The Coke vs. Pepsi of new parenthood: know your “mommy wars” topics

‘Mommy wars’ are a media-constructed way of framing the struggle to find a balance between work and family, especially for women. This fight stretches back to long before the term was coined in the ‘90s, and has become a shorthand way of labeling or dismissing parenting issues that draw strong disagreement. The types of parenting choices that are labelled ‘mommy wars’ can range from the obvious to the more obscure, and everything in between.

No matter which type of issue it is, though, it’s never fun to realize for the first time that something you’ve said is controversial. And with message boards and social media, it’s common to learn of your controversy from a whole pile of nasty comments responding to whatever it is you posted. Some of the big topics are obvious, but even the ones you know draw some strong feelings can be shocking to see play out in reality.


Stay at home vs. working moms

The first, and still one of the most controversial ‘mommy wars’ is the question of childcare as opposed to staying home with your child full-time. Because it’s a question that every parent has to address for themselves at least once, and often many times, it’s a question that every parent has an opinion on, and it’s often a strong opinion. Important things to keep in mind when this topic comes up, or even starts being snidely talked around, is that no one else’s choice is any kind of judgement on yours, that not everyone has a choice, and that even if they did, it’s dangerous to start assuming about what anyone else’s choice would be.

Disposable vs. cloth diapering

Diapering is definitely one of the obvious dividing lines, but also one of the ones that can draw a bit less anger. It might be because the main issue is pretty obvious, or because the question is about the environment more than it is about Baby’s health, as there’s nothing that will cut close enough to a new parent’s heart to have him or her lashing out faster than the implication that he or she isn’t doing the right thing for his or her baby. Other areas of disagreement, like the health of the planet, have more room for an ‘agree to disagree’ attitude.

Co-sleeping and sleep training

Though they’re not, strictly speaking, opposites, they’re also rarely found being practiced by the same people. Families who consciously choose to sleep in the same bed or bedroom as a way of promoting parent-child trust and bonding often aren’t in favor of the occasional instances of ‘crying it out’ that training children to sleep through the night on their own can inspire. Co-sleeping can draw a lot of opposition in part because the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against sharing a bed with a baby due to safety concerns, while parents in favor of co-sleeping often bring up the potential emotional cost to a baby that not having their cries responded to promptly can cause.

Exclusive breastfeeding vs. pumping vs. formula

Feeding method is another topic that falls into the gray area where either assuming that it is or that it isn’t a choice can be offensive to somebody. It makes sense that feeding would be the topic after childcare that inspires the most anger and hurt feelings when conversations start to get ugly. Your child’s nourishment and growth are what’s really being critiqued, after all, or at least that’s what it can feel like – and a large part of that is that there are no easy answers. Unless you’ve got a specific question you’re willing to wade through a lot of different people’s emotions to look for an answer to, it’s often easier to let conversations about different ways of feeding pass you by, especially online.

Baby-led weaning

Often set up in response to spoon-feeding as a way of introducing solids, baby-led weaning involves offering a lot of soft finger foods, and letting Baby learn to feed themself. Like a lot of topics that can be pretty controversial online, out here in the real world, many or even most people feed their babies in some combination of the two ways depending on what works best for the home environment, the time of day, the food in question, and what their children are ready for. None of these babies suffers much from the fact that they don’t stick to one side of the ‘debate’ or the other.

Baby wearing vs. strollers

You might think that the question of whether to travel wearing your baby in a sling or strap them into a stroller has more to do with personal preference, the age of your child, or the length or type of trip you’re taking than it does with, say, whether you’re a generally nurturing person, but there are in fact people who take sides on this issue quite strongly. As long as safety is ensured, either mode of transport is totally fine, but that doesn’t mean it won’t draw a debate in certain circles.

In the case of many issues that make their way into “mommy wars” conversations, it’s easy to draw sharp dividing lines when you’re talking about them, but when it comes to real life, there aren’t very many parents who aren’t more likely to fall somewhere in the middle than on either end of any spectrum. What cloth-diapering parent hasn’t used a disposable in a pinch when they’re on the go? What strict sleep-trainer hasn’t stollen an extra cuddle on a day Baby needed a little extra comfort? Real life is complicated, and so are real people, which is why it can be a good idea to know the catagories people like to divide themselves into – and then never try to use them as a way of looking at the world.

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