Monday, February 21, 2005

What About the Dads?

I can't stop thinking about the Newsweek article Mommy Madness. While the general tenor of the article seemed to me to suggest that moms are trapped, I really think its the dads who are trapped. The dads generally have less choice about how they live their lives -- for many dads its a given that they will be working to support the family while mom gets the choice of determining when, whether, and how she will work, all the while complaining about it. Of course I know plenty of examples where the mom works full-time and the dad stays home and others where both parents work and stagger schedules to allow one parent to be with the kids most of the time. However, the article seemed to be focusing narrowly on the moms who have the choice (and therefore the enviable option of staying at home) and their situation.

The author mentions the "diffuse dissatisfaction" of motherhood for those who have the 'push to be perfect.' It reminded me of the Desperate Housewise pilot (the only episode I saw) in which the women are talking about their husbands, one of whom walked out in an attempt to leave his 'life of quiet desperation." One of the women quipped, "what, does he think we're all living lives of noisy fulfillment?" Well...isn't the this just the same thing with the moms complaining? Are the men really happy to go off to work long hours for an income dictated by the demands of what the neighbors have? No child actually needs the expensive activities and toys and camps and schools, they may not even want them, but parents somehow determine that that is what is important -- could it be because that is 'what everyone else is doing'?

The author claims that the 'excessive, control-freakish way' in which women mother today is partly a psychologically conditioned response, but also the fault of a society which does not support them and take care of their children (something to the effect takes a village). Because there is no 'widespread feeling of social responsibility,' moms must take everything onto themselves, the author claims, and since they can't, "they simply go nuts."

She's talking about learned helplessness and psychological conditioning and then claims that its basically inevitable that mommys will go nuts. Is it possible that she herself is part of this learned helplessness and psychological conditioning? Nah, buy her book, she seems to have all the answers.

The inevitable conclusion for me is something I have fought for months. My pal Mike, official chronicler of clanlally, has been saying that life continues just as in high school. I say that we mature and grow. He's told me that its a beautiful thought but it simply isn't true, by and large. He may be right. I'm thinking many of us affluent moms were good students, on the honor roll, in activities, doing everything we could to be 'perfect' young women so we could get into good colleges. But did all of that make sense? Where was the balance then when it was all about the quest for college? Well, we go to school, get our degrees, and go work for awhile. Was the workplace always so welcoming and kind? Were there times back then when we felt we couldn't "take it anymore [and] hate[d] everyone and everything [and were] going insane" as one mom put about her motherhood experience? Surely not, this kind of angst exists only in the world of the affluent mom. Poor me.

Back to high school, is it possible that the mommy race is simply an extension of trying to get on the honor roll by trying to get our kids on it? Those who bucked the system back then may still be bucking the system, those who ascribed to the system are still ascribing to it. We aren't trapped and how dare the author try to make us victims, but the sad thing is, many of the women quoted in the article seem to view themselves as victims, to wear their victimhood as the bumper sticker that they are an honor roll mom.

A better article to read is Anna Quindlen's, The Good Enough Mother.


Suzanne said...

Well, hello there, Marjorie! Glad to see you surfaced for a while.

I wrote a bit about this on my blog. My main reaction to this article was also one of annoyance---I guess my sympathy for women who choose to channel all their energies into raising the perfect child is limited. Perhaps if I were constantly exposed to the peer pressure of extreme parenting I'd be better able to see their point of view.

david said...

Hello again.

We read about -- but didn't read -- the good enough mother back in school. It is based upon solid research. Oarents can make a lot of mistakes but if they are good enough the kids not only survive but thrive.

More recent research indicates that parents who yell and spank generate more aggressive children when they hit the public school system. But that parents who change that strategy but that this change isn't necessarily permanant. As parent integrate less aggresive forms of discipline (time outs, positive reinforcements) the aggressiveness in the kids also decreases. This si a longitudinal study following the same families over (so far) 8 years.

Which just reinforces what I've said for years. Perfection is a crime against nature and an insult to God. We're only required to do what we can and hope for the best.

Jennie said...

Hi Marjorie, I found your blog surfing blogger and I really enjoy reading your blog! I can't say we're unschoolers at the moment, but we've experimented with it. I like reading your views on motherhood.