Posts Tagged ‘Mommy Wars’

Back before Alexis was born I had a fear that if I wasn’t careful the girls might think I had a favorite. I wasn’t afraid of loving them differently, just the appearance of it, and the possible ramifications on the girls’ confidence levels. That fear wasn’t helped by over hearing a conversation where two women were speculating on third’s possible favorites. Their go-to indicator to use: the number and type of photos of each child shared on social media. Apparently it’s not enough to judge moms based on how much their posting about their children in general, now we’re critiquing the rates she publishes about each child in comparison to the other. As much as I try not to get sucked into this kind of mommy wars pettiness it was a moment that’s kind of stuck with me. I have an Instagram account, a Facebook account and a blog. What if my posting became unbalanced on one of those platforms? Would the girls think I had a favorite the way these women thought other parents had favorites?

When Alexis was first born I took great pains to keep the number of photos between the two girls that I posted roughly even. You know, as could be drawn from a statistical random sample with zero bias. Totally normal, rational stuff.

After making the mistake of taking too few DSLR photos and too many iPhone photos of Nicole in her first year, I overcompensated. My DSLR was never far from reach, and it was the first device that I reached for. It wasn’t long before I had only handful of iphone photos of Alexis. Chasing after Nicole, on the other hand, necessitated using the iphone more than the big clunky DSLR. Given that I prefer to post my DSLR photos on facebook, and my iphone photos on Instagram, I soon found myself in a constant state of unbalance on both accounts. I found myself stalking Alexis with my iphone, hoping to take a cute photo so I could share the one of Nicole from a few days ago and vice versa.

That’s nuts. So nuts that even I see it. Extra especially nuts when you consider that the two kids have different personalities and different amounts of love for the camera. If I was happy with DSLR photos of Alexis capturing her newness, and iPhone photos of Nicole of her boundless energy, why wasn’t that enough?

As Alexis grew the personality differences between Nicole and her became even more apparent.

Nicole loves having her photo taken just as much now just as much as she loved it then at that age. She looks forward to photo day at school. Her school has a couple of different photographers come throughout the year. Nicole’s favorite is the one who does the vintage style photos, complete with movie star chair, sunglasses and boa. She always asks to see the photo of herself on my phone, and has Favorited her favorites. (I have no idea where this self confidence and love for the center of attention came from, but I love it!) Alexis? Not so much. On their last school photo day the photographer opted not to do sibling photos of the girls together because Alexis was protesting too much. Nicole was pretty upset when he made that call, and even cried a little herself. She wasn’t content with just photos of herself, she wanted some with baby sister too!

Alexis tolerates the camera better when I’m the person on the other side of it. She doesn’t mind a quick game of peak a boo with the camera. I’ve learned how to get a smile out of her by turning it into a game. Yet even with me she’s less inclined to enjoy getting dressed up or playing with props. I get short bursts of smiles and then she’s ready to move on to the next activity.

So I’m making a promise to myself, not to try and pretend both girls are exactly the same and not to worry that they aren’t. I love them for who they are, and shouldn’t try and jam them into the same mold. Let Nicole dominate my Instagram and Alexis my facebook. I will stop worrying about how that looks to others.

Shortly after I posted my Back to Blogging Basics piece, an article from slate about the dangers of posting photos of children online started popping up in my news feed. Although her central thesis is similar to my post, I found myself disagreeing with Ms. Webb’s piece. Judging from my news feed, I wasn’t the only one to feel this way.

The problem with Webb’s article is it has the same this is my parent philosophy and anything else is causing PERMANENT AND IRREVOCABLE HARM attitude that so many parenting articles have. What really frustrates me about these articles is that we don’t actually know, scientifically speaking, what, if any, many of these individual decisions actually have. Or worse, we have theories that sound valid, but turn out to be actually wrong. These parenting articles remind me of this PhD comic on scientific literature in the media. A similar analogy can be made on the parenting literature and social media.

I’m not qualified to talk about many of the mommy wars topics. I can talk about Nicki and what seemed to work for us, but it’s always hard to tell if we managed to get past some issue because of something I did, or despite it. A sample size of 1 (or 2 or 3) does not make for a very good study. What I am qualified to talk about is the internet, and I do know a thing or two about user studies. So with that introduction, let me explain why she (and I) may be wrong.

Claim: Sharing stories about your child could harm them for life.

Webb doesn’t give any evidence from this claim, but I did share a study from Kansas State that showed that knowledge that a mom is a working mom can negatively impact the perception of the child. There are two main issues with using this study to make sweeping claims: (1) the child in the video was 4; and (2) the participants in the study were college students and thus hardly a representative sample. Presumably they did not have much experience as parents, which may have also impacted their perceptions.

While it’s reasonable to assume the negative impact on impression of the child extend beyond the age of four, it’s difficult to imagine it extending all the way to adult hood. Adults are generally perceived to be autonomous. Once we reach adulthood we’re usually measured by actual achievements and qualifications, rather than potential. Yes, recruiters have scoured the internet for digital dirt, and have turned away applicants based on their online profile, but they’re looking for inappropriate photos, and drinking. Absent from that list are tales of poopsplosions, and whether an applicant was breastfeed or bottle fed. It’s possible that these aspects might affect the recruiter’s subconscious opinion, but not very likely and certainly not proven.

Claim: Once it’s on the internet it never goes away.

I plan scaring my daughter with this line when we first allow her online, but it’s not 100% accurate. You should never post anything online you’d be embarrassed if your mother read. That includes on private, password protected sites. Such sites can have security flaws. Besides, a privacy model that can be thwarted by someone in your friend’s list copying and pasting your information is not one to be counted on. Once something is out on the web, and on someone else’s website, you loose control over it and the ability to delete it. But – and this is a big but – the internet does eventually forget. Websites get abandoned, domains are re-purchased by someone else, new websites are setup replacing old.

The way back machine attempts to archive the internet, but even it can’t keep a copy of everything. Think about how vast the internet is. The way back machine currently has 364 billion URLs. In 2008, Google had already indexed 1 trillion (1 Trillion = 10004, or 1,000 billion). Yes, five years ago Google had 3X as many URLs as the Way Back Machine has today. Assuming an average of 1kb of information per URL, that’s 1 petabyte (10005) of disk space required to store a copy of the web as it was five years ago! And that’s not including the space required to save all those embarrassing childhood photos.

The more websites that pick up your story (and the more popular those websites are) the longer it will take for the internet to forget. Get reblogged in the national news, and it may be decades. For most of us, though, the internet will likely forget about our posts in a few years. The way back machine has already forgotten many of my old websites and blog posts.

Claim: Sharing stories about your children will effect their self image/self esteem

The internet is still relatively young. Google is only 15 years old, Facebook is 9 (and has only been available to the public for 7 years). While that may be an eternity in internet time, it’s hardly any in human development time. There are no studies about growing up ‘on facebook’ because no one has had a chance to grow up on facebook yet.

We could be completely backwards in our thinking about the effects of social media sharing. A few years ago a friend and I were discussing the trend of everyone in elementary schools winning an award (best smile, loudest laugh, etc). I explained to her the goal was to promote self esteem; to send the message ‘there is something special about you’. She thought for a moment “I would think not winning an award would be better for a child’s self esteem. That way the child learns they don’t need to win to be okay.” It’s plausible that sharing an embarrassing story erodes some of the trust our children have in us the same way not winning an award erodes confidence. Or perhaps, sharing said embarrassing stories and showing that we continue to love our kids is one way we can teach them that they don’t need to be perfect. Neither theory has been tested. Neither theory has been proven or disproven.

We don’t know the impact of blogging, facebooking, and instagramming because those activities are just too new. We can hypothesize all we like, but hypothesizing isn’t the same as knowing.

Claim: Someone is out there, lurking, waiting to take advantage of what you share, and use it for nefarious purposes.

In Webb’s article she gave an anecdote of a Facebook friend who posted a photo not realizing her street number was visibly. I, too, am no stranger to stumbling upon think kind of personal information. In fact, people have been so cavalier in sharing information without thought in recent years that the please rob me project was started to help show people that one of the pitfalls of public checkins is that they show the internet where you’re not – at home.

While bad things relating to publicizing too much information can and do happen, they happen to a small percentage of people online. Ms Webb’s anecdote didn’t involve anything bad happening to her friend. I’m sure I’m not the only one who stumbled onto those bloggers identities, and nothing bad happened to those bloggers either. ‘Could happen’ is not the same thing as ‘likely will happen’.

Reality

As with any parenting decision there isn’t a single right answer for everyone. There is no one internet presence. There’s no one risk level. There is no one comfort level. Some bloggers with large followings and may feel the need for more caution. Those of us with less of a following (and thus more likely to be forgotten by the internet achieve) may feel freer. Every situation and every personality is different.

I choose to blog about Nicki less today because today that felt like the right choice for us. That may not be the right choice for you, and that’s okay.

I know many a parent who have made a different parenting decisions than I, but none that have come to those decisions lightly or without forethought. It’s that whole ‘permanent and irrevocable harm’ thing.

May 9, 2013

Missing Milestones

Nick’s Pediatrician thinks she is going to skip crawling, just like she skipped rolling over. She turned over from stomach to back a handful of times, but wasn’t rolling over consistently until 7 months. On the other hand, she could sit unassisted at just 5 months. In fact, the first day she rolled over from back to stomach was also the first day she stood up on her own – at 6 months. Nicki is cruising with confidence, and can walk the length of the house while holding onto hands. When I picked her up from day care yesterday, she leapt out of Ms Laura’s lap and practically dragged her to me. It was more of a toddler run than baby wobbly walk. She’ll scoot on her butt, and drag herself a few inches while on her tummy, but she’s still not rocking on her hands and knees, the canonical precursor to true crawling.

Most days I’m like “Cool, she’ll figure it out when she’s ready.” But some days I fret. I get into my mommy worry bubble and I start to wonder why she’s not doing it. Is it simply my fault for not enough tummy time? Is there an underlying problem? And then I read articles like this, which lists all of the possible detriments to skipping crawling – including reduced gross motor skills, and reduce spatial skills.

I can’t help but feel this is how the mommy wars gets started. The above article is just conjecture. Conjecture by scientist and pediatricians and other very smart people, but conjecture none the less. There are no studies that prove it, one way or the other. Yet, we take these theories as gospel. Instead of “every baby and every situation is different”, suddenly you’re seen as irrevocably harming your baby for being different and not measuring up. I’ve already been told Nicole’s going to have delayed speech because we let her have a binky, even though she was already showing signs of being an earlier talker.

Here’s the thing with babies: they’ll learn to do it eventually. There’s a reason when someone learns to crawl, walk or talk isn’t on the college admissions application. When infants reach milestones are not a strong indicator of intelligence latter in life. Rather than dwell on not crawling, I will wait patiently for Nicki to take her first independent steps. We’re not that far from it now. Come on sweetie, come to mommy!

December 31, 2012

Reviewing My Pledge

Last new year I made a promise to myself and other moms. I promised not to be part of the mommy wars, not to judge and not to respond to being judged, least an overzealous defense leads to someone else feeling judged. Now that I’ve been the mom of an “outside” baby for almost six months, I thought I would revisit my pledge.

Not judging others

If I was grading myself I’d give me a B on this one. For the most part I think I succeeded.

I fully recognize that every baby/parent/family is different and what works for one might not work for another. Further, while I may have opinions on the latest baby trends, I recognize failure to prove an approach or strategy works is not proof that it doesn’t work, and vice versa. I also recognize the placebo effect is a powerful thing. Just the act of doing something with a positive attitude could have positive benefit, even if the ‘something’ itself doesn’t work. I don’t begrudge anyone from trying any approach they think will work for their situation.

But, as I said, I do have opinions. There are some trends that go beyond silly and seem downright dangerous. When I voice my concerns over some new gimmicky gadget or baby strategy to my husband I can get snarky. If I’m not careful my opinion might leak out to someone less receptive. While I may be thinking “that strategy is stupid” what the other person might here is “anyone who considers that strategy is stupid”. I am by no means a baby expert, I should learn to just let it go.

Not getting defensive

I give myself a C on this one.

I sometimes feel like I have a scarlet f (for formula). The breast is best mantra is so ingrained in western culture that I feel as though I’m always bring judged. Even by complete strangers who have no idea how I feed my baby. If they know they will think I am a bad mother. I am in the formula closest, afraid to come out and be judged.

I’ve tried to write a blog post several times about our trials and tribulations nursing. Every time I start to I feel compelled to point out she’s mostly drinking expressed breast milk, or that we still do nurse. I think by making such comments do a disservice to myself and others if similar situations. By treating formula like “The Great Evil” I perpetuate the environment that leads to the feelings of guilt and shame for someone else forced into the same situation.

There is no shame in formula.

If I firmly believe ‘whatever works’ and ‘every situation is different’ for everyone else, why can’t I accept it for myself?

November 14, 2012

The Benefits of Day Care

I generally try and stay away from “mommy wars” topics. My personal philosophy is whatever works for you and your family. There is no one-size fits all style of parenting because every family is different. Still, it’s sometimes so easy to get consumed with guilt when you feel you’re not living up to everyone else’s standards, especially when it seems like society agrees what’s ‘best’ and it’s not what you’re doing. One of those areas where I felt particularly large amounts of guilt was daycare.

There seems to be a perception held by many that only moms who can’t afford to stay home are the ones who work. It’s true that leaving Nicki at day care for the first time was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I referred to the experience as my kryptonite. For me it was harder than watching Nicki get her shots, or having her blood drawn. In both those cases I knew it was for her benefit. Society sends moms the impressions that daycare is for mom’s benefit, not the baby’s.

But there are benefits to daycare for baby as well as mom. Here are a few that I have discovered.

Between the two of them, Nicki’s daycare teachers have over thirty years of infant experience. Thirty. At an 8:2 baby to day care provider ratio, that’s 240 babies! I may be Nicki’s mom, but I don’t know much about babies besides what the books say, and both our families live pretty far away. Let’s face it, being a parent requires on-the-job training. Some days I feel like I’m fumbling my way through it. I’ve asked Nicki’s teachers for advice on everything from brands of pacifiers, to sleeping habits, teething and feeding. Sure, I don’t always follow their advice, but I’m grateful to have the extra perspective. Since they spend three days a week with Nicki, I’m getting advice tailored specifically for her.

The day care center prides itself on the level of stimulation they provide. They’re always buying new educational toys, and trying new activities. They live, sleep, eat child development. They do sensory play and baby sign language. If I was a stay at home mom, child development would only be one thing on my plate. While I think I could find some fun things via pintrest, I don’t think I can keep it up as well as a group of people whose full time job is baby development.

Then there was this week. Domingo and I got sick at the same time. I suspect it was food poising, he thinks it was a fast moving stomach flu. Whatever it was, taking care of Nicki was difficult. She was happy, healthy and wanted to play. Us, not so much. Not only were her day care workers healthy enough to take care of Nicki properly, but it gave us a chance to rest. I wasn’t able to rest when we all got sick previously. It took me three weeks to finally kick it! Being able to get well sooner meant I was able to better take care of Nicki on her home days.

My point is not to suggest that every parent should utilize a day care. (That would be just as mommy wars-ish as suggesting every mom should strive to stay home.) But there are some benefits to day care for the child, and for some parents day care might make more sense then staying at home. It doesn’t make someone less of a mom for choosing that path for her family.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

This is it, the year I become a mom of an ‘outside’ baby. Over the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of mother I will be, and how I want to raise my child. I almost never do New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I will. I resolve to be as confident as possible, and try not to let the judgment of others question my parenting skills.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of moms, across all parenting styles, are making the best decisions for themselves, their babies and their families. As a statistician, it’s hard for me to ever use the word ‘all‘. There’s an estimated 84 million moms in the US. Are there one or two ‘bad moms’ out there that only care about themselves? Sure. But that doesn’t mean I’ve ever meet any of them, or the mom with the screaming toddler in the grocery store is one of them. We will all be that mom at some point, no matter which decisions we make. Each child is unique, and what works for one family may not work for another. What ever a mom chooses to do for her family – go back to work or stay home, breastfeed or formula feed, cloth diaper or disposable, medicated or natural birth – she’s doing what’s best for everyone in her family. Period. Full stop.

In my not-yet-card-carrying mom status estimation, I think a lot of the judgment we moms give other moms stems from insecurity in our own decisions. We feel the judgment we receive from our decisions, and the need to defend our actions. Zippy’s not even here yet and I’m get questions about how we plan to deliver or discipline. Questions posed in a way where I know in the question asker’s mind there is only one right answer. I can feel the judgment before I even answer the question, because I know my answer is not the answer the asker is looking for. I can feel myself getting defensive before answering the question.

Each of us know the reasoning behind our own decisions and that we’re making these decisions out of love. It’s easy to conclude the person passing judgment just doesn’t understand us, hasn’t done the research or doesn’t love their baby the way we love ours. The problem is, this kind of thinking perpetuates the war. Even if we don’t intend to, we are judging other moms, and they can tell as well.

So my pledge is this:

I will not let other’s make me question my parenting skills. I will take comfort in the knowledge that one bad day, or series of bad days, will not turn my child into a serial killer. The best I can do is love my child unconditionally. Everything else is secondary. So when I feel the judgment of others, I will ask myself these simple questions: “Do I love my child more than they do?”, “Do I know my child better than they do?” and “Do I know what works and what’s best for my child better than they do?”. Yes. So why am I letting their opinions matter to me?

I will not judge other moms. Under the same philosophy, I don’t know some other mom’s situation and all the factors that go into her decisions. I don’t know her child better than she does. My opinion on whether she’s doing the right or wrong thing does not, and should not, matter. There are better things for me to spend my energy on than judging others.