Sometimes parenting is like walking into the surf during a hurricane. You keep getting knocked down, you keep getting back up, and just when think to yourself, “I’ve got this one, I’m still standing,” a bigger wave comes along and knocks you on your ass. I guess I was expecting my kids to get sick a lot in the first few years. What I wasn’t expecting was the number of ailments I myself would be afflicted with. It’s one thing balancing toddler twins and working. I’m pretty sure that alone would be somewhat manageable. Add in to the mix that those toddler twins are sick, and the odds start stacking against me. Those giant waves just keep coming. Now add in that I somehow manage to repeatedly get even sicker than they are, and just for good measure, sprain my ankle as well. Now we’re moving into the realm of a tsunami.
Thanks to all who have followed the discussion this week.
“We focus on the absurd, rather than the everyday, because the mundane is too real-too out of control – to face.”
Valenti describes a cultural paradigm in which mothers are expected to present as blissed out and loving motherhood at all times. She uses herself as an example, describing her experience giving birth to a two pound baby and then having a strange mother come up to her and tell her “breast is really best.”
Do you, as a mother, feel compelled to present a certain front to the world? Do you believe mothers feel admitting to weaknesses or unhappiness with certain aspects of motherhood means admitting they are bad mothers?
When I read Valenti’s chapter on breastfeeding it rang so true to me I began to cry. My children were also born premature and spent time in the NICU. I too was determined to breastfeed and had myself looked down on mothers who didn’t. I bought into the cultural idea that a good mother does whatever it takes to breastfeed. I CLEARLY had never been a mother when I thought that. I now understand that a good mother makes the best choice for herself and her kids given a long list of competing priorities and needs, including her own sanity, which is her child’s most crucial asset.
Now that I recognize how wrong I was, I try really hard not to police other moms. I try to assume they’ve met the best choices to maintain that ever-critical sanity! But so many moms do seem to police each other. I LOVED this piece because I’ve been policed on the playground so many times. With twins, there’s no way to monitor either kid closely, but folks are constantly reporting to me about what my kids are doing sternly as if they are telling me to pay better attention. Forget believing my kids might need some independence, I simply don’t have enough arms and legs to satisfy these people!!
We moms have bought into the idea that being extremely involved with our kids, the “total motherhood” Valenti describes, and martyring ourselves, as I discuss here, are the signs of good mothering. These values are constantly put forth as best for our kids, at times in ways that make no sense. For me, and for Valenti, a prime example was breastfeeding even when it was disrupting our bonding with our kids. I write here about the ways in which things that promote health and bonding AND KEEP MOMS most tied to their roles, seem to get all the press. Other things that might help us avoid depression and take care of ourselves, etc. aren’t focused on at all. It’s time to start questioning what we are focusing on. Are breastfeed, baby-wearing and co-sleeping great for some babies, sure, but so are moms who have their own lives and so are sane and joyful more of the time when they are around their kids.
I believe the best thing we can do is stop enforcing the mommy martyr paradigm on other moms and stop buying into it ourselves. We can offer resistance to this paradigm just by speaking the truth, motherhood sucks sometimes, especially in a culture that makes being a good mom require giving up ourselves in ways that I would argue are pathological.
So despite thinking Why Have Kids didn’t actually comment much on the question, “Why Have Kids,” I do think it broached how parents, and mothers specifically could be more happy. Some of these arguments if fully explored (which I don’t necessarily think they were) are pretty radical.
As I saw it, Valenti was suggesting 5 things we need to realize to be happier parents. For each, do you believe this is contributing to maternal/parental unhappiness, and do you agree it should change? Why or why not.
1)Recognizing motherhood is not as hard or important as we think.
I believe motherhood is extremely emotionally hard. However, for me, this is kind of a circular argument, because I think it’s emotionally hard for me, in part, because of gendered societal expectations on mothers. I think what we need to address is that some of the reasons it’s hard are the very things Valenti argues, lack of support for parents/ mothers, expectation of sacrifice, and to an extent, the idea that motherhood is the most important job. But even aside from these societal expectations parenthood is hard. I think we need to separate out the difficulty inherent in parenting, from hardness that comes from isolated mothers with not enough support from society and partners attempting to meet unrealistic expectations. This is not easy to do.
Valenti argues that complete maternal love and maternal instinct are overblown concepts used to promote the idea that mothers should be sacrificial and expert on all things related to their children.
To what extent do you believe in maternal instinct and the idea of all-encompassing maternal devotion? In your experience are these concepts mostly societally-generated or do they ring true to your experience or that of people you know? If you believe they are part of an un-natural societal ideal, what function does this ideal serve?
For me, these concepts mostly do not ring true. I have definitely had great instincts about my kids at times. I often feel like I know why they are acting a certain way, what they want or need, and notice things others don’t. Having said that, there are also many, many times where I feel totally perplexed by them. I often feel other mothers are aware of minutiae about their kids that I would never pay attention to, like how many times they poop. I also feel my husband has many moments of great instincts about our kids that I’m oblivious to. If I tend to get it right most often, it’s only because I’m with them the most. But I would say my husband is a close second, and could easily have “the best” instincts if he were with them more than I.
Hey folks! So for any and all who read Why Have Kids thanks! If anyone still wants to get in on the action, this is a quick, quick read and available online, and our discussion continues all week.
So each day I’m going to pose a discussion question. I will write some of my thoughts, and then I would absolutely love for others to respond with comments.
So let’s start with general impressions…
What did you like best and worst about Why Have Kids?
What I liked:
-I loved feeling validated that being a mom is not only hard but can be boring and tedious, and it’s okay not to feel complete and total ecstasy about it at all times – and even to dislike it!
-Instead of feeling guilty about enjoying leaving my kids to go to work, now I can feel like a good feminist for being able to support myself and my kids if need be!
Getting Read About Relationships Series – Part II
Also Appears on RoleReboot.org
1)Act How You Feel (Within Reason) – We’ve all been around those couples bickering violently in public or making nasty passive aggressive jabs all the time. When we air our dirty laundry too readily, we make other folks so uncomfortable they may stop hanging out with us. On the other hand, pretending your relationship is flawless is lame too. We all do it at times. We act like everything’s fine when it’s not. We fight in the car and then get out and hold hands all through dinner until we get back in the car and go another round. So how do we strike the right balance?
Breastfeeding fanaticism and the bullying of bottle-feeding families typically occurs under the guise of promoting “health” and “bonding” in infants. I believe this is, quite frankly, a load of crap. When it rises to the level of strong-arming and zealotry, and overrides or ignores other crucial factors in infant and maternal health, breastfeeding enforcement is really about promoting a cultural norm of guilt and martyrdom in mothers. This Jezebel article is a rare, honest description of the decision to bottle-feed and the reactions one mom got for choosing what was right for her family. Making decisions that truly facilitate physical and psychological health for infants requires weighing pros and cons of a variety of personal choices, including breastfeeding, with one’s specific circumstances in mind.