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Why I Am The Rightest Mother Ever and You’re, Obviously, Wrong

Published on: December 30, 2013

hiresDid that headline get your attention? Because it seems like that’s what it takes these days to have a big conversation on any number of popular but increasingly exhausting topics. (Pick your poison: Work/life “balance;” breastfeeding or not; to breed or not to breed; who should pay for birth control/educating my offspring/fixing my mortgage mess/salary gap/your dog’s geriatric care.)

I have been trying very hard lately to avoid these parenting poisons, which seem to infect the Internet nonstop, but they find me anyway.

This past week’s evidence:

Mommy expert's mea culpa, which followed fake-letter-to-friend kerfuffle, which preceded much public spanking and slightly gentler feather-soothing.

And here in our own backyard, an almost magically simultaneous yet more more civil (we're Seattle, after all) debate about why one woman is not having kids and why one dad (both my former colleagues) did. I'll tell you right now, OK, it's the toys.

No matter how civil, though, the two camps we always seem to assemble ourselves into end up bickering (see, Exhibit A in all cases, reader comments).

It’s interesting that in the ever-escalating and so-totally-tiring mommy war, none of us ever seem to be able to have a right-headed conversation about a serious issue. Instead we attack one another’s message delivery, attitude, smugness, blunt and bare honesty. We always attack the human-ness of one another. Go for the jugular!

Have you heard the term “sanctimommy” tossed around a little too much lately? How 2010, back there with organic clothes and “having it all.”

For some reason I had this wrong-headed thought that, maybe after the election etc., etc., we could, as a broad community of women and mothers (and an increasing number of you poop-slinging men, too) finally start to have real conversations about the shit that honestly matters.

Apparently not. We still have time to self-flagellate, self-congratulate and interrogate to hoards of strangers.

As a childless-by-choice friend of mine says, “What the hell is the fuss about?” We don’t continually, publicly justify  and deliberate our love of oysters (unless we’re a food blogger), our distaste for broccoli, our predilection for being on top or bottom, our internal struggles over whether blue really is a good color to wear or whether in fact I should stick with warms because they work better with my tone.

Since sanctimony is the theme du jour, I suppose I am required to join in. So.

There are things that really matter, people, problems that need attention and energy and spotlight and that make the bar for open and vigorous debate, but it isn’t the naval-gazing meditation and unsolicited advice on whether some of us should breed or not.

The kids already on this globe need help. Some of them are desperate for it. There are people who do not have the luxury to debate in blogs and comment threads and Twitter over who is a better mother/not-mother, because they are trying to remain alive, stay safe, better themselves. Hunger, economic disparity, educational deficiencies, genocide, human trafficking, sexism, discrimination and marginalization, cultural ignorance, etc., etc. Pick your poison.

Our planet has problems, to be sure. Let’s talk about those. The real ones.

Do we benefit, as humans, from sharing our experiences with one another? With telling our stories and soul-searching thoughts, even the less-than-earth-shattering ones? Sure. Sometimes. But sharing experience is different than fighting over preferences and personal beliefs. We might as well bicker over whether it's better to be 6'2" or 5'5". Who honestly cares?

We, in this country especially, a certain caste of us anyway, are so astounding. The other morning I woke up and had a first hazy thought: What are the chances that I am here? As in, here in this bed, in a house, with food to eat, as a woman next to a man who is a partner and not a threat, relatively safe and free? And how is it that others do not have these things? How did I end up with these, and they did not? How to explain these odds?

There are no explanations, only actions.

I yearn for the opposite of sanctimonious. I don’t want us to constantly judge others, to tell them how to do it because we know best. Because our every last insecurity and difference of opinion is so important it must be aired and then left out to dry for way too long, to the suppression of something else. Something really important that deserves a sustained, “viral” conversation.

I don’t think life is a series of hard rights and cement wrongs that we can definitively hang our hats on. It’s a continuum, a humbling journey. If you think you know what motivates you now, and what ideas you agree with and which you don't, wait a few years.

I feel humbled, not always right, pretty clueless actually — like I think most of us really are. And I would like to tune out the rubbish so I can try to tune in what’s important.

Oh, and sorry if this is sanctimonious. (It's just that sometimes, when you really know what you're talking about, you have to get things off your chest.) Next week I'll probably be writing about my kid vs. your dog: who's smarter.

nataliebig_histo_edgeIn between school drop-offs and coffee binges, Natalie Singer-Velush is ParentMap’s Web Editor. In her former life she wrote for newspapers and once pumped milk in the bathroom of the King County Superior Courthouse while covering a murder trial. Natalie lives in Seattle with her husband, who forced her to stop having babies by visiting a certain magic office near Magnuson Park, and their two school-aged daughters.

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