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Check Your Privilege, Sanctimommy

Flickr/ Sarabbit

I belong to a Facebook group that regularly sends up judgmental parents of all stripes by posting anonymous screengrabs of some of the most egregious sanctimonious social media posts for all to mock. The group is an equal-opportunity offender, taking aims at those who judge breastfeeding, formula feeding, staying at home, going to work, all of it (the way I see it, if you haven’t recognized yourself in at least one post, you’re deluding yourself.)

Some judge more than others, and to me, those mommies are the most deserving of mockery for their finger-pointing, superiority and total lack of perspective (how loving and open and caring can you really be when you’re spending time taking notes on how everyone else should be doing it more like you?) However, the more I’ve thought about it, there’s another reason these high-horse types should be critiqued: their inherent snobbery.

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I’m not typically an internet social justice warrior type. I don’t live for Twitter shaming or believe in picking apart stupidly-said things and common flaws to try to get to the bottom of how every single person is “problematic” and therefore should be disregarded. The word “privilege” gets thrown around a lot. But when a parent is wrapping herself in a mantle of superiority and yet systematically disregarding the reality of millions of parents who couldn’t achieve her level of perfection (even if they wanted to,) she needs to be checked.

What am I talking about? Posts like this:

Actually, Yellow, it is difficult for a lot of people. I found making all my son’s baby food onerous and I have a pretty cushy life. Go ahead and take that message out to poor neighborhoods or towns where single parents have to work full time. Once they’re home from work, or maybe while they’re on the job, tell them that it’s “not that hard” to wake up, take care of children, go to work, come home, look after the house, and perhaps other children, without an iota of help. Go tell them that it’s “sad” if they can’t find the time to go to the store, buy fresh baby food ingredients, come home, prepare the food, and cook it all while the children are taking care of themselves. Don’t forget to tell them to make sure to store their homemade baby food in BPA-free containers!

Then, here’s this:

Some of us choose to put our children in daycare, which means I take Pink’s criticisms with a grain of salt. I can be sarcastic about my choice to expose my son to such abuse because if I really wanted to, I could be a stay-at-home mom. But on behalf of other parents, Pink really needs to STFU. Not only is she simply being ridiculous, she’s accusing parents who must work of putting their children in the hands of child abusers. So one’s choices are: putting food on the family table and working with a certified, licensed daycare, or... not working?

Are they truly saying that all those who simply can’t adhere to their strict guidelines of what they consider true parenthood are worthy of criticism? Or are they simply writing all those folks off, because they, with their problems and lack of choices and resources, don’t even count?

Finally (and I don’t have a screengrab for this, but I’m paraphrasing from another group I belong to), there are the mothers who fetishize “poorer” cultures for having figured out how to keep their babies happy—African babies never cry, for instance, because their mothers wear their children all the time, unlike here in the cruel Western world where we, I don’t know, put our babies in cold plastic boxes and stack them up and stick them with pins. Jessica Valenti addresses this in her book "Why Have Kids?" Yes, nurturing is good. Yes, swaddling and constant contact is a soothing method that works for many babies. But there’s something gross and colonial to imply “Oh, those nice simple ladies in poor countries really know how to nurture their babies.” This point of view chooses to generalize that these wonderful earth mamas are all contentedly sitting around poking a fire, breastfeeding while baby wearing—and are not, in fact, working, or stressed, perhaps suffering from poor health or political upheaval. I bet if you gave some of these supposed “simpler” people the chance to drop the baby off at daycare and buy a jar of baby food while enjoying a lot of the other cushy aspects of Western life, they’d do it faster than you could say “Baby Bjorn.”

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I’m not a saint. In January I read the article “Talk To Your Kids” by Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker about new programs across the country that encourage low-income parents to talk more frequently with their little kids. This seems obvious, I thought, but it’s a great idea. Who would have any objections to a program like this? But as I read on, I realized, as Talbot reported, that there were several valid criticisms to programs like these, including, “imposing middle-class cultural values on poorer parents who had their own valid approaches to raising children.” I, too, needed to be reminded that what might seem “obvious” to me as a parent might not be obvious, right, applicable or even helpful to another mother. I needed some perspective.

Some parents don’t want to hear the “don’t judge” argument against sanctimommying. They think it’s their right to put down other parents for doing their own thing and decry it as censorship or “ignoring the facts” when it’s suggested that they not do that. But I’d like them to think twice at least about who they are sanctimommying. Are they truly saying that all those who simply can’t adhere to their strict guidelines of what they consider true parenthood are worthy of criticism? Or are they simply writing all those folks off, because they, with their problems and lack of choices and resources, don’t even count? I can’t tell which is worse.

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