When I announced my pregnancy to friends and family, I was so excited to experience pregnancy, labor, delivery and motherhood with a set of like-minded women. I had some friends who were already mothers and some friends where becoming mothers around the same time I was; all who consider themselves proud feminists. I knew I was going to be supported and my experience was going to be valued and we were going to go through this "together." Well, I thought I knew. Turns out, there are things feminist moms refuse to say to their mom friends that I, sadly, heard from a few mom friends who, if asked, would call themselves feminists.
I had this idea of what motherhood was going to look like and in reality, of course, it has failed to live up to my unrealistic expectations. For the most part, that's a great thing. I have learned that taking care of yourself is the most important; I have learned that motherhood doesn't mean you have to sacrifice everything you want and/or need; I have learned that parenting with a partner means both people have the same amount of responsibility and throw gender stereotypes and social expectations out the damn window. Sadly, I have also learned that motherhood isn't always a bonding experience amongst women. It can be, to be sure, and I have some wonderful mom friends who I have grown closer to because we have babies and are experiencing similar things at similar times. However, it has also been isolating. The "mommy wars" are real, and when my choices don't align with someone else's, well, there's judgement and shame and blatant attacks (usually carried out via social media) that can make motherhood feel more like a battle than a bond.
As feminists, who believe in the social, political and economical equality of all genders, how we talk about and to other women is important. We should be supporting women and their choices, even and especially when they differ from our own. We need to fight against the very real urge to tear one another down in order to feel validated in our own decisions. We definitely need to avoid saying the following things, because motherhood is difficult enough.
"Why Are You Choosing To Stay At Home?"
A feminist isn't going to adhere to dying gender stereotypes that insist a woman should "stay home," especially after she has procreated. She most certainly won't push those stereotypes onto a friend, essentially making her feel "less than" or "flawed" or somehow weaker. A stay-at-home mom isn't a bad feminist, especially if she made that decision herself.
"Don't You Feel Guilty For Going Back To Work?"
This is a loaded question, obviously, with other motives than simple curiosity. Women are constantly being scrutinized for the decisions they are (and aren't) making. If you stay at home, you're giving up on your dreams but if you go to work, you're selfish. A feminist is all-too aware that women can't "win," and she won't put her friend in a situation to feel the burden of ridiculous social standards.
"Choosing To Get An Epidural Is A Cop Out..."
No, a woman feeling like she has to suffer in order to solidify her "womanhood," is a cop out. Unfortunately, I've been on the receiving end of a few of these comments, from mom friends who think that having an epidural is "selfish." It can be tough to navigate the expectations of others who can't possibly know what your unique situation is. It's tough to be told, by a friend, that you were selfish for doing what was best for you and your birthing experience. A feminist wouldn't do that to any mother, because whether you had a natural birth or you scheduled a c-section, you brought a life into the world and it was hard.
"...And Your Birth Wasn't Natural."
Telling women what's "natural" and what isn't, is a blatant and harmful attempt at creating qualifiers for femininity and womanhood and human experiences. Telling a woman that her birth wasn't "natural" because it was a c-section or because it was medicated, is like telling a woman that she's only "natural" if she doesn't wear make-up or if she has curves or if she doesn't have curves. These aren't scientific definitions. These aren't helpful or empowering. These essentially de-value and de-humanize women and their choices and their experiences. A feminist wouldn't dare, and will actually work against these random and unnecessary modifiers of motherhood.
"Home Births Are Dangerous..."
Well, birth can be dangerous. So can walking on the side walk and driving your car. If your friend has decided that home birth is for them and something they want to do, telling them that it's "dangerous" is essentially trying to talk someone out of a choice they've already made. Even if it isn't something you would experience yourself, a feminist will support the choices of every woman. Don't scare someone into changing their mind. Don't use fear to gain validation in your own decisions. Just, you know, be supportive.
"...And You're Being Selfish."
Women are allowed to be selfish, first and foremost. In fact, usually when a woman is labeled "selfish," she's really just taking care of herself or practicing self-care or not putting everyone else's needs above her own. Furthermore, a woman should definitely be selfish during birth, as she is simultaneously doing arguably the most unselfish thing imaginable. Whatever way she decides to birth isn't selfish, it's necessary, and she should be supported endlessly (as long as she is being safe and healthy, of course). It's not selfish to want to experience birth at home or in a tub or outside or at a birthing center or without drugs and medical intervention. It's not selfish to confidently make your own decisions.
"You're Not Parenting Right"
I have, sadly, had some mom friends attack my parenting. In fact, it was via social media and so hurtful I was filled with an enormous amount of self-doubt and fear. I was a brand new mother with a newborn and a cat who did not get along. The cat was scratching my baby consistently, and as much as I loved that cat (still do), I felt like I had to find her a new home. I asked friends for help and advice, and instead of understanding, a friend attacked me for being selfish. She told me pets should be forever and I might as well put a bubble around my son and I was being a "helicopter parent" and setting my kid up to fail. It hurt. Man, oh man, it hurt.
Another friend privately messaged me and said she had the same problem. She, then, gave me some alternatives to finding the cat a new home, and I was able to keep the cat and keep my son from being constantly scratched. The cat still lives with us, and I learned a valuable lesson: people who judge your parenting don't help you parent, and you can't judge a person into learning or growing or being better. We need to constantly be supportive and listening to one another and working through things together, especially if we're going to consider ourselves feminists.
"You're Taking Too Much Time For Yourself"
A feminist is going to push against the notion that, in order to be a good mother, you must sacrifice every single part of yourself. Instead, she is going to encourage her mom friends (hell, all of her friends regardless of whether or not they've procreated) to find and make time for themselves. I can't tell you how helpful this is. You may know you need to take care of yourself, but when society is constantly telling mothers that they're selfish if they spend time away from their kids or do something that only benefits them, hearing someone remind you that it is, in fact, OK, can be so empowering.
"You Should Care Enough To Breastfeed..."
"Caring" has nothing to do with breastfeeding. Yes, for many women, the choice to breastfeed is made with the benefits heavily in mind. However, so many women choose to breastfeed, and can't. They literally had the choice taken away from them. Others choose not to breastfeed because the benefits do not outweigh the negative, which can vary from woman to woman. Perhaps a woman has to work and doesn't want to pump and/or can't afford one. Perhaps she wants help at night and doesn't want to be the only person responsible and/or able to feed her baby. If those negatives are too much, then the choice not to breastfeed is a good one, for that particular woman and her situation. A feminist isn't going to make another woman feel bad about her experience or her choices. Nope.
"...But I could Never Breastfeed In Public Like That"
A feminist definitely won't shame a mom friend for choosing to unapologetically breastfeed in public. First, she won't see it as a sexual act. Second, she won't see her friend's breasts as something inherently "bad" or in constant need of coverage. Lastly, she won't shame someone else's decisions.
"I Don't Make Mistakes With My Kids"
Well, I mean, lying never helped anyone. Just ask Taylor Swift and her ongoing (and, if I'm being honest, entertaining) feud with Kanye West.
Honestly, a feminist isn't going to hold herself, or her friends, to an unrealistic standard of womanhood or motherhood. Women make mistakes. Moms make mistakes. This doesn't mean they're "bad" or they're "failures," it just means that they're freakin' human beings who can't be perfectly all the damn time.
"You Shouldn't Feel The Way You're Feeling"
If a mom friend (or any friend) is feeling differently than you feel, it doesn't mean their feelings are invalid or unimportant or worthy of a cold shoulder. While motherhood is arguably a universally shared experience for many women, it is also unique to every woman. How a woman handles pregnancy and labor and delivery and parenthood is going to be different than another woman's experience, and that is OK. A feminist mom isn't going to tell her mom friend that she shouldn't feel feeling sad or overwhelmed or frustrated. She isn't going to tell her she's wrong when she's exhausted and doesn't want to mom anymore. She is just going to be supportive.
"You're Alone On That One"
No one is ever alone, and a feminist mom is going to make sure her friends know that. Even though every experience is unique to the person going through it, there are commonalities everywhere and those commonalities are worth celebrating and highlighting, especially when motherhood feels lonely. A feminist mom isn't going to make her friend feel like she's the only woman who has ever experienced postpartum depression or has been so frustrated with her kids she wants to run away or has any other feeling that exposes the real, ugly and exhausting side of motherhood.