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Motherhood

The “Mommy Wars” Have Made it to Africa, and They Are Uglier Than Ever

They say fashion and trends recycle themselves every 20 years, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that the Mommy Wars – a dark and desolate time during the early days of social media – have reared its ugly head. 

In the early 2000s when platforms like Facebook and Blogger were at their zenith, and when Pinterest was just a thing of passing interest, stay-at-home moms were finding their voices (and social relevance) in rearing children. We were documenting and sharing everything online, from baby’s first words, explosive diaper blowouts, and first days at school. In time, what was a fun atmosphere built on a foundation of shared anxiety, doubts, missteps, and misadventures in first time parenting soon morphed into a cesspool of competition, judgement, and condemnation. Suddenly, you were labelled a “bad mom” if your methods did not fit into a strict scope of behaviors as deigned by the dreaded, unseen force known as ‘They’.     

‘They’ said that if you did not:

Breastfeed your baby, you were a bad mom.

Homeschool your children, you were a bad mom.

Put your children in public or private school, you were a bad mom.

Vaccinate or NOT vaccinate your infants, you were a bad mom.

If you had a rough day at work (and why were you working anyways?) and stopped by the drive-thru for dinner, you were a bad mom.

Cut your toddler’s grapes in half or cut the crust off their PB&J sandwiches (I’m serious) you were a bad mom.

Insults flew back and forth. Think pieces and rants flowed like rivers of molten lava. The ways in which one could earn the dreaded Scarlett B (for BAD) was ever changing and so arbitrary and so ridiculous that in a few years, we all came to our senses and the Mommy Wars concluded with a collective cease fire. If it sounds like a terrible time, it was. But as awful as it was, there were certain lines that were not crossed: When the news of a child dying online was posted, no one attacked the mother/parent to blame them for their child’s death. There was at least that level of civility.

Today, not so much.

The first Mommy Wars were related to certain spaces – mostly white and/or middle class in Western social media. Now they are back, most likely globally, but definitely in West Africa based on my observation. Things are very different this time. We live in an age of doxing, viral videos and an unbridled spirit of meanness under the veneer of “Be Kind”. There is also a plethora of men – young, unmarried, childless and/or generally foolish men – inserting their voices loudly in conversations about women and childrearing. This weekend they unleashed their bile online for all to see.

Just a few days ago in a Nigerian city, a mother dropped her three-month old baby off at daycare and went to work. The baby died while at creche. The details about the cause of death are not yet known, but we do know that as of this writing, a woman went to work to support her family and is mourning the loss of her child. Her grief is not punishment enough for a large section of Twitter using West Africans. They have chosen the moment when this woman and her family are at their lowest to make her culpable in the death of her baby for engaging a service that millions of parents the world over use daily: professional childcare.

What was a baby of three months doing at creche in the first place, they seethe. Could she not have asked her mother or other (female) relatives to watch the child while she worked, they demand to know. The fact that she was at work at all is the fault of feminism. If women were not so concerned about being equal to men, this mother would have been at home with her child, and this would never have happened. See how the quest for gender equality caused the death of this poor innocent?

(I really wish I was joking.)

This is how I know that the people berating this bereaved mother are either not parents themselves, privileged in their naïveté, stupid or a combination of the three: The average employee in West Africa is not treated to generous maternity leave. Some women have reported being fired as soon as their employer discovered that they were pregnant. Things are even more grim in America, a so-called developed nation. When I gave birth to each of my children, I was only given 6 weeks of paid maternity leave. If I wanted to spend more time caring for my infant, I would have to tap into my holiday/PTO…and that’s assuming I had any to tap into. When I had my first child, I walked onto the job 8 weeks pregnant. I would need a year to build up any PTO. My new colleagues were kind enough to donate their time so that I could get the six weeks I needed to recover from an emergency C-section and care for a 32-week-old preemie in the NICU.

Poverty and hardship are rampant and most middle-class households cannot sustain themselves on one income alone. Real life is very different from what your television and imagination would have you believe, so it becomes very difficult to take the outrage and ramblings of a 18-20 something year old man sitting in his one room efficiency/dorm room and no other obligations beyond purchasing his next data bundle seriously. Yet, these juveniles can be forgiven. It is the men who are passive spectators in the function of their OWN family that cause the hackles to rise. These are men who generally have no notion of what goes into feeding, bathing, educating, transporting…basically keeping a child alive…but are swift to condemn a mother doing her level best.

There are men who live in houses built by their in-laws who have never known the struggle of paying rent with an opinion about a working mother who tragically lost her child.

There are men who do not know the names of their OWN kids’ teachers with an opinion about a working mother who lost her baby.

There are men who really think (hahaha!) that their income alone is what is keeping their family fiscally stable with an opinion about a mother whose baby died while she was at work!  

…And there are equally silly women who agree with them.

The general consensus from both these groups is that women ought to stop working altogether once they fall pregnant. Another camp blames both partners, saying that there should be better financial planning on the part of married couples to allow them to either hire a private nanny (ideally the grandmother) or keep the mother (and always, it’s the mother) at home to look after the child. And while this is the ideal scenario, statistically 45% of all pregnancies are unplanned. Men should take greater responsibility for vasectomies and be less hostile to condom use if they truly want to reduce these outcomes.

Today is International Women’s Day and this sorrowful case has highlighted so many issues facing women and how far we must go. IWD was first celebrated in 1911 and over 100 years later, we are still fighting for fair and universal standards for pay in the workplace. Motherhood is still penalized. It is impossible to achieve work-life balance with the astronomical cost of childcare, even when one’s children reach school going age. Many women simply drop out of the workforce, and study after study have already shown what happens when 51% of the population (i.e., women) are forced to withdraw knowledge and productivity efforts from growing economies. We all can’t open a front-stoop tuck shop selling biscuits once we start having babies. Without the contributions of women, mankind wouldn’t have landed on the moon (the first computers were women), pioneered research on radioactivity (Marie Curie), saved entire forests from destruction (Wangari Maathai), changed the entertainment landscape forever (Oprah, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, etc.) and so on.

Our contributions matter. Our lives matter. Our love matters. And I deeply resent the additional suffering this mother and so many others like her have and will be made to endure by people who see our existence as inferior when we are doing our best to survive in an abysmal patriarchal world and circumstances not of our own making.

Let the African Mommy Wars end here.

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