By guest blogger Lisa Shoreland
How the “Mommy Wars” Highlights the Way the Government is Failing Women and Families
Last month, the cover of TIME magazine featured a woman breastfeeding her nearly 4-year-old child, sparking a controversy and creating another battle line in the ongoing, so-called “Mommy Wars.”
Women were pitted against each other over when they thought the appropriate length of time to breastfeed was—or whether to breastfeed at all—and whether attachment parenting practices that challenged the status quo such as baby wearing and co-sleeping were “extreme.”
A month before that, the debate over mothers working or staying at home flared up again when a political strategist suggest that Mitt Romney’s wife had never “worked a day in her life” because she stayed home with children, and then Mitt Romney himself suggested—separately—that mothers on welfare be required to work outside the home so they could experience “the dignity of work.”
Of course, none of these arguments are new. The “Mommy Wars” have been raging for decades over questions of whether mothers should work, whether the breast is best or formula is an acceptable substitute, and other parenting choices. Each time the conversation is renewed in the media, women take aim at each other and find themselves defending their own choices or tearing down the choices of other mothers.
These so-called wars don’t produce any winners. They only help women to tear each other down, further weakening their position in a society that is still dominated by men. The “Mommy Wars” only highlight the ways that the government is failing women and families. Here’s how:
Women who can afford to stay home throughout their child’s infancy can make free choices about breastfeeding, fostering attachment through practices like baby wearing and co-sleeping, or even homeschooling. Women who are forced to return to work either through economic necessity or fear of losing their career momentum may be able to make some of the same parenting choices, but they won’t come without struggle.
Mothers who are forced back to work after six weeks (or even less in some cases) may not have the time they need to develop a proper breastfeeding relationship or bonding with their still-very-vulnerable infants. Fathers who have no leave at all in many cases may feel helpless or limited in their ability to support the breastfeeding mother or to contribute equally to childcare.
The United States is one of only three countries that does not provide some type of paid maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act provides women up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but no paid benefits are required. Compare that to countries like Denmark, which provides 52 weeks of paid leave that can be divided between the mother and father, or Norway, which provides for 56 weeks of paid leave that can also be divided.
Breastfeeding continues to be taboo in American culture, as illustrated by the Time magazine controversy. Though the natural weaning age is about 4 to 7 years, most children are not breastfed beyond infancy. Mothers who choose to breastfeed beyond infancy for its many health benefits and emotional benefits often face backlash.
Even mothers breastfeeding infants face obstacles. Many are asked not to nurse in public, though there are often not suitable places provided for breastfeeding mothers. Once women return to work, many face difficulties trying to breastfeed because they don’t have a suitable location for pumping in the office, or their employer’s won’t allow them the flexibility in their schedules to pump.
Policies are not in place to offer these women support. Even though public breastfeeding is legal in many states, women continue to face shaming for doing so or obstacles because there aren’t proper resources for doing so. Even though companies that have 50 employees or more are required to offer breastfeeding mothers a place to pump during the workday, there is great variability in what is considered acceptable (some working mothers report having to pump in a storage closet…).
Few social programs are in place to support new families or single mothers. Social programs are often available for the very poor, but what of the average, middle-class mother who is working long hours to support her family and struggling with post-partum depression or a lack of resources to make informed parenting decisions?
There is little financial support or educational programs available for mothers to help them provide for all the needs of their family.
Women who have few choices because of a lack of support—either from government programs or social understanding—are put in a position to fiercely defend those choices. Wealthy women who have more freedom of choice are able to make casual judgments about others who can’t make the same choices.
The “Mommy Wars” pit women against each other over these choices without opening up a deeper discussion about how all women could have more freedom of choice with support. These so-called wars just highlight the way the government is failing women and families, yet they are not encouraging change.
Have you, or do you know someone who had a similar experience? How did you handle the situation?
Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at GoCollege.com, where recently she’s been researching educational grants and African American grants. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and hogging her boyfriend’s PlayStation 3. To keep her sanity she enjoys practicing martial arts and bringing home abandoned animals.
I'm an intern in Bethesda, Md.
When I'm not working, I'm writing, photographing, reading or enjoying some other equally leisurely activity.
All my opinions are my own, and do not reflect anyone else's views or endorsements. Guests posts are views of the guests, and are not a reflection of my own views.
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