A decade ago, at a time when mummy blogs were rising in popularity and we all should have felt united under the umbrella of survival, the phenomenon of the Mummy Wars flared up. These so-called wars, which centered around how one chose to parent, pitted stay-at-home mums against working mums, breastfeeding mums against formula-feeders, baby-wearing mums against stroller-lovers, and co-sleeping parents against crib-users.
While a lot of the vitriol was either manufactured or dramatised by the media, I saw echoes of it in my own life.
Parents — mostly mothers — grouped off into little tribes where they could feel validated and supported in their own specific set of parenting strategies. Which is a totally normal, human thing to do when faced with the life-altering transition of becoming a parent.
But as we turned to each other for support, commiseration and advice, we also began to label ourselves as this or that type of parent. We began to compare.
When my son was an infant, I knew not only whether his little infant friends were breastfed but for precisely how many months. I knew who was cloth diapered and who was sitting in those toxic disposables (I can say that because he was one of them). I knew who was crying themselves to sleep and who most definitely was not.
For many of us, the mums within our tribes suddenly seemed to be doing it so much better than we were. Parenting, particularly online, became a competition.
Exacerbating all of this were the Instagram “influencers” who began to show us just how perfectly we could be parenting if only we had the free clothing and the perfect lighting. Writer Kathryn Jezer-Morton describes it this way in The Cut.
The Influencer Age brought about the Insta-perfect life that everyone knows is painstakingly staged, but that we love to follow — and critically dismantle — anyway.
Pretty quickly, we all had just about enough of that — Their homes can’t possibly look that beautiful all the time! — and “real” mums looked for a new way to define themselves. Something that oozed “I’m doing a great job” but with a side of, “but guys, this is so hard!”
And the “perfectly imperfect” movement was born. Jezer-Morton writes:
“Perfectly imperfect” claims to reject the trap of perfectionism, and often appears alongside stories about a “journey” to self-acceptance, or a triumph over adversity. It’s often used to describe an overall approach to life: Forget the happy homemaker routine and embrace the chaos and love of your family life as it already is.
To label oneself as a “perfectly imperfect” parent implies a self-acceptance, yes, but it still rings false.
Now that my son is eight years old and we live in a different state, I am happy to report that I have absolutely no idea whether his friend Matthew was breastfed or whether his other friend Matthew was in daycare as a baby or whether his other friend Matthew began eating solids via the baby-led weaning method. (We have a lot of Matthews in our area.)
Better yet, I could not possibly care less how they are raised, beyond trying to gauge whether their parents seem to be good people.
You don’t have to define what kind of parent you are, for you or for anyone else. No one is any one type of parent forever. You can be a little bit of everything. Or you can be a whole bunch of something for a while and then a whole bunch of something else after that.
You might helicopter in on your kid one day when he really seems to need it and let him go free range the rest of the week. If it’s working for your family, it doesn’t need to fit into some neat little box or catchy hashtag.
My infant ate nothing but homemade purees of organic fruits, vegetables and proteins for many months. As a toddler, he ate a shit-ton of microwaved dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.
I am frustratingly strict when it comes to what kind of media he consumes and how he consumes it. But I don’t really put a limit on screen time.
I don’t let him play online-multiplayer games when he’s at home, but I don’t supervise him much at all when he’s outside playing with his friends.
I am nurturing, and I’ve been known to yell.
My standards vary based on the day of the week, the direction of the wind and my general mood. I have absolutely no idea what kind of parent I am other than hopefully a decent one.
I wouldn’t know how to begin to define myself on a scale of zero to perfection. And you don’t need to, either.