Thursday, December 11, 2014

The risk of sniper attacks in the 'mummy wars'

Have you been ever been injured by a sniper attack in the 'mummy wars'? It could have come in the form of a random comment from a passer-by. A loaded suggestion from your great aunt. An email from a colleague. A voice of 'concern' from another parent while dropping off the kids at school. Or even a sweeping generalised statement from a male opinion writer.

However the bullet arrived, the chances are that it hurt.

Or perhaps you fired the gun yourself.

The 'mummy wars' is that perceived battle that exists between mothers who chose (or are forced into) one way of living over another, particularly working over not working.

But it's not just 'mummies' who get involved in such wars but plenty of daddies and anyone who's ever had a kid, or has spent more than an hour with a kid, and believes they're qualified to comment on the lifestyle and parenting ways of mothers.

As with any need to address the habits of another group of people who are different to the tribe you believe you're in, the reason the 'mummy wars' exist at all largely stems from guilt and fear: the guilt that the choice you believe you're making may not actually be the best one; and the fear of somebody doing something different to the way you have been taught it should be done.

The problem is that those with such fears and guilt can swiftly launch an attack on a mother that can have serious consequences. Such wars can force women into decisions they wouldn't have otherwise made. Being on guard for sniper attacks can destroy the confidence of mothers, it can lead some to try and "do it all", sacrificing much-needed sleep in the process.

Indeed, the 'mummy wars' can seriously hurt the mental wellbeing of mothers. And those who are often at most risk of attack happen to also be the ones who are at risk of dropping out of the workforce altogether.

Currently, we have some decent support services for new mothers -- although recent tragic cases involving abandoned babies in Sydney would suggest the system is still catastrophically failing some women and children.

The problem is that much of this system of support starts to break down as a child moves from newborn to toddler. Community health services are frequented less, and some nurses may even raise eyebrows if a mother keeps visiting. Doctors stop asking questions about how mothers are coping. The, 'isn't she adorable' comments from random members of the public stop as tantrums, food-throwing and a desire to climb everything in sight become the norm. Mothers groups start to meet sporadically, instead of every week.

On top of this, it's during the toddler stage that many mothers will return to work, or transition from part-time work back to full-time. They'll be navigating the childcare system, dealing with difficult drop-offs and the relentless cycle of seeing their little person's immune system tested with seemingly every virus and stomach bug imaginable. They'll probably have even less time for socialising, friendships, exercise and hobbies.

It's especially at this point that mothers feel the expectation to do everything. To work, manage the caring responsibilities and the household duties. While it's perfectly acceptable to walk around in your pyjamas when dealing with a newborn, social expectations on one's appearance start to increase just as the baby's getting more mobile. No wonder it becomes a prime time for voicing that guilt and fear through the so-called 'mummy wars'.

So, not only do support structures break down for mothers as their babies transition to small children, but they increasingly find themselves at risk of 'mummy war' sniper attacks.

Feminism was supposed to give women choice. And yet all these choices made us afraid. The 'mummy wars' have become a cultural habit that will be very, very difficult to break.

However, there a things we can individually do to reduce the risk of sniper attacks against the mothers we know.

A good start involves taking a self assessment. What is it about the choices of others that makes us so afraid? How do our personal notions of guilt affect our respond to the actions of others?

This self-assessment needs to be undertaken by women and men. Parents and non-parents. Bloggers and newspaper comments. Parents who work and parents who don't.

If we really care about mothers, then we should at least respect them enough to ask -- what is it about them that makes us so afraid?

By: Angela Priestley
Source: Women's Agenda

No comments: