The cover of Newsweek
right now proclaims: "The Myth of the Perfect Mother."
In the cover story, Mommy Madness
, Judith Warner writes about how moms are falling all over themselves trying to be supermoms, using lots of anecdotes about friends of hers--and about Warner herself--who are all frazzled, harried moms. It very much reminded me of a popular book I really did not like at all, I Don't Know How She Does It
by Allison Pearson. The protagonist of that book was a crazily busy career woman with two kids, a nanny, and a sweet husband. She felt like she was always in a competition with the other moms--the Martha Stewarty moms, with the kids who were always clean and polite and perfect. I read the book when I was pregnant, but even then, I knew I would never be able to relate to this woman.
Don't misunderstand me. I am one competitive woman (while drinking, I've been known to challenge my girlfriends to an arm wrestling match, and you'd best not mess with me during Jeopardy!
or I will hurt you). But for some reason, I never saw motherhood as something to get all competitive over.
Anyway, I was speeding along through Warner's article, until I came to the inevitable social critique:Most of us in this generation grew up believing that we had fantastic, unlimited, freedom of choice. Yet as mothers many women face "choices" on the order of: You can continue to pursue your professional dreams at the cost of abandoning your children to long hours of inadequate child care. Or: You can stay at home with your baby and live in a state of virtual, crazy-making isolation because you can't afford a nanny, because there is no such thing as part-time day care, and because your husband doesn't come home until 8:30 at night.
This is where I always have a problem with these types of articles, the ones that purport to show how hard it is for us moms, because we're left with these two alternatives, neither one good or healthy for all parties invovled. But the reality is, life is not an either/or. The vast majority of us are not limited to two choices. There's a lot of gray in between these black and white contrasts.
Which is not to say that I don't have major problems with how American society treats mothers. Hell, treats families
. It certainly doesn't help that folks in the media perpetrate this notion of a zero-sum game. That we can be successful professionally, or that we can be supermoms, but that we can't be both, can't "have it all," because then we're all frazzled and crazy and we go without sleep and the only way out is to maybe one day write a book about it that sells hundreds of thousands of copies so that other harried moms can see themselves reflected and so that the zero-sum idea can be reinforced in our entertainment choices and ha ha ha isn't it funny how the main character purchases cookies from the store for her kid's bake sale--just like me!
--ha ha ha ha....Whew.
Later on in the article, before delving into the practical, legislative changes that would certainly help the state of the American family, Warner writes:For while many women can and do manage to accept (or at least adjust to) this situation for themselves, there's a twinge of real sadness that comes out when they talk about their daughters. As a forty-something mother living and working part-time in Washington, D.C. (and spending a disproportionate amount of her time managing the details of her daughter's—and her husband's—life), mused one evening to me, "I look at my daughter and I just want to know: what happened? Because look at us: it's 2002 and nothing's changed. My mother expected my life to be very different from hers, but now it's a lot more like hers than I expected, and from here I don't see where it will be different for my daughter. I don't want her to carry this crushing burden that's in our heads ... [But] what can make things different?"
And it was this woman's sentiment that made me realize why, perhaps, I just can't relate to any of this. Maybe the big difference is that I don't think my mother expected that my life would be much different from hers. A few key differences, I'm sure she hoped for (she probably hoped that, if I did get married, I wouldn't subsequently divorce as she had). But on the whole, I think my mom was happy with her life, happy with how she was raising me. Of course she must've had periods of doubt, but it was likely triggered by me
moods, not by the comments of other mothers. I never had the sense that she even cared what other moms did in raising their kids. I know she put a lot of hours into her job, but I also know that she genuinely liked her job (she still does, in fact). She also put a lot of hours into spending time with me: taking me to movies, plays, baseball games. But, importantly, she always made time for herself. She joined a soccer league for women. She took dance classes. Naturally, that meant she wasn't spending her spare time keeping the house spotless or making fancy dinners. But what child would prefer a clutterless home and chicken cordon bleu to a happy, healthy mom?
Which leads me to the other mommy articles: Meet the Slacker Mom
by Peg Tyre and Anna Quindlen's The Good Enough Mother
. Both of these describe motherhood scenarios that I can more easily relate to. Honestly, after reading I Don't Know How She Does It
, I thought, "Well, maybe after I have a child, I'll feel different and I'll suddenly be so concerned about being perfect at everything." And then, when I had my baby and still wasn't like that, I thought, "Well, maybe once my son is in daycare with the other kids, and I see the other mommies..."
Well, it's been a year and a half. I still feel like myself. I still don't give a crap if complete strangers (or even close friends, really) think I'm a subpar mom. I still don't feel the need to put on some show, to make believe I can be a hard-driven attorney, putting in long hours at work, and also be the June Cleaver of my street, baking pies and steam-cleaning the drapes.
I'll let y'all know if that changes, but I doubt it.