I went to college with a girl who refused to wear shoes, even on the chilliest, windiest, snowiest nights in the Midwest. She said she wanted to spend every day of her life grounded and centered and that footwear just sort of got in the way of that hope. And although I won’t be throwing out last season’s flats any time soon, I think she was right. Footwear gets in the way of a lot of things. And I can’t help but wonder if, in today’s age of “Mommy Wars” (a term I think we all despise by now?), we should be kicking off our combat boots in favor of bare feet, vulnerability and hope.
It’s been said many-a-time that before you judge, criticize or accuse someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. Because the woman wearing stilettos at the grocery store – the one you think is donning a skirt that’s too short or lipstick too red or hair too sprayed? She just lost five pounds and feels amazing and unique and beautiful, and she’s gathering ingredients for a healthful, celebratory dinner. She sees your sideways glance, but it doesn’t matter to her, because she’s centered.
The mother sporting teetering wedges and a designer blazer to playgroup – the one you just labeled a trophy wife? She has a job interview later this afternoon and feels nervous and low and emotional, and a kind word of encouragement from you would make all the difference in her world. But you’re eyeing your last-season sandals and feeling overwhelmed and depressed and wishing your house had three garages and a marble bathtub and fancy topiaries that, if you owned, you’d never forget to water.
The woman who showed up to your daughter’s school play in sneakers and yoga pants – the one you thought was inappropriately dressed for the occasion? She came straight from cleaning her late father’s attic, digging through piles of cardboard boxes and memories and unspoken words, and the tears she’s wiping from her eyes have little to do with how adorable her son looks in his sheep costume and everything to do with the kind of legacy she wants to leave for him.
Shoes provide protection from the elements. They shield the roots of our bodies from floods and snow and rocky terrain, but they don’t protect us from the sticks and stones of judgment. And, from where I’m sitting, these “Mommy Wars” are little more than judgment and criticism and perhaps a bit of inferiority packaged into a pageview-generating headline.
A few years ago, I ran into my eternally-shoeless college friend at an alumni event. She wears shoes now (leopard flats, to be precise) and I asked her when she’d made the decision to start wearing them again. She explained that she’d become a mother and it was essential that she set the right example for her daughter. And as important as it is to be grounded and centered, children need to be protected from the elements. So, to protect her daughter, she shielded her from her own ideals and values and perspectives.
And I suppose that’s why the idea of “Mommy Wars” is so disheartening. We are part of an exceptional sisterhood – a group of women who breastfeed and don’t breastfeed and breastfeed for a long time and who work from home and stay at home and work long hours and work for free. We’re mothers. We care for our children in ways that are as different as the shoes that line our closet. We are sneakers, running after toddlers and wiping noses and packing lunches. We are pumps, attending conferences and leading meetings and hosting office hours. We are slippers, making pancakes and cleaning countertops and folding laundry.
Yet we’re showing our children that there is only one shoe. That it’s a one-size-fits-all and works for every situation, all the time. No exceptions allowed, no returns or exchanges or money back guarantees. And we’re showing them that, if the shoe doesn’t fit, there must be something wrong with our feet. With our neighbor’s feet and our sister’s feet and the bank teller’s feet.
I’m afraid we need to walk more, and I’m starting with a mile. (If you care to join me, I’ll be the gal in hot pink sneakers.)
Hear more on the Mommy Wars from Raising America:
We’re continuing this conversation all this week, because we want that lasting peace, dammit. Read more posts on this subject in this section all week (you can start with Catherine’s kick-off post.) And tune in to HLN’s Raising America (12:30 EST) to watch The Mommy Wars: the Peace Talks, a 5 day collaboration with HLN’s Raising America aimed at wrestling this so-called ‘war’ into peaceful submission.
For more on ‘leaning in’, and for buckets of inspiration toward being intentional and empowered in our choices (motherhood-related or otherwise) and our lives (including inspiring stories from many Babble bloggers that you know and love), visit the Lean In community. And maybe join the Lean In community. It’s a movement for all of us.