I've been reading Newsweek again -- why do I bother? The cover story for the February 21 issue is about the myth of the perfect mother and is an excerpt of an upcoming book by Judith Warner. I will not be reading this book.
Basically, being a mom is hard work. Make that really, really, really hard work. The author said she followed all the expert advice on baby care and eventually realized she "had no thoughts left of my own." Was that before she read the baby care advice or after? After this epiphany, she decides to listen to other moms in the playgrounds and playgroups of Washington, D.C. (which part, I wonder. Southeast? Anacostia?). Well, turns out they've all had their minds eaten by motherhood, they had "surrendered their better selves -- and their sanity -- to motherhood." How did this happen? In the "push to be perfect" these moms were "always looking over their shoulders to make sure that no one was outdoing them in the performance of good Mommyhood." Maybe they'd feel better if someone sent them a report card.
The article uses the term 'perfect' with regard to motherhood many times. It also mentions competition and control (as in feeling "out of control"). I find this article annoying because as I read it, it seems that the real problem is the moms comparing themselves to each other and judging each other and listening too much to what the 'experts' and other people and each other say.
Ummm...when did these women check their minds at the door? The author begins the article talking about the time when she tried to do everything right and what she did (breast-fed, co-slept). Who decides what is 'right'? Apparently, the books. I take a different approach, I'm an outlaw, a renegade mom who looked the books squarely in the eye and said 'screw you.' I chose not to breast-feed. Its rather liberating to start the motherhood journey by throwing up your hands and saying, "I'm not the perfect mom." I was immediately freed from the child-care books because I certainly wasn't going to waste my time reading books that told me I was a bad mom.
Why can't more people be like me? Seriously, some of this mommy angst seems to have its roots in trying to keep with the Joneses. The author says that she found the craziness all over "in middle and upper middle class enclaves where there was time and money to spend" on "shuttling back and forth to more and more absurd-seeming, high-pressured, time-demanding, utterly exhausting kids' activities." These women are tired and anxious and depressed and wish their lives would be different 'but have no idea of how to make that happen.' Here's one idea -- don't do it. Why do they do it? To give the kid a leg up on the competition? Well, they really aren't doing it for the kids, they are doing it for themselves and each other, to prove their worth as moms or show how much money they have by what they can afford. My view is the kids will do better if they have some free time to sort out their thoughts, to unwind and create and (dear me) think. I honestly believe it is possible for some people to achieve their best without competition to spur them on (Einstein, Edison, Eminem...).
The article does the same tired number on 'balancing' our lives. Whoever thought that life should be balanced during certain time periods? How long do we live? How long are the children young enough that they need our intensely focused care -- five years, 10, 20? Well, maybe our lives balance out during their entire span, why should we feel that we need everything balanced when we're raising our kids?
One mom wonders how her daughter ended up being such a princess -- she should go back and read the part about 'whole towns turning out for a spot in the right ballet class', the best camps and piano teachers. If life is so demanding and parents go to such lengths to secure these things for their kids, is it so surprising that the kids would expect a continued level of devotion and sacrifice for 'their best interests,' which they might think includes the right clothes and gadgets and toys? Jay McInerney in his novel, Story of My Life, does a great bit where the narrator wonders how she is supposed to figure out how to be self-sufficient after years of living on her father's allowances. (For an interesting post discussing McInerney, go visit my friend Mike's blog)
My favorite part of the article -- how do we solve this horrible problem of frazzled moms? How do you think? We need government-funded childcare for the middle class. This really makes no sense to me since on the page before, the author was bemoaning how the public school system is so abysmal that parents must work to send their kids to private schools. Well...the public schools are run by the government, do you really think it would do a better job with childcare? Come on, you know the middle class would be sending their kids to better 'private' preschools anyway. I don't think moms are feeling guilt about childcare because of its quality or lack thereof, though that may be a concern for some; they feel guilty about not being with their kids and even Mary Poppins wouldn't be able to completely alleviate that feeling. Plenty of moms at home feel guilty for not working. Guilt is a part of life and the government cannot make it go away.
More typical stuff in the article about economic pressures, but the sample she used has more choices than many others. The author is forthright in admitting that she was dealing with a privileged population.
I am not unsympathetic to the difficulties of raising kids. I'm in the trenches myself and I understand the need for 'me' time and how hard it can be to adjust to a new lifestyle once you have kids. But it can be done. Look for support groups, churches, mothers-day out programs. Realize that its tough but its not forever. Realize all the choices you have and be grateful for them -- it could be worse. Finally, pay attention to what you're doing and how your family is doing and don't ever confuse the push for achievement with the demonstration of love. Kids need to be loved, just as you do, stop looking to be perfect and look instead to be content.
Now, back to my regularly scheduled Lenten fast. Wait, what's that on the cover of Time...
2010 update: as I go through old posts to give them labels, I'm having fun re-reading my posts. What struck me about this is now I understand why some feminists bash at-home moms -- it's because of articles like this, that make it seem like so many moms (possibly at-home, possibly working) stop using their abilities to think critically. Maybe they have a point, if this article accurately portrays what being an at-home mom is like.