Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Mommy Wars

This week I finished reading The Mommy Wars, which I had checked out of the library. I don't have much time to write about it, but it was surprisingly good and I wanted to share some quotes/thoughts. I almost didn't check it out because I was worried that it would be excessively harsh or inflammatory and I don't need to bring things like that into my life. However, it seemed truly supportive of women/mothers. It was a collection of essays by various authors (alternating between those who have chosen to be mostly at home and those who have chosen to be mostly pursuing careers) and it quickly became clear that the most real "mommy war" that most of us experience is the one inside of our own heads. There seems to be no ideal/perfect solution. I also noticed that many of the women (including the editor of the collection) had cobbled together some sort of "balance" between working-outside-of-the-home and working inside it--there were lots of part-timers, lots of WAHMs, lots of writer-in-the-spare-minutes, etc. Since I've done the same, I particularly identified with those tales of struggle to discover the right balance for your family.

The first quote I wanted to share is one re: being asked "what do you do?" at a cocktail party: "I find it odd that I'd generate far more interest if I said I raised dogs or horse or chinchillas, but saying, in effect, 'I raise human beings' is a huge yawn."

"It might, in fact, be boring if child care were simply a series of pink-collar tasks--bathe, dress, feed, repeat. But observing and participating in a little Homo Sapien's development is fascinating to me. Furthermore, being a mother isn't just a 'job' any more than being a wife or a daughter; it's a relationship."

Then in another writer's essay (the above was from one of the SAHM, the below is from one of the WOHM):

"I remember reading once that all manner of selfishness is excused under the banner of focusing on one's family, and it strikes me now as penetratingly true. How many of us don't do for others because we're supposedly saving it for our families? and how valuable is staying at home if you're not teaching your children how much other people (and their feelings) matter?"

In another book I have, The Paradox of Natural Mothering, she refers to this as a type of narcissism and I see the point. I've explaining to people before that yes, of course--ultimately--"family first" but that doesn't mean "everything else last." I occasionally struggle with this when answering a helping call--basically, my kids do NOT come first at that moment, nor should they. I've even told them that--"I'm sorry, but you wanting juice is not important right now, the mother who is crying on the phone is more important." I do not think this is a terrible lesson to learn! ;-) Of course, in an ultimate-reality sort of situation, my kids DO come first. 100%. But, in a regular day-to-day situation, sometimes what other people need from me is more important and does come first.

I also wanted to share some quotes from an essay by a woman who does not yet have children, but is planning to, with regard to talking to mothers who shut down her opinions/thoughts with the, "what could you know? You don't have children" brush-off. (Which, I personally, have definitely been guilty of thinking on more than one occasion!! And, actually did so while reading this essay!): "I want to be able to say that all the judgment and aggression and competitiveness I witness among working and stay-at-home mothers surprises me and absolutely must change. But that wouldn't be honest. I've been party to this one-upping and henpecking and know-it-all-ness my entire life. It's as if becoming a mother puts us back into a sorority or junior high school, into some petri dish of experience where what other females think and say and feel and do counts more than anything."

"The one thing my stay-at-home and working-mom friends share in the country of motherhood is a superiority gene, some may call it a gift of vision, that convinces them that women who don't have children are, despite their educations and accomplishments, dumb as doorknobs. I've sat through many a heated conversation...during which I've been silly enough to offer an opinion only to be shut down more condescendingly and viciously by wise Goddess Mothers than I ever have been shut down by any man."

(FWIW, I would not call this a "superiority gene" or "gift of vision," but a "voice of experience"...I think most of us have been in the position of ourselves being the "just doesn't get it" woman without kids! And, after you have kids of your own, you suddenly realize why "those mothers" were condescending to you!)

In another essay, with regard to balance, that eternal question:

"Let me save you some money: In a life with children, balance does not exist. Once you're a parent, you can figure you'll be out of whack for the rest of your life...Children are not born to provide balance. children are made to stir us up, to teach us how angry we can get, how scared we can be, how utterly happy, happier than we'd ever imagined was possible, how deeply we can love. Children turn us upside down and inside out; they send us to the depths and heights of ourselves; but they do not balance us. We can't balance them either, and that's a good thing, too. They're finding out how to live in the world, and the most we can do is make them as safe as possible and have a good time with them."

1 comment:

Editor said...

Thanks for the review! I agree with you 100%!