Confession: I just unfollowed a woman on Instagram because I was fed up with her posts of the daily art projects she orchestrates for her Brady Bunch blended family. It wasn’t just the art projects. She also arranges huge meals every night for this brood and then snaps photos of them (and judging by the viewpoint, she must be snapping them while standing on a dining chair, hanging from a ceiling fan, or sitting atop her tall-dark-handsome husband’s shoulders. Her husband is also her “very best friend,” by the way). Oh, and she has started running up to 12 miles a day because… I don’t know why. Maybe because she clearly has a ton of pent-up anger from all the art projects?
I am currently on leave from work so I am able to be a full-time mother to my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter during this pandemic and, yet, even in my full-time mother role, I am not willing to paint rocks, string beads to make necklaces, or “explore” water colors. I am not willing to procure felt, yarn, pipe cleaners, or Elmer’s glue (I am having a hard enough time procuring paper towels). Just so we are clear, I am also not willing to sit atop my husband’s shoulders to take photos of dinners. One, my husband is shorter than me so this would not work; two, microwaved pizza is not very photogenic. I will say that I did attempt to start running more due to my own anxieties related to suddenly becoming a full-time mother—you can read about that here—but then I tweaked a muscle. So now I am literally limping through my life.
At first, I thought the Mommy Wars were calming due to the COVID-19 crisis. After all, we were all abruptly stuck in less-than-ideal circumstances. There was camaraderie and bonding: Look at all of us struggling together. We got this. Then, as we all marched this same path, we came to a fork in the road. Some of us took a right and ended up in Art Project Land; and some of us took a left and ended up in Just Trying To Get Through the F**king Day Without Losing My Mind Land.
I am in the second land, as should be obvious by now. In my land, I feel accomplished when I take my weekly shower. I have no qualms about my daughter watching YouTube. I am willing to help put diapers on her baby dolls. I am willing to pretend that Play-doh is food and applaud her “cooking” efforts. I am willing to let her put stickers all over my legs (a recent activity…wait, does that count as art?). But I am not willing to do projects.
This unwillingness is partly related to how overwhelmed I am with the current life situation, and partly just who I am. I tried to create a Pinterest board once and gave up after a half-hour. I am Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare. I’ve never been a crafty person, and I do not think a global pandemic is a time to try to become someone I’m not. I’m having a hard enough time dealing with the person I am.
Other moms though, they are taking to social media to display the closets of kid clothes they are organizing (by color!), the kid-friendly baking experiences they are enjoying, and, yes, the endlessly-creative, mind-expanding, mini-Picasso-inspiring art projects they are completing.
Maybe this is just who they are. Maybe this is their way of coping. A more Zen person than me would accept this and move along. But, no, I am annoyed. I am in the midst of a Pandemic Mommy War.
It’s not just me. I have heard the following from friends over the past couple weeks:
I can’t believe she hired a nanny so she could work from home. So much for social distancing.
This mom friend of mine just sent me a link to this education app. Am I supposed to be EDUCATING my 3-year-old?
My cousin has her 4-year-old on a set schedule—breakfast, reading time, outside activity, lunch. They check off each thing as they go every day. Makes me want to barf.
My neighbor quit her job so she could do the homeschooling for her kids. Must be nice to be able to just quit your job.
This woman I work with does Zoom mommy-and-me classes with her kid on her lunch breaks. Like, take a chill pill, lady.
As you can see, no mom is safe from judgment. If you’re putting your kid in front of the TV for seven hours a day (as condoned recently by Glennon Doyle), you are doing it wrong. If you are engaging with your child all day, you’re doing it wrong. If you are outsourcing that engagement, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re working, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re not working, you’re doing it wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Part of the problem is that social distancing has us all on social media even more than we already were (I didn’t think this was possible, but the weekly notification informing me of my average daily screen time tells me that it is). At first, I thought the increase in social media use was a positive thing—we all need some connection, right? But now I’m not so sure.
In her new book Bad Moms (based on the movie—how cool is that?), Nora McInerney writes, “It’s a form of digital self-harm—comparing my mothering to hers, comparing my children to hers, comparing my house, my clothes, my car to hers.” We know it makes us annoyed to go on Instagram and Facebook and see what everyone else is doing, but we keep scrolling. We keep scratching that itch.
Why? Or rather, why so much NOW?
I think there are a few reasons.
One, we are bored. We do not have the same social engagement as usual, so we are going online to faux-socialize and create dramas where none should exist.
Two, we are stressed out because we are in the midst of a global pandemic and there is something comforting about snarking on the mom of your kid’s school friend. It feels so deliciously petty at a time when everything feels so serious. Snarking is comforting like macaroni and cheese is comforting (for the record, my household just got the 12-pack of macaroni and cheese from Costco).
Three, we are really insecure. Another quote from Bad Moms, meant to speak to our doubts as mothers in normal times: “On our worst days, we are sure that we have no idea what we’re doing. Guess what? We don’t!” These are not normal times, so our insecurities are heightened like never before.
There is no guide for how to run your household when everyone is stuck inside together 24/7 for weeks on end (there will be an end, right? RIGHT?). Mothering at this time is a strange endeavor. Most of us doubt ourselves, and the doubt is mentally exhausting: Should I be using this time to cook or bake more? Should I be teaching my toddler something? Should I be helping with homeschooling more? Should I be prioritizing work because I’m lucky to still have a job? Should I be setting boundaries at work because I have monkey children literally hanging off me? Should I be more creative with my kids? Am I stimulating their minds enough? Am I making the most of my family time? Should I control my temper better? Am I being too lax with discipline? Of course, all these ladder up to one big question: Am I doing this right?
The simple answer is…probably.
There isn’t really a “right” to this. How can there be? We are all making up the rules of Pandemic Parenting as we go. Each of our households is different, with different circumstances and stressors. Our marriages are different, our kids and their needs are different, our jobs are different, our financial situations are different, our medical issues are different, our emotions are different.
I’ve decided that “right” for me is sanity. What’s best for my daughter is my own mental health. Put on your own oxygen mask first, as they say. Some days, I am front and center with her, playing pretend, laughing, “relishing moments” and “soaking up together time” (to quote the Instagram captions of moms I find annoying). Some days, I’m like, “Here’s the iPad, don’t bother me” (and my only regret about this is that her attention span is so short). Not every day is the same. Yesterday, I felt like I was close to Buddhist enlightenment; today I Googled “are insane asylums still a thing?” (they are not, FYI).
This isn’t the time for mothers to be hating on each other. We have to remember that the “mommy wars” are a twisted way to keep women down. If we’re too busy doubting ourselves and snarking on each other, we can’t exactly accomplish things. I also remind myself that “excelling” at motherhood became a thing right around the time when women started demanding equal rights. In her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Jennifer Senior writes about how in the 1920s, just as women were exercising their newly won right to vote, “researchers were urging mothers to return home and pay more attention to the new, emerging field of child development.” In 1970, right around the time women were fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, the word “parent” first gained popularity as a verb. It’s like any time women start stepping into the “male world,” they are gently reminded that they should turn around and make motherhood their identity. It’s no wonder mothering has become a competitive sport.
So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to un-enlist from the Mommy War that’s currently underway. That doesn’t mean I’m going to start doing art projects; that just means that I will stop rolling my eyes at your art projects. It’s worth noting that I did purchase an adult coloring book featuring cats in various unladylike poses. Some days, it is the calming activity it promises to be and I feel genuinely impressed with my very-very-hidden artistic talent. Other days, I press the crayons so hard into the paper that they break and I wonder if I’m officially losing it.
I know many of us are feeling like we’re “officially losing it,” so let’s go easy on each other. Let’s embrace the fact that we’re all just doing our best. Some of us are making sourdough bread from scratch; some of us are coloring cat butts. We all have to do what we have to do. Acceptance of that is the only way to end the Mommy Wars for good.