...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Friday, March 19, 2004
      ( 2:38 PM )
Mama Faces the New Momism

TIME Magazine's new cover story is titled "The Case for Staying Home." Of course, I'm not a subscriber, so I can't get the article online right now. But I can pretty much guess the entire text of the story. It most likely goes right along with that Today Show report I saw the other day before I ran off to catch my bus for work. It's more of the Same Thing - Moms are checking out of high powered careers because staying home with the kids is just so much more fulfilling. Keeping with the trend of cornering Moms into a black or white definition, a side article proclaims that most working moms go to work not because they want to, but because they have to.

Oh, and the additional sidebar from a dad's perspective? All about how dads want to stay home too, how dads are fantastic caregivers and yet face continued discrimination when they are the ones who stay home with their kids, about dads who give up the career to be with the kids? Nope, it's about how dissappointed men are that technology hasn't made it easier for mothers to come home from work and take care of the kids and dinner. What happened to all those time-saving devices? AAAARRRGGHH!

The stupid article about how hard it is for dads who have to decide whether to check their email in the evening or not aside, and going back to that previous argument that most moms work because they have to.... I would venture to guess that most moms AND dads work because they have to. Our country has become a consumer nation that operates at the whim of the corporate giant - and there is hardly a place in the country where a working class, or even middle class family can live on one income. And forget about both parents being able to raise the kids together!

But again, this answer is too simple and fits into the pat stereotypes we can always assign to parents. I work because I have to at a job I don't much like. But if I had the job I wanted? (Drumroll....) I'd still work. I'd still have to work, but I'd also want to work. Does that mean I don't love my child enough? My husband, stay at home dad extraordinaire, would like to work in his chosen career. He can't now because his chosen career doesn't have any jobs. If it did, he might work there because he wants to (and a little because he might have to), but that doesn't mean he would be any less a "fulltime" parent than he is now.

Leaving aside the discrimination that stay at home dads face (well documented by Rebel Dad and experienced with humor daily by Laid Off Dad), I want to talk about this new "Momism." There is an incredible backlash going on for women who become mothers in this day and age. One thread of that backlash is the media-hyped "conflict" between stay at home moms and "working" moms. The battle heats up everytime a new study comes out that says kids are more stupid if they're not breastfed, or kids are more agressive if they go to daycare. Moms are expected to be the same perfect wife and mother they were back in the 50's, except now that is on top of being a self-actualized, assertive, career-minded, independent woman who is in charge of her own destiny and can not only make it in a man's world but can rule the man's world. And if we aren't all like that? Well, pit us against each other! If we can't have wet t-shirt contests, let's see the moms battle it out!! The patriarchal mysoginistic context of our society just grates on my nerves. But anyway...

I get so steamed that the popular culture and the media seem to think it's their business (and they always have) to tell us how to be "good" mothers and what we're always doing wrong. They emphasize the point with interviews in magazines with supermodels and actress moms saying "I just love it when the baby wakes me up in the middle of the night to eat, it's so fulfilling!" Of course, women who live in more conservative environments are hit over the head constantly with a neverending stream of declarations about being good, Christian mothers and staying in their places. (Trust me, I grew up in that world, and was preached at from the moment of puberty on what my role should be as a woman).

How do we fight back? How do we let go of this pressure that comes from all sides, shed the image of perfection and simply be not only ourselves, but the kind of moms we want to be, not the kind of moms everyone tells us we should be? I think the first step is to understand where all the crap is coming from that keeps hitting us from every direction. The second step is to see each other, to celebrate our differences and to support each other as fellow human-mamas, no matter what our mama-choices are.

Trying to accomplish the first step, today I started reading "The Mommy Myth," a new book out by Susan J. Douglas. It tackles the pressures put on us to be all-or-nothing women, and the counter-pressure that is trying to (not so subtely) reverse the positive affects of feminism over the last 30 years.

Now, if you were a "good" mom, you'd joyfully empty the
shopping bags and transform the process of putting the
groceries away into a fun game your kids love to play
(upbeat Raffi songs would provide a lilting soundtrack).
Then, while you steamed the broccoli and poached the
chicken breasts in Vouvray and Evian water, you and the
kids would also be doing jigsaw puzzles in the shape of
the United Arab Emirates so they learned some geography.
Your cheerful teenager would say, "Gee, Mom, you gave
me the best advice on that last homework assignment."
When your husband arrives, he is so overcome with
admiration for how well you do it all that he looks lovingly
into your eyes, kisses you, and presents you with a
diamond anniversary bracelet. He then announces that
he has gone on flex time for the next two years so that
he can split childcare duties with you fifty-fifty. The
children, chattering away happily, help set the table,
and then eat their broccoli. After dinner, you all go out
and stencil the driveway with autumn leaves.

Even when we know we wouldn't be like that anyway, there's always that tugging in the back of our minds that that is what we should at least be trying for. And why? Whatever said that was the image of a "good" mother? Why, people who aren't mothers, of course. The onslaught is neverending.

From the moment we get up until the moment we collapse
in bed at night, the media are out there, calling to us,
yelling, "Hey you! Yeah, you! Are you really raising your
kids right?" Whether it's the cover of Redbook or Parents
demanding "Are You a Sensitive Mother?" "Is Your Child
Eating Enough?" "Is Your Baby Normal?" (and exhorting
us to enter its pages and have great sex at 25, 35, or 85),
the nightly news warning us about missing children, a
movie trailer hyping a film about a cross-dressing dad
who's way more fun than his stinky, careerist wife (Mrs.
Doubtfire), or Dr. Laura telling some poor mother who
works four hours a week that she's neglectful, the siren
song blending seduction and accusation is there all
the time. Mothers are subjected to an onslaught of
beatific imagery, romantic fantasies, self-righteous
sermons, psychological warnings, terrifying movies about
losing their children, even more terrifying news stories
about abducted and abused children, and totally
unrealistic advice about how to be the most perfect and
revered mom in the neighborhood, maybe even in the
whole country. (Even Working Mother (which should
have known better) had a "Working Mother of the Year
Contest." When Jill Kirschenbaum became the editor in
2001, one of the first things she did was dump this feature,
noting that motherhood should not be a "competitive
sport.") We are urged to be fun-loving, spontaneous, and
relaxed, yet, at the same time, scared out of our minds
that our kids could be killed at any moment. No wonder
81 percent of women in a recent poll said it's harder to be
a mother now than it was twenty or thirty years ago, and
56 percent felt mothers were doing a worse job today
than mothers back then.

As I get into this book, I'm going to provide regular "book reports" and my thoughts on what I read and what I learn. I'm not even to my mid-30's yet, and yet I already feel the weight of motherhood and family often clashing with my own sense of identity and destiny - and no one really wants to help me find a way to balance them -- or even acknowledge that there IS no perfect balance and that whatever choice I make is a good choice because it's my choice - nope, all anyone really wants to do is tell me that if I think I can have it all, I'm sorely mistaken, and if I don't want it all, then I'm a loser.

There must be a mama-middle-ground. There must be a place where mamas who work in offices, mama's who teach at home, mama's who never gave birth, mama's who can no longer hug the ones they gave birth to, and mama's who aren't mamas at all, but are daddies, can go where the aura of acceptance is stronger than the distinct oppression of dissapproval that hovers about us every day. I aim to find that place.

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