It’s stirred up quite a lot of controversy in the parenting world over the last week or so – Similacs’s “Mommy Wars” video, depicting the usually-online world of competitive parenting in a playground setting. Some love it, because of the positive message it ultimately presents. Others hate it, for numerous reasons – because it excludes men, because it’s promoting formula and because they see offence in it. I can understand both viewpoints, but I still think the video is so important.
The video is here –
(I tried to find a version without the Similac advert on the end, so the video can be appreciated for what it is, but couldn’t despite extensive searching).
So first things first – isn’t the message lovely? Isn’t that what we really want – to all be in it together? And also, isn’t it true? At the end of the day, it’s all about the baby, and despite all our disagreements, all the debates and arguments, we’re all parents, first and foremost.
There seem to be some people who disagree with this sentiment, and do believe that how you feed, or diaper, or clothe, or carry your baby is the most important thing (personally I disagree, but hey ho). For a long time I’ve struggled to understand this point of view, until the last few days, when I’ve really immersed myself in discussions about the video and about infant feeding in general, and I’ve started to understand other viewpoints. It will never be one I agree with – my personal opinion is that a healthy, happy baby is the most important thing, and you can achieve this with either breastfeeding OR bottlefeeding – but everyone is entitled to their views, as long as you don’t deliberately cause offence in the process (of course, we all know there are people who take pride in doing this, but as I said in my ‘beta parent’ post – I use these people as my anti-inspiration; the people I aspire to be the opposite of).
One criticism I do agree with is the exclusion of fathers. Similac did great to include fathers in the advert, but they then excluded them with the ‘sisterhood of motherhood’. When called on it, they responded that fathers were part of the ‘sisterhood of motherhood’, but I do agree that, as they said, “we are parents first” – surely it’s the ‘brother-and-sisterhood of parenthood’? It may be a bit of a mouthful, but the brilliant message of the video is detracted from somewhat.
However I have read about people feeling that the advert “targets breastfeeders”. This is something I disagree with – primarily because it targets everyone! It pokes fun at everyone, pointing out the stereotypes that sometimes we’re all guilty of falling into. I recognise myself in several of the stereotypes – the defensive formula feeder, the slightly nervous “helicopter mom” baby-wearer, the working mum saying “what do stay at home parents do all day?”. And it makes you stop and think about why you say these things, and why it really bothers us what other people do with their babies.
If the advert showed only the formula feeders rushing after the runaway pram, or everyone rushing after it except for the breastfeeding mums who refused to on the principle that the baby is bottle-fed, I’d completely understand that point of view – but in this instance, I really, really disagree. Bottle-feeders are often criticised for taking offence when none is intended – I think the tables have turned a little here, and that is what has happened.
As for the fact that it’s advertising formula… ah. Well this is one area where I’m completely torn, because I LOVE the video, it’s a positive message and it’s done some pretty awesome things – but I hate that it’s by a formula company. I strongly disagree with formula advertising, not for the reasons that some people give (that it’s counter-productive to breastfeeding – I don’t know anyone who’s watched the SMA advert and thought “ah yeah, screw breastfeeding, I’d rather do that instead!”) but the corrupt industry in general. I resent paying up to £10 a tub of formula, most of which goes into advertising the products. I resent the fact that they’ve created follow-on milk, a product which is completely unnecessary, as babies can continue drinking first milk until they’re ready to move on to cow’s milk (We do buy follow-on, purely because it’s cheaper than the first milk she drank), and as for the toddler and growing-up milk… I really, truly don’t see the point. I don’t like their unethical practices in third world countries – yep, there’s a whole heap of things I don’t like about formula companies, and I say that as a formula feeder.
BUT, would the video have been made without Similac? Would this massive debate have been sparked? Would we be having such a global conversation about the ‘Mommy Wars’ without the advert? And, although the conversation hasn’t always been civil, for the most part it has been interesting. Most importantly for me personally, the conversations have led me to realise something – something which has made me feel, for the first time, like I’m at peace with the fact I couldn’t breastfeed.
I used to take offence when people said “Breastfeeding is my proudest parenting achievement”, and “I’m giving my baby the best start”. In my head, it equated to “You are a failure for not breastfeeding”, “you are not giving your baby the best start”. It felt like a personal dig – but now I realise, it really isn’t.
One of my proudest parenting achievements is continuing with university without taking any time out. I’ve seen plenty of blogs from other young parents who dropped out of university, or took a year or two out. My reasons for being proud have always been that I’ve not let pregnancy or parenthood stop me from finishing my degree, and that I’m bettering myself to give SB a better life.
It’s never even crossed my mind that those who do drop out or take time off should be ashamed or feel guilty, but I can see how my posts could come across that way. It just never occurred to me – I think because the feeding debate is such a touchy subject, we’re all hyper-aware of what everyone else is saying, and slightly more predisposed to take offence where none is intended. I’ve felt able to join in the debate, without taking every personal anecdote of success as a personal affront.
So the video has had a positive affect on at least one person, and I know of many others who say their views have been changed, or they feel better, for having watched it. In short, I can see both sides of the debate – although it’s by a company I disagree with, and I feel sorry for those who feel offended by it, I think the benefits it has provided in making people feel better about their parenting decisions, and the debate and discussion it has opened up – not just about all aspects of childrearing, but also about why we feel we have a right to comment on what others do – is massively important, and outweighs the negatives.