A generation or two ago, “parenting” probably wasn’t a noun. It was just something a mom and a dad did once baby made three. Fast-forward to 2010, where endless choices, along with their perceived pitfalls, await. How we choose to raise our child, the incremental everyday decisions we make, define the kind of parents we are. Use cloth diapers? Co-sleep with your child? There’s no chance you’d be caught feeding your baby formula. Ply Junior with Cheetos for an afternoon snack? It’s doubtful you spend much time worrying about any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Moms line up neatly into one of two camps — the anal-retentive, organic produce-plying perfectionists or the TV-watching, junk-food-feeding slackers — or so the conventional wisdom goes. Both sides are simultaneously and smugly convinced the other side is failing at raising their kids. The feeling of being constantly judged has inspired a new video on YouTube, Why I Can’t Make Mom Friends, which has put a laugh-out-loud, refreshingly satirical face on the way we judge each other. (More on Time.com: 5 Pregnancy Taboos Explained (or Debunked))
In the video, two moms meet at the playground. One, a mom of twins, shares that she stopped breastfeeding after a month because it was too difficult. The other, a mom of three, responds: “That is a shame. Your poor children.”
“They are just fine,” replies the first mom. “They are in the 90th percentile for height.”
“Mine are in the 95th,” counters the second mom.
The video’s creator, Valerie Stone Hawthorne, 30, is a stay-at-home Texas mother of 2-year-old boy-girl twins who holds a doctorate in cancer biology and cell biology. These days she’s more apt to hold forth on the merits of graham vs. animal crackers, although she hasn’t lost her ability to think profound thoughts. For example, she’s got a pretty good idea what’s behind all this “mompetition”: nostalgia. (More on Time.com: Photos: America at Home)
Behind many moms at the park is a formerly successful professional who’s forsaken a career path to bring up baby. Now that’s their job, and they take it seriously. “Competition is a way to regain what they had in the work world,” says Stone Hawthorne. “We want to impress each other because we need validation.”
As an earnest new mom, Stone Hawthorne would troll mommy message boards only to get beaten down. “No matter what I was doing it was always wrong,” she says. “You know, if you don’t hold your child a million times a day and attend to his every need, he will grow up dysfunctional.” A researcher, she read scores of baby how-to books to determine the “right” way to raise her children. What she’s discovered is that there is no right way. Wouldn’t we be a lot happier if we’d all just acknowledge that?
Stone Hawthorne did her part by channeling her dry and sarcastic nature into formulating a retort to all the sanctimony. On her personal blog, she posted the video clip. As is the way of the Web, one person sent it to another; it’s now been viewed in various places, including on YouTube, about 350,000 times. “People were emailing me to say, I’m so glad you’re finally standing up,” she says. Amusingly enough, some of those emails came from women who act suspiciously like the blonde mom of three in the video, the one with the robo-voice. And that got Stone Hawthorne thinking again: What if the know-it-all smugness is just a show? Her suspicion was reinforced one day when she watched a woman offer grapes to her daughter only to have the girl demand a Snickers bar and dump the fruit on the ground. “We don’t eat Snickers,” the mom chided. Stone Hawthorne couldn’t help laughing when the girl’s brother proceeded to eat the grapes off the floor. “My kids eat Snickers and food off the ground all day,” she told the mom. “Really?” responded the mom, relaxing. “I was just trying to impress you.” (More on Time.com: The State of the American Woman)
The video’s sentiments have resonated with mothers; on BabyCenter.com, one poster, hugs4Jack, called the clip “hilarious” and said she’d been called “barbaric and just plain mean for having my son circumsized, lazy and selfish for ‘giving up’ on breast feeding and for buying jarred baby food instead of making my own, abusive for feeding my kid McDonald’s, flamed for vaccinating my child against the flu, the list goes on...I don’t know why we can’t all just agree to disagree. We aren’t always going to have the same views on everything.”
Not that Stone Hawthorne is immune from obsessive-compulsive parenting; she readily admits that Blondie in the video bears some resemblances to her own mom persona. (Stone Hawthorne fesses up to buying organic and would have gone the cloth diaper route if she’d had one, not two, babies at once.) It’s important to have a sense of humor, she says; levity makes this mom business bearable.
That’s why she’s given up engaging the obsessively Type A moms she encounters. “If someone tells me they make all their kids’ clothing from organic cotton produced on a self-subsidized farm, I just look at them like, Wow, that’s really great of you,” she says. “That’s what they want.”
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