Staying Out of the Mommy Wars

I was in the parking lot of Fry’s after grocery shopping with my daughter, who was somewhere between the ages of 6 and 8 months. She was old enough to sit in the grocery cart with no problem, but small enough not to be able to maneuver to standing in that death-defying move so many moms of toddlers know.

I was unloading the cart myself, trying to keep track of my baby, my purse, the groceries, and allowing the car to cool down enough to stick my baby in her sweltering bucket seat in the hot Arizona summer. A car honked loudly several times as it pulled in beside us. I looked up, startled, to a grandmotherly kind of woman practically leaping out before it was in park. “You shouldn’t leave your baby in the cart like that!” she scolded me. “She could fall out!”

“But I’m right here,” I countered, kind of stunned and unprepared to defend myself at the moment. She proceeded to tell me a story of her nephew/grandson/neighbor’s kid who had, in fact, leapt from the grocery cart and sustained a head injury as a result, but I couldn’t really focus on her message. I didn’t know her, she scared the crap out of me, and now she was standing here judging my parenting when I already felt completely overwhelmed as a first-time mom with my one child. And anyhow, she’s my monkey baby.

Staying out of the mommy wars

Whether you’re in a store, on a play date or on Facebook, you’ve probably seen a parent doing something you felt was unsafe. It might be something that just gave you pause, or it might be something you felt strongly about—a car seat facing forward too early, a baby bucket balanced precariously in the shopping cart basket, a shot of a baby standing in a crib that needs to be lowered, a kid in the car in front of you standing in his seat.

I don’t know the parent or the situation–all I want to do is make sure that baby is safe. I have to trust that it’s mom wants that for her child more than me. But there is part of me that wonders, What if she doesn’t know better? What if she needs someone to say something? Should that person be me?

Online, when these things get pointed out either by stranger or friend, it’s labeled as mommy wars. It’s seen as saying, “I’m a better parent than you because I wouldn’t do that.” I think most of us aren’t trying to come off like that, but we get defensive, we start projecting, and all of a sudden we’re in a Facebook fight with a mom we don’t even know over how to best take care of our own children.

I feel like I’ve learned how to handle this issue with nursing. Rather than preach and prod about the benefits of nursing to pregnant or new moms, I simply text or message them with a congrats and a reminder that I am here if they need me and that I would be happy to help them find any resources they may need to be successful with nursing. I’ve had many friends that I didn’t think would contact me, to ask questions and seek out resources. I have been so happy that they asked and that I could help without any confusion about my intentions.

But when you have that chance encounter with someone in the store or online, there’s no relationship of trust to work from. They don’t know your motivations or your background. I still don’t know whether it’s best to say something because I am sincerely worried about a safety risk, or if I’m being egotistical in thinking I am somehow more informed than any other mom, or that a random brush with me would change anyone’s life.

I still wince when I see car seats on top of grocery carts and babies standing in crib on the highest settings—those  things just worry me. I want to say something on the off chance that it will be heard. But for now, I just say a quick prayer and keep on walking.

Erin Burt is the mother of three daughters and a freelance writer who lives and works in Queensbury, New York. 

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