The new American parenting buzzword seems to be sanctimommy, used both generally (for Parents Who Judge other Parents) (see http://www.startribune.com/blogs/cribsheet/?p=151),
but also more specifically, for mothers who focus particularly on pure eating for their children (see
http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50917F93A550C778EDDAB0994DE404482) (not free). It seems to me, however, that the concept of the sanctimommy fuses several separate concepts, not all of which are necessarily as new as the name.
For example, one blogger (http://mom-101.blogspot.com/2006/11/sanctimommy.html) talks about having a sanctimommy moment when:
Yesterday in the gift shop of the hotel, a trio of boys were whining for “just one Snickers” before breakfast. “Well, okay, just one,” the mom said finally giving in. “I don’t want you too hyper before breakfast.”
And I couldn’t help myself. I rolled my eyes big–really big–with the hopes that anyone looking in my direction at that moment could see just how awesome I am.
Now to an English person, the whole incident has strong class overtones (I would immediately stereotype the watcher as middle class and the family as working class). In the US things may be different, but I suspect that in Britain as soon as the idea of methods/styles of child raising came in, so did the conviction that the other classes were doing it wrong, whether it was feckless working classes, anal middle classes or emotionally cold upper classes. (There are probably also finer class gradations as well).
What is distinctive about the sanctimommy phenomenon is that its disapproval being applied within a class as well as between classes. I suspect it happens within all the classes, but Ill focus on the middle class, as the only one I know well. The phenomenon of competitive mothers isnt new (or indeed confined to the West). Anyone who remembers being told as a child by their mother Why are you as clean/helpful/hard-working/well-behaved etc as Xs children? will recognise this. And boasting about ones childrens achievements is a cliche of many cultures, from Jewish to Indian.
One significance change is the rise of internet discussions, which, as far, as I can see, intrinsically encourage harsher comments. (The rise of the internet comment may have done more to contribute generally to world hatred than all the specific hate sites put together). But the other important factor is the rise of intensive parenting (see my previous post). One side of this is that intensive parenting is a harder (if not impossible) job to get right, which intrinsically leads one to insecurity and the urge to belittle others as compensation.
But the other important change about the sanctimommy concept that ties in with intensive parenting is its focus on inputs (what the parent does) rather than outcomes (what the child is like). This has two effects. One is that judgement can start much earlier on in a childs life/mothers career. Its not really possible to judge (except at the more extreme ends) whose 3 year old is doing well and whose is doing poorly, since there is so much developmental variability. And its really only when you get to the exam/certificate stage that you can boast conclusively about your childs superiority. On the other hand, you can feel positive about pureeing your own carrots from age 3 months.
The other reason why there is a switch to focusing on the inputs is one of the sad (or possibly happy) facts of parenting. What you do as a parent has only a limited effect on how your child behaves, despite all the efforts of us intensive parents. This is infinitely true at the micro level, particularly for young children. Anyones pre-schooler, however normally reliable, may, at an embarrassing moment, wet themselves, hit someone else, cry hysterically or balk at some minor task. But its also true to a certain extent at the macro level. L is (on the whole), bright, friendly and able to sleep through the night, but however much I might pretend this is due to our parenting, Im aware its also partly down to genes, her intrinsic personality and dumb luck on our part. If mothers end up focusing on our own achievements and are prone to becoming snactimommies in the process, its because its something we have control over, at a time when were uneasily aware how much control weve otherwise lost