When my daughter was born 2.5 years ago, the so-called “mommy wars” were running rampant. My Facebook Newsfeed was filled with debates on every topic from breastfeeding to circumcision to vaccinations to how long is an appropriate amount of time to hold your baby. As a new mom, I took it all in, reading every post and debate, re-posting and sharing articles that supported my opinions and actively participating in discussions that I felt passionately about. I always made sure to be professional and tactful in my comments… Surely if I wasn’t name-calling or saying offensive things about other moms, it was fine to debate, right?
The mommy wars also wiggled their way into my in-person relationships with other moms. I found myself passively listening when a mom-friend was telling me about her struggle to breastfeed and her decision to use formula instead, secretly proud that I was able to breastfeed successfully. I attempted to use the power of persuasion with another mom-friend about my love of cloth diapering and how it was so much better than filling a landfill with the disposable diapers she was using. A voice inside my head ran a silent commentary as one of my mom-friends shared that she had just purchased a certain high-end brand stroller: “Oh geez [eye roll], what a waste of money! The cheapie off-brand is working fine for me…”
I ducked in and out of the mommy wars for the first couple of years of my daughter’s life. When I went back to work after maternity leave, I simply didn’t have the time to participate as actively as I had in social media, but silent commentaries still ran in my mind when topics I was on the other side of came up in everyday conversations with my mom-friends. It wasn’t until earlier this year that it hit me.
I was listening to a co-worker give his final presentation at the conclusion of his 6-month creative sabbatical. His topic was Stories of Devotion: Narratives of Faith Across a Pluralistic Landscape. In essence, he set out on a journey to explore the world’s religions, to learn as much as possible about as many different faiths as possible. His intent was to learn, to ask questions and to listen. Specifically, to not debate. I was fascinated with this idea… Religion is perhaps one of the most debated topics in history. I think many people would agree that it is difficult to talk about religion without expressing one’s views or opinions, especially if one is passionate about their faith. Is it even possible to not debate?
For the next hour, my co-worker talked through his journey, sharing the kinds of questions he asked, the various religions he explored, the stories of the amazing people he met, and photographs of his travels to beautiful cities and sacred places of worship. Toward the end of his presentation, he went on to say this: “Most of all, I believe today more than ever, in the power of empathetic and active listening. I believe that having a genuine interest in what gives meaning to other people’s lives creates a more emotionally connected and compassionate world.”
This statement hit me like a ton of bricks as I realized that I wake up every day “ready for battle.” Ready for debate. I want to be right. I want to have the right answer. I want to question everything with the intent to find the right answer. I feel the need to justify my views or my actions with the intent of “winning,” whether in my job, my career, my marriage or as a mom.
From a very young age, we ask “why” (I’m in the thick of it with my 2.5 year old right now). As we grow, we are taught to question everything, conduct research, form opinions, and to engage in healthy debate — whether it’s in school, at work, in politics, in religion, or in raising our children. As my co-worker spoke, it dawned on me that I spend too much energy and effort debating and justifying my opinions and perspectives as a mom instead of listening and learning–and ultimately experiencing the richness of what that can bring to my relationships.
Friends, I believe there is a simple solution to ending the mommy wars, and it is this: Listen. Be present in your conversations and relationships, ask questions, and genuinely listen to those around you. You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to disagree. You don’t even have to share your opinion (in fact, try not to).