As parents, we're more connected than ever before, while simultaneously feeling more isolated and alone than ever in our history.
As a new mom, I tried to reach out to other parents who lived nearby, to find connections and solidarity in my parenting journey, but I struggled. I'm part of a meaningful and robust community, but most of the people I know have children who are at least a few years older than my son (who is approaching his first birthday). As I neared the end of my pregnancy, I thought preparing for parenting meant getting ready for sleepless nights, trying to soothe a crying baby and figuring out when to see the doctor if the baby wasn’t well.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the vast array of decisions I’d have to make—and the weight of each and every one of those decisions.
I didn’t understand that what I chose to do in my parenting was part of how I would be defined as a mother. That if I chose to bring my son into bed with me to help him sleep, it would set me apart from other moms who don’t and align me with the ones who do.
Faced with these decisions, I tried to find my solace online. I searched and researched, clicked and read, and most often found myself overwhelmed and in a state of further disarray, as each piece of parenting advice contradicted the last with equal fervor. I was afraid. Afraid I was doing it all wrong, which created more need for comfort and reassurance.
Many new moms find their parenting community in a Facebook group. These groups can give us a sense of belonging amongst the otherwise overwhelming tasks and decision-making of parenting. The "mommy Facebook group" is a creation our foremothers could not have imagined: women from around the globe in one group, trying to work through the struggles of parenting, and celebrating successes and milestones. Our foremothers sat in one physical room, tea in hand and babies outside in their strollers, getting some much needed fresh air.
They talked, they consoled, they advised, but the plethora of available information we have now was just not accessible to them. They may have had a parenting book, but it's more likely they had advice from their doctor or midwife and lessons learned from their own mother or grandmother or auntie. They also had their own experience, and good old-fashioned trial and error.
I think we need to go back to finding solidarity with other parents, regardless of their points of view or parenting styles.
Back in my grandmother’s day, you were a mother when you had a child. That’s it: just a mother, doing her best, trying to keep up with new information, asking for advice from those more seasoned than she. There have been many times as a new mom that I wished for a group of other mothers to sit with in person over cups of tea, just to talk through the struggles of parenting for the first time.
But now, you are defined as a parent by the choices you make, by your parenting philosophy. Problems arise when these choices become lines that need to be defended, allegiances that show you where you do and do not belong.
In our vulnerability as new parents, we hold tightly to these identity markers. Back in the day, parents tried out different parenting philosophies just to see if any of them worked, but nowadays, they've become a way we choose to define ourselves as parents—as if we require defining!
We are no longer able to identify as just moms or dads. We also no longer have the communities provide a sense of identity for us culturally, spiritually or even just based on close proximity. When we're feeling alone, we reach out and when we find what we think we are looking for; we battle for the belonging we used to find in our neighborhoods, our places of worship, our community centers and meeting places.
I’ve struggled with finding my place as a new mother in this modern age because I don’t fit nicely into any one box of parenting. I mix and match, use a lot of trial and error, and often wonder if the approach I’m using is the best for me and my little family.
I've joined and left many Facebook groups over the last 11 months of my son’s life. Some I have found genuinely helpful, others less so. What seems to be most helpful so far are non-judgmental spaces where people can just share what has worked for them. What hasn’t worked as well are the groups with dogmatic belief systems that are not open for alternative views.
I think we need to go back to finding solidarity with other parents, regardless of their points of view or parenting styles. Just listening to how people do things, trying out new things, seeing what fits and what doesn’t.
When we’re all scared we’re doing it wrong, that this enormous responsibility of parenting is more than we can handle, we cling more tightly to our philosophies and our choices, engaging in mommy wars to defend the lines that divide us.
But, for me, I’ve come to accept that there are a lot of ways to be a great parent. And we really do need other parents to sustain and support us on this once-in-a-lifetime journey. Because if we aren't there for each other, who will be?