What happens when the “Fashion Police” meet the “Mommy Police”?
Ask Kelly Osbourne, the former reality star and daughter of Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, who announced in May that she would soon become a mother and discussed her upcoming life changes on the talk show “Red Table Talk” last week.
In the conversation, Osbourne explained that she had received a wild amount of judgment for choosing to stay on an unspecified medication instead of breastfeeding her newborn. Some medications are safe to take while nursing a baby, but many can be present in breast milk, according to the Mayo Clinic.
As Osbourne found out, most new mothers’ introduction to the “mommy wars” comes via their decisions about feeding, birth and sleeping. The wars continue as mothers face judgment — from family, friends and strangers — regarding any number of topics: caregiving, discipline, attire, you name it.
If it’s a parenting decision, you can almost guarantee a nonparent has an opinion, and they often aren’t shy about sharing them.
On the topic of breastfeeding, what most new mothers don’t hear is that the data isn’t clear on the explicit benefits. We’re told “breast is best” with the implication that mothers choosing not to breastfeeding aren’t doing what’s best for their children.
Emily Oster, a Brown University economist and bestselling author on the intersection of data and parenting, recently released a chapter of her book “Cribsheet” in which she analyzed the data behind the benefits of breastfeeding.
Oster explained, “Digging into the data, I found credible evidence for some small, early-life benefits of breastfeeding (lower rates of gastrointestinal illness, possibly fewer ear infections) but no credible evidence for most of the claims made about long-term health or IQ. The bottom line is that breast is great. But formula is also great. And shaming people for making either choice is harmful.”
Osbourne is getting an early start at withstanding the pressures of motherhood, and a lesson in handling criticism as one should: by ignoring it.
The New York Post reported on her comments: “What kind of mother am I gonna be if I start going backwards, if I start being self-destructive?”
The “Fashion Police” alumna explained that she has already learned that she can’t pay attention to others’ opinions.
What is at the bottom of the so-called “mommy wars”? What’s the underlying motivation behind the individual and societal shaming that mothers of all walks of life must withstand on a day-to-day, year-to-year basis?
Succinctly: It is the idea that the moment a woman becomes a mother, she ceases to exist as a woman. She becomes just a mother. And that mother exists wholly and completely for the sake of her child and must give up every part of her that preceded the birth of her child, and forgo any future comfort or desires, because now they are just Mom, and that’s it.
Oster, who describes herself on Twitter as “unapologetically data driven,” writes books that are an antidote for women who have been made to feel guilty for making rational decisions about parenting using data and common sense.
She’s also written on her blog Parent Data about the recent panic about use of acetaminophen in pregnancy and the possible link to autism and ADHD later in life, a panic driven by advertisements about class-action lawsuits.
Women have been writing to Oster, terrified that choices made during pregnancy have harmed their children for life. They have been made to feel guilty over making a rational risk assessment regarding their decision to take Tylenol during pregnancy, one that advisory bodies like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine have deemed safe.
The message is this: Mothers should withstand any and all pain during pregnancy, choosing to suffer in silence because there is an unproven chance of harm to their unborn child.
When mothers, both new and experienced, grapple with mommy shaming, it’s critical to bear in mind the real message they’re being sent. They’re being told that they don’t matter, that only their child does, and they must remind themselves that they do. Societally, we have to change the way we talk about parenting decisions to keep in mind that there are two separate and worthy parties in the mother-child relationship and any decisions have to take that fact into consideration.
Women are increasingly less and less interested in becoming mothers; close to a quarter of adults (23%) are currently childless and saying they do not hope to have a child someday. The idea that women must exist solely for the sake of their children is a part of this phenomenon. If we want women to desire motherhood and want more children, we need to make clear to them that their wants and needs matter.
Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret News. She is a home-schooling mother of five and a widely published writer on politics, culture and Judaism. She is an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”