I like to pretend we women have moved past our divisiveness. I mean, whether we’re mothers or not, we still have more in common than not. And within the “mother” category, whether we breastfeed, bottle feed, use disposable or cloth diapers, wear our babies 24/7 or occasionally put them down so we can make ourselves a sandwich, choose to stay home or continue to work a job in an office, we’re still mothers of children. Children who are all individuals in their own right. Which is why the sniping about Who Does It Best it just ridiculous. Because “best” assumes everything about you and me is equal and one of us is not reading as much to our children as the other one. Which….is stupid.
So, I was amused but disheartened by what recently happened between the new PM of the UK, Theresa May, and Andrea Leadsom, the other candidate who claimed that motherhood made her a better candidate. Sure, motherhood gives you a new set of skills, if you are the kind of person to learn from the role, but those skills can be found in non-mothers as well. And Ms. Leadsom’s claim won her nothing. Though I admit I felt a frisson of excitement that TWO WOMEN were the ones in contention. Right? That’s something, isn’t it? All the men (white men) vying for PM post-Brexit just kind of imploded at the end of the day. Women power! Except that even then, we had to find something to fight about.
Motherhood is a great job but it’s not for everyone. And it can make it difficult, if you have little support, to do other things full bore: certain kinds of careers, art-making, sleeping, having a fairly clean car. It’s not fair but life is not fair. That’s lesson #1. Life is not fair.
But somewhere along the line, Motherhood became a profession in itself. I saw it happening when my first child was born in 2000 when the internet itself was a baby. I talked to other new mothers on a chat board about this thrilling and scary new stage, through a baby-related website. I read a couple books. But I didn’t have the luxury of making motherhood a “profession”, per se, because I already had one of those. I had a full time job I liked and could not afford to leave to accept a non-paying job. Because having children is expensive even when you don’t expect them to be Baby Genuises and can’t afford to get them on a special preschool wait list (please; can we get serious?).
I began to wonder about all these women my age and younger who’d gone retro and dropped out of the work force to be, in the parlance of the time, a “full-time mother”. Which is a phrase that makes my blood boil. I am also a full-time mother. I just happen to have a full-time paying job as well. My children went to day care, preschool and finally public school. I did not use cloth diapers because I preferred to see how high I could build those landfill mountains. I breast fed and I pumped in the office for a year after returning from paltry maternity leaves. But I made it work. It kind of worked. And now I’m past all that, thank goodness. But I made the choices that were right for me and us and if you have anything to say about, just don’t. MYOB.
Here’s what you don’t realize when you are slogging through all that: by the time they’re in school, it doesn’t matter anymore. None of it matters. If your child is healthy, it’s all good. It’s the only thing that matters.
I had to work because I had to work and I made it work. Simple as that. Even though none of it was simple.
Water under the bridge. But the judging in the ether didn’t stop there. We continued to judge each other. Who is Doing it Right? Who is Doing it Wrong? All of us. None of us. Motherhood is too difficult and complex to make these calls.
The Professionalism of Parenting turned into this Helicopter Parent colleges and universities hate. With good reason. We have to step back and find our personal fulfillment in things other than our children.
Post divorce, I have summers without my kids and I have used that time to be sad and bored and find new ways to be creative, to be me again, to dabble unfettered. I miss them. I mean, if I didn’t say that out loud you might judge me a bad mother. But this is practice for when they go for good, out into the world to live their lives without me. I’m excited for them. I’ll be just fine. I seem to be in the minority here.
“The hardest was when she left for college. We dropped her off a couple days early, so the campus was empty, and I have this very clear image of her walking alone across the quad. I stared at my daughter’s back while she literally walked into the next phase of her life. So many questions were running through my mind: ‘Did we prepare her enough? Is she happy? Will she feel comfortable enough to tell us if she’s not?’ Looking back, I wish I hadn’t fretted so much over the small stuff. When she was young, we were worried so much about whether she started on the soccer team, or if she got chosen for the front row at the dance competition, or if she was playing flute at the recital. We worried so much about that stuff because we were looking for any sort of validation that we were doing a good job. And in our desperation to be good parents we became our children. I wish I knew how fast all that stuff would fade away. And how little any of that would matter once she became an adult.”
I found the above quote in an article I have now lost track of. It’s been sitting in here in my draft folder for 6 weeks. Maybe more. I think we all do this to a certain extent – see our children’s outcomes as validation that we did good, we are good people, good parents. I’ve been guilty of this too. But we need to find our way back to who we were before we became parents before it’s too late. Or, we need to find out who we are now. As individuals who have moved past raising children in the day-to-day and are left to coach from the sidelines in text conversations.
I was raised in the 1970’s. My semi-feral upbringing had good points and less good ones (no real terrible ones, though) that was part cultural, part “it was the ’70’s”, and part hands-off self-absorbed mother.
I think about that a lot. As difficult as my mother can be, I don’t regret much about how I was raised. Or wasn’t. But, I knew that when I had children, things would be different.
As a child, I was both my mother’s dress up doll and a burden who got in the way of her art making. Or the life she’d imagined for herself. The messages she’d received from her own mother were to squash her crazy dreams and get married. “If you go off to England, he might not wait for you.” So, she went much later. With him. Best of both worlds, right? You’d think.
But, in between having my clothes laid out for me every morning until I finally protested in late elementary school, having no say over the length of my hair, being enrolled in Brownies and ballet (maybe I expressed an interest? I have no memory of anything beyond just doing them), I was cut loose. I was locked in my room during nap time or was sent outside to play to keep from being underfoot. Like most kids were back then. I didn’t really mind either situation. I was happy alone in my room and prowling the alleys with neighborhood friends.
And maybe a lot of kids (I was eventually a “latch key kid” after my parents’ divorce in ’79) grew up like me and felt the need to correct all the mistakes done to them. Which makes this article really interesting.
We need to step back. We need to let children be people. We need to let them roam the streets even if we worry about them. We need to let go of our fears. It’s a dangerous world but hasn’t it always been? Cancer happens. Accidents happen. We can’t always stop them. We can’t just be Professional Mothers. It’s not good for anyone. Trying to protect our kids from everything uncomfortable or scary that might happen does not help them grow up to be resilient adults. If you’ve never wiped your own butt, what will you do when mommy and daddy aren’t there to do it for you?
The main reason I left the city for the country was to give my children unfettered space to be children without an adult breathing over them. I saw the shift, the fear, the paranoia that suddenly frowned on free range neighborhood children just living their lives on sidewalks.
It partially worked. They mostly spend that time in their rooms alone doing who knows what? Watching YouTube videos and drawing and writing and texting their friends. But I don’t pry. The door to my heart and presence is always open to them. I hope I’ve done my job in letting them know that. My youngest and I have pretty deep conversations over text about puberty, menstruation, boys, love, hair, shoes, and writing. She knows I’m here when she needs me. No judgment. Whatever they’ve gone through, I’ve gone through.
But I don’t hover. I don’t pick locks. I don’t spy on their devices. I trust first and if I need to clamp down, I will. But I haven’t yet.
We need to all give each other a little slack as mothers. The next time you see a mother doing something “wrong”, just smile and nod. Acknowledge that we all have bad days. We don’t know the situation. Even if that mother is filling a baby bottle with Coca Cola (yes, I’ve seen it and yes, I’ve judged). Just give her a mother nod. We’re all in this together. We’re all one. And so are the women without children. Their reasons for not having them are as varied as ours for having ours. And they aren’t any of our business.We’re women and we’re stronger together than apart.