Before I became a mom, I had no inkling just how controversial every single aspect of child rearing could be. I got my first glimpse of it while I was pregnant with RT. I was a member of several pregnancy forums, and I began seeing women argue viciously over hot-button topics such as natural vs. medicated births, diet and exercise, and supplements. Once the little ones were born, still more polarizing disputes emerged. New mothers were attacking one another over decisions like co-sleeping, crying it out (CIO), vaccination schedules, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, and staying at home vs. working. I was appalled that these women, who had come together to support one another during a universally stressful time, would turn on each other so suddenly and violently. This was my introduction to the “Mommy Wars.”
As kids continue to grow, even more of these issues arise, such as when to begin solid foods and how to go about doing so, methods of schooling, diet and exercise, exposure to “adult” topics, and so many more. It’s enough to make your head spin. Of course, everyone has strong feelings on at least a few of these topics, whether or not they have children or even intend to have them. We all want what’s best for our children, the next generation. We also all have personal experiences from our own childhoods that raise strong emotions, whether they were pleasant or traumatic. We want to share the happiness we felt with others and steer them away from the pain.
Current literature on what is “best” continues to change as well. It wasn’t that long ago that it was encouraged to let babies sleep on their stomachs. That’s now considered a SIDS risk and new parents are told that infants should always sleep on their backs. It doesn’t help either that there are so many conflicting studies out there, and that different sides of the same issue can both have pros and cons that can’t be taken lightly. We all want to make the best decisions for our little ones, but it’s so hard to know what the “right” thing to do is.
The way I see it, the “right” thing to do is what works best for your family and your child. Each new baby is an individual, with their own strengths and challenges. I like to use my mother-in-law’s experience as an example of this. Her first three children (including my husband) were quiet and passive. Her fourth child turned out to be an excitable ball of energy. This meant she had to adapt her parenting style quite a bit. In my case, RT has so far been quite an easy baby aside from a few fussy days here and there. Before she was born, many people stressed to me the importance of sleep training and getting her on a schedule. However, I didn’t need to do anything for her. She dictated her own schedule and is now sleeping through the night regularly, and taking naps at roughly the same time each day.
Parental lifestyle is also a major factor in what works for each family. Because I’m at home with RT every day, I can easily handle the extra laundry that comes with cloth diapering. In a household where all of the guardians are working full-time or have multiple jobs, daily laundry may not be a feasible option. Those families may opt for the convenience – but extra expense – of disposable diapers. There’s nothing wrong with that. As long as the little one is getting his or her diaper changed as frequently as necessary, neither of these options is objectively better than the other.
Since I’ve already mentioned it, let’s talk about staying at home vs. working. I chose to stay at home. In my family’s case, having an adult at home saves us a lot of money. We don’t have to pay for daycare, and we can get by with owning a single car. Some people may fault me for conforming to gender roles, but that’s their problem. My husband’s job requires him to work on-site most of the time, so he can communicate with his coworkers in real-time. I’m self-employed, so I don’t face that same issue. I’m less prone to frustration when I’m interrupted while working. I also achieve greater satisfaction from completing tasks around the house than he does. Due to all these factors, this was just what worked for our family. Some households (especially those with single parents) require all adults to work in order to pay the bills. Some parents need to pursue a more intense professional life than I have in order to feel fulfilled.
Every family needs to do what is best for all of its members. Parents need to assess what they can handle, because if they are too stressed, it can negatively impact the care of the child. Different children – even siblings – have varying needs as well. We don’t all have to parent the same way, because each new human is an individual, who will need an individualized upbringing. This is my plea: let’s all stop judging each other on this. Unless someone is actually neglecting or abusing their children, let’s just let them be parents. You don’t know what led them to the choices that they have made. Trust them to do what is best for their kids, because they know them and their situation far better than you do.