. Mothers were ardently passionate about the choices they made.
I tiptoed around certain topics when making new mom friends, careful not to come on too strong or turn them away if our home habits differed. The overall impact is that I never felt truly myself around these fellow moms. Struggles I was having stayed secret – observing an unspoken rule never to show weakness. I wondered if my new friends were equally uneasy.
As the years have passed, the fervor hasn’t really dwindled. Moms continue to be under pressure to choose sides: screen-time, sleeping schedules, discipline approach, scholastic expectation, sports focus and sugar intake to name a few.
But here’s the thing: Every mom I’ve encountered is simply trying to do the best she can for her children.
This idea of committing categorically to an approach puts too much pressure on the mother and encourages distrust of other styles. In my professional life, I learned at the start that success was found in being nimble—not blindly committing to a path.
Moreover, appreciating different parenting styles creates a richer environment. I often advise my kids to see all sides of a situation—explaining that opposing positions can be enlightening.
In a culture where there is ever-growing reliance on echo-chambers, moms have an opportunity to lead the charge out of insular, self-serving conversations.
Open-mindedness about ideas that disagree with our own might not result in any change to our parenting behavior, but we can create a genuinely supportive landscape in which every mother (and the children she is raising) is encouraged to be successful.
There are multiple paths to take to arrive at the destination we’re all working toward—well-raised children. I plan to remind myself more often that a mother who is raising her children with different daily choices than my own is not a threat.
In the process, I hope to model for my kiddos that uniting around a common goal does not require we all be identical. Valuing one another’s differences is where equality and progress reside.
I am convinced that my new, sincerely accepting perspective will allow me to enjoy being a mother even more than I do because I will be operating from a position of true openness. I invite you to join me if you wish.