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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Stop the mommy madness

This is something. Did you all see this week's Newsweek cover story on “Mommy Madness?”

My gut reaction is, Stop the madness!

I have very mixed feelings about Judith Warner’s article. She describes mothers who appear to be “sleepwalking through life in a state of quiet panic.” And she includes herself in that mix. I’ve seen that look in the mirror and felt that panic rising in my chest. But I’ve got to say, we have it within our control to stop the madness.

I was having one of those wonderful e-chats yesterday with my colleague, Robin Green of Custom Publishing Group, my former employer. She and I were planning a long-overdue get-together. One of the best parts of my former job as managing editor at CPG were the chats Robin and I would have about books, words, favorite writers, our boys, etc.

So I had to pick her brain about this piece. I knew she would have read it straight out of the mailbox. And she had. She, too, admits to being disappointed by the piece because Warner focuses so much on global and financial issues. As Robin said, it’s the little things that are maddening, accumulating until we feel we'll explode.

But Warner does ask an important question: Why has this generation of mothers, arguably the most liberated and privileged group of women America has ever seen, driven themselves crazy in the quest for perfect mommy-dom?”

My take? We were told we could have it all — loving family, successful career, hot sex life, nurturing hobbies, abs of steel. The problem is that no one told us (how could our mothers have known?) the toll having it all would take. That balance is incredibly difficult. That there are days when you’re a superb mom, days when you’re an exceptional career woman and days when you’re the answer to your husband’s sex fantasies. But you’re rarely all that in one day. Balance is over the long haul. It’s a journey and a struggle and it shifts at various points in our lives and that’s natural and — now this is most important — IT’S OKAY!

How many times have you sat in your special place with tears of exhaustion (or maybe the tears simply wouldn’t come) and just wished for someone to put a reassuring (not a condescending) hand on your shoulder and tell you it’s going to be okay?

I nearly broke into tears at one point in the story because I’ve been this woman and I’ve felt her pain, disbelief, utter inability to articulate anything except feeling like a failure. She’s a mom and a newspaper editor and neither are typically at a loss for words, but this woman’s life had literally spun out of her control and she was questioning everything, but mostly herself.

The woman waved her hands in circles, helplessly. "What I'm trying to figure out—" she paused. "What I'm trying to remember ... Is how I ended up raising this princess ... How I got into ... How to get out of ... this, this, this, this mess."

Have you been swirling in that black hole of utter nothingness? Have you seen the faces of little girls laughing in delight, swirling their dresses and brushing their bangs away from their faces, wondering, “What the hell happened my joy?”

What happened, according to Warner’s article and my experience, is that we’ve been raised to be independent and self-sufficient. That’s a double-edged sword these days. I have never once doubted my capacity to tackle anything or to handle life solo. But the thing is, I don’t have to handle it by myself. No one does. And it’s my problem for not asking for help, for trying to control every situation, for not delegating more, to my children, to my husband, to my extended family and friends, to my colleagues. There, I said it. I have trouble asking for help. I see it as some sort of failure on my part. But we all need help. As my neighbor always says when she's bailed me out of a carpool situation, "Hey, sister, it takes a village."

Mostly, I’m learning, as the Slacker Mom said, to say enough is enough. It’s so difficult to go against the parenting grain and is a real test of character. And for all you moms with young children (by that I mean preschool or younger) it only gets more demanding and difficult as your children get older.

We’re smart, educated women. We’ve got to start acting like it and remember that we have a life to live that is ours, not simply endured vicariously through our children. Because someday, sooner than we imagine, they will be gone and what will we have that is ours?

Warner claims that real change needs to be legislated. I disagree. While certain changes to tax code, benefits and education can help, the real problem and the solution lies within us.

If we are truly pioneers as Anna Quindlen writes in her column this week, then we have it within our power to carve our own path — a more sane path. Quindlen, the patron saint of thinking moms, describes the über-mom’s life as somewhere between “the Stations of the Cross and a decathlon.” Jeez! I’m winded just thinking about that. And it reminds me of the moment I decided to quit working full-time and turn to freelance. It was 1995 and my dad had been staying with us while in town on business. I was in my morning frenzy of loading two babies into the car to get to the sitter and off to my underpaying newspaper job.

My dad stood there mesmerized, following my back and forth, in and out of the house. Finally, he stopped me. “Honey, I’m exhausted just watching you.” I drove to work in tears that day, but it was also the wakeup call I needed to change.

I do need consistent reminding that it’s not all on my shoulders. I certainly don’t want my kids to think of me as a martyr, after all, as Quindlen wrote, there's no way be a martyr and have a good time. And I want to have a good time, to enjoy life. We’re setting models for our young sons and daughters. For crying out loud, let’s set them up for realistic expectations. We owe that to the next generation.

Maybe you just need to repeat this mantra from Saint Anna to keep it all in perspective:

The most incandescent memories of my childhood are of making my mother laugh. My kids did the same for me. A good time is what they remember long after toddler programs and art projects are over. The rest is just scheduling.

Amen, sister!

1 comment:

Sandy Kristin Piderit said...

Yep, I saw it. Here's what resonated with me most on the first read.

I actually went to Borders last night to try to get a copy of the book, but they didn't have it in stock at Severance (or at Beachwood when the helpful clerk called for me).

It's true that we need to be more gentle with ourselves, our generation of mothers. But it's also true that our pain often reflects our abandonment. Why are we left to wrestle with these issues alone? How do we cope with the fact that we don't have as many sisters (and brothers) as our mothers and grandmothers did, and if we do, they're likely to live half a continent away? How do we cope with the fact that so many more of us are doing the parenting gig solo? And even if we have a partner, he or she is probably working more hours than the average breadwinner of the previous generation or two?

Some of the people blogging about the Newsweek article think it's just more mommies whining... and I really think it's important not to let it be reduced to that. Yes, parenting is hard work, yes, most mothers knew they would carry more of the early burdens before they got pregnant... but our society could do a lot to make it easier. A LOT.