Mummy wars: fact or fiction?

Are mums really in battle against each other, or has it all been blown out of proportion by the media?
Are mums really in battle against each other, or has it all been blown out of proportion by the media? 

You may have noticed something brewing in the parenting arena for a while now. Tensions are raised, high horses are at the ready, and defenses are up.

Let the Great Mummy Wars begin.

This war of words has attacked mums who work, those who smack, breastfeeding mums, bloggers, and those who dare mention that being a mother isn’t all roses and tea parties. And that’s just in the past week.

Of course, the battles have been raging for a long time now and cover a range of parenting choices, from birth to feeding, sleeping to discipline, schooling to play activities … and just about everything in between. But many mums are feeling the momentum pick up dramatically of late.

The question is, does this war really exist in the day-to-day lives of mums? Or is it a creation of the media? If it is real, how do we end it once and for all?

This war has attacked mums who work, those who smack, breastfeeding mums, bloggers ... and that’s just in the past week

Yvette Vignando, Sydney-based parenting commentator, emotional intelligence expert and publisher of happychild.com.au, believes the term ‘mummy wars’ is simply “media shorthand for examples of mothers who disagree online about (usually) parenting issues.”

The internet – including sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as various parenting forums – is a modern outlet for parents, with many turning to it for discussion and support. Vignando says that although there are disagreements within physical communities, these can take on a different nature online.

“The online world is just an extension of the offline community,” she explains. “The only difference is that online, people sometimes mistakenly feel more anonymous or protected, and these people express themselves more vehemently.”

Melbourne mother of one, Helen Williams, says this is true of her experiences. “People think that because they’re relatively anonymous they can say what they want and criticise whoever they want about anything.”

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A personal experience of seeing a friend write some awful things about her on a forum turned Williams away from some of internet parenting communities. Within her friendship group and around the community, however, her experience is quite different to her time online.

“We’ve always just let each other do what they want to do,” she says, adding that while there might be a little “rant” every so often, most of the time mums consider each other’s choices their own business; it’s simply a basic difference in opinion, not a battle to be fought.

But is this simplifying this big issue too much? Adelaide mum of three Bianca Wordley says the parenting choices made by her and her husband differed greatly from others they knew. “There were times I just wouldn’t discuss it around certain people so we would not to have to defend our choices,” she says.

More than that, Wordley believes mums are often waiting to be judged. “When out in public I would feel that people were judging me, even if they most probably weren’t,” she says.

But living in silence and fear of judgement isn’t the answer. You need only look around – both in ‘real life’ and on the internet – to see that mums are seeking communication and connection with others.

“It would be a loss to online and offline communities if we can’t disagree, explore and contribute to ideas about children’s wellbeing and about parenting without that conversation being labelled in a negative way,” Vignando says.

“Leaving aside people who are simply rude about their opinions, I think open conversations about these issues are good for parents. They’re not warfare, they’re fair discussion.”

So are the mummy wars fact or fiction? It depends on each individual’s experiences, but one thing is clear: we need to bring any battles or wars to an end. No matter which way you look at it, it seems that mums are frustrated with being labelled over and over again.

The responsibility for ending it all lies in various places, but the media’s role is in how it presents information and opinions.

“Sweeping statements about individual parenting styles are made too often, and ‘scientific studies’ can be misused to make parents feel guilty or ashamed of how they parent, which is potentially harmful,” Wordley says, adding that the issue runs far deeper than just media manipulation.

It’s hard to disagree that parents have a responsibility to end this, too. It’s our role to keep judgements at bay, and discuss differences in the right way. As Williams says: “Life’s too short, and the time with your child is too precious to exhaust yourself with what other people think, and what you could have done differently.”

So let’s put an end to it all by just doing what we all do every day: loving and doing the best we can for our families.

Megan is a freelance writer, blogger and mum to a preschooler. She blogs regularly at Writing Out Loud.