When my kids were tiny we would go to the weekly play group at the neighborhood Lutheran church. I loved the cozy atmosphere in that basement where church ladies served up Folgers and popcorn, kids crawled and ran around, and nursing mommies sipped coffee from white Styrofoam cups and enjoyed being around other adults.
Except one mom.
Each and every Wednesday this chick would be a harried trainwreck the entire afternoon, constantly dashing from her toddler to her preschooler, addressing one invisible disaster after another. If you dared ask her, “How’s it goin’?” you’d be met with: “Oh God! This one was up ALL night and THIS one threw a tantrum all morning and OH MY GOD YOU KNOW HOW IT IS?!?“
Um, not so much. While we’ve all had our days, this exasperated, frazzled stay-at-home mom seemed to have one of those days Every.Single.Day. She has remained in my mind as an example of how we have elevated the role of parenting-as-work to a level that unduly exhausts and overwhelms us — and gives moms license to command sympathy far beyond what they are owed.
Like every other educated parent in this country, I pay close attention to the discussions raging about work and family and parenting and economics. On one hand, these are important issues, the critical finer points of feminism that must be ironed out if gender equality is ever to be achieved and children are to be raised with the care and time they deserve. But it seems the pendulum can swing way, way too far in the opposite direction. I fear that we (when I say “we,” I mean “women”) have spent so much energy convincing the establishment that housework and child care are indeed work, that we make it far more work than it actually is.
Bottom line: Parenthood is hard. But we can make it far harder than it needs to be. Especially when technology and social advancements should be making parenting far easier than ever in history.
I’ve been reading a whole lot of Stephanie Coontz, the brilliant and entertaining academic who writes about family and gender. In a number of her books Coontz points out the fact that for the vast, vast majority of history, families relied on the labor of both men and women (and until recently, children) in order for the family to survive. That means that in addition to raising children, women were working in fields, running businesses, and managing households without luxuries like washing machines, vacuum cleaners, bagel slicers or iPads loaded with toddler games. In other words, until the past half-century, women had to do a whole, whole lot more work, in addition to caring for kids. Just like they do in the vast majority of this world today. (Hello, first-world problems?)
So with all the luxury of modern conveniences and the absence of a vocation outside of parenting, why was this stay-at-home mom out of her mind because her 3-year-old’s ponytail holder was slipping out AT THE EXACT SAME MOMENT her baby’s nose was dripping?
Well, who really knows. Maybe there were other, critical issues brewing that I was unaware of. Or maybe, she unconsciously made the decision to lose her mind as a way to justify her work. To many of us, work means stress and overwhelm. If our only work is caring for two children when humanity has forever expected us to care for children in addition to working a farm and running a house without plumbing and electricity, we feel pretty lame.
And so we foster negative energy by blathering about our overwhelm, and creating stress where stress did not previously exist in an effort to foster the illusion that we are working far harder than we actually are.
- Hey Moms, You’re 100% Perfect! (965tic.cbslocal.com)
- North American Lutheran Church (gospelofbarney.wordpress.com)
- Don’t Lose Your Cool as a Mom (thecounselingmoment.wordpress.com)
- ‘Teen Mom 2′ Recap – Jenelle Shoves Boyfriend Gary In Blowout Fight (hollywoodlife.com)
- Why Gender Equality Stalled (thewip.net)
- Are Better Work-Life Policies the Key to Gender Equality? (nytexaminer.com)
- 5 Things Working Moms Want Right Now (forbes.com)
- Making the Personal Political (undecidedthebook.wordpress.com)
- Mommy Never Warned Me There Would Be Days Like This (caramieandtheboyz.wordpress.com)
- Margie Omero: Ladies: All Hands On Deck (huffingtonpost.com)