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My best source for disgruntled mothers was Early Childhood Family Education in the 1980s when my kids were little. I went to three classes a week (one for each kid's age level, and a book-discussion class). The classes were spent half with the kids and half in parent discussion facilitated by a teacher. It was usually a small group, maybe half a dozen (all or mostly moms, in the daytime classes), but enough for people to feel they weren't alone. We aired a lot of frustrations, often tempered with rueful humor, that went beyond what we would read in the books. There was one woman who had some very challenging kids, including one who once got mad at her and peed in her shoe!I'm sure it could have been even more frank and open, but I really, really loved the ECFE classes for the opportunity to have real conversations like that in the early years of parenting. I wish that format had been available for older kids/parents as well.
I was thrilled to read this. I could have written just about every word of this essay (except that my kids were born in the 2000s), and it is great to hear someone say it out loud in print. I recently read "Of Woman Born." I actually cried my way through parts of the first chapter, because I could identify so closely with Rich's situation, and it just seems crazy and terribly discouraging that a half century after she wrote it, it is still so pertinent. She could have been describing my life as a highly-educated, intellectual, somewhat reluctant stay-at-home mom in an East coast suburb. The women's movement has made tremendous strides, but we're not there yet. And we need to keep naming what is wrong until it is fixed. Women's legitimate complaints are frequently labeled "whining" as a way of dismissing them rather than addressing them seriously.
I'm going to come down on the side of those who are tired of the complaining, particularly from those who mention their children to complain about their behavior or how they've ruined their lives and yet they are either pregnant or trying to get pregnant. If motherhood makes you miserable, please, stop having children and try not to break the ones you've already created, or at least stop describing your children in hateful terms. The internet has a long memory.Anyone thinking that motherhood (or fatherhood) is all soft-focus roses and sunshine must either be a champion of self-delusion or not remember what it is like to be a child. I was a relatively well-behaved kid and I still recall exasperating my very patient mother on more than one occasion. How, when so many things in life are comprised of both good and bad moments, could anyone expect parenthood to be an exception?
There were 2 things that I have observed IRL, that really jumped out at me from this essay: 1- When it comes to raising children, the bar is set WAY lower, in general, for men. And 2- No one wants to listen to a whiner. My DH can get away with doing things that I would be harshly chastised for doing. He also doesn't get criticized as vehemently if he DOESN'T do something. I was so greatly reminded of this during the discussion of Caplan's book. If society doesn't hold you accountable in the same way it holds the other parent accountable, then yeah, it is really easy to sit back, relax, and be the fun time guy.And in this day and age, no one really wants to hear that you aren't feeling sunshine and happiness 24/7, despite the focus on depression and anxiety's prevalence in our culture. It isn't isolated to parenting. For example, all of these new age manuals talk about manifesting positivity. If great things aren't happening to you, and you aren't thrilled with every moment, then you must be doing it wrong. You simply aren't grateful enough. Yes, if you see a problem, you should try to fix it yourself, but when dealing with children, it just simply isn't that easy. What are the options? For a large period of their development, children simply AREN'T "reasonable", and CAN'T be sympathetic enough to change their behavior in the long term. You can't really "talk it out" with any kind of long term effect. You can't expect that from children. When it comes to parenting, you don't get to quit, like you would if you were unhappy at a paid job. You can't get divorced like you would if you are unhappy in your marriage. You can't just walk away... at least not without repercussions, and even if you could, there has to be an answer between suck it up and stay, and put on your walking boots.For those criticizing the influx of these books, maybe you need to ask your self, if so many people are identifying a problem, why are you so intent on saying it doesn't exist, or it is "false"? Why not expend some energy on trying to find solutions?
This article resonates on a number of levels - even in my own reluctance to identify as a "mommy blogger" partially because I don't write only about my kids, and also because I think it's an oddly ghettoizing term. The books she mentions in there; Naomi Wolf, Anne Crittenden, etc. were total saviors for me as a young mother. Especially then, I was hanging with a lot of Attachment Mothers and felt completely insane for my ambivalence about my new position doing "the most important job in the world." Complaining was allowed -- we all had petty grievances with sleeplessness and the ubiquitous "dirty diapers". But to actually question, as I secretly did, my deeper feelings about my new identity, my role in society, and my lack of autonomy? I didn't expect parenting to be soft-focus bliss... but nothing could have prepared me for the whole-sale change in my self perception, self esteem and social status. This is not whining. This is an identity crisis. When I went back to work I was secretly thrilled and ashamed of it. In my own group of mom friends, there was incredible divisiveness about such issues, and we all liked and respected each other! Sure, other women had bigger problems, but for me, it all loomed rather large. I agree with the author in that it falls short of conspiracy, but what is up with the group-think to undermine each other – women/writers/mothers? It's hard enough already!
It seems like there are 2 separate, but related, issues here. One is about our identities as mothers, the other is about our relationship to our children. For myself, when I feel pressure, stress and unhappiness about my parenting, it's largely about the former. Why did I become invisible/nobody when I became a stay-at-home mother? (And I mean this literally -- a senior male academic colleague actually did not recognize me when I bumped into him in the post office with my toddler.) But it has reprecussions for the latter. I defend my choice to stay home with my kids for a number of years by telling my former colleagues that it's what makes me happy. Soooo happy. Or else I would apply for positions, as they urge me to do. So then, when the day-to-day is not soooo happy, it's easy to feel like the kids are the problem (too whiny, too entitled, too likely to get me up during the night, etc.) Maybe I would have been a happier mother on a daily basis in the days before they let women get Ph.D.s. But it's too late, I already have the degree, and the love for my work, and the ambition I was taught was now appropriate for women to have. So my daily work of taking care of my kids tends to get measured against the career I gave up (for now, but maybe forever, if my more doom-and-gloom colleagues are right), and it often does not measure up well. I wish I were more allowed to say that I am sacrificing a lot of career ambition and happiness to grow a good family, but if I say that, it's terribly upsetting to my working mom friends, and inexplicable to my colleagues. The sad thing about all this is, I could envision a happy balance, where I worked 30 hours a week on my scholarship and teaching, and worked another 40 (50?) hours a week taking care of my kids and household. But good academic jobs are 60 hours a week. So I have to make an all-or-nothing choice. And the result is some unhappiness, which sometimes gets blamed on my kids.
I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It would be great if BC could post links to all of the online articles that Read references!
This is a great article, a nice review. Katy brings us up to speed on the latest national "mood" toward the problem with no name.Unfortunately, there's an entire angle being left out of the debate, even with comments about, "loss of identity" and "loss of status". Maybe the Crittenden's book talks of it...I haven't read a lot of the listed books. I'm betting it's a very biological problem for all people who are caretakers (I'm an animal behavior/science person). We are social primates, and caretakers happen to be at the bottom of the social hierarchy. It is very stressful to be low status (read Robert Sapolsky's books), and we're suffering for it. Stress hormones create bad feelings, bad behavior, and bad health, right? So how can we raise the social status of caretakers?I'd love to hear if others agree with this idea.
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