A Review...and A Rant

I recently finished reading the book The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. Before you ask, NO, I’m not pregnant. I just enjoy feminist social commentary…especially when done by two very well informed and very snarky women (who are mothers themselves). It’s a thought-provoking read which takes a critical look at how the media and the government have molded mothers into obsessive, competitive freaks with unattainable standards of perfection.

When I saw this book listed on PaperBackSwap.com, it caught my attention, I guess, because I’m at that age where people like me (and by “like me”, I only mean women who have, for whatever reasons, put motherhood on the back burner) are suddenly realizing that if they want a kid or two, they better get on board the Baby Train pretty damn quick! And true to form, it seems as though everyone around me in my age range is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. A couple of co-workers here, a couple of co-workers’ wives there, a colleague or two, random bloggers. . . One of my co-workers had a baby 5 months ago and I never saw her again. She has disappeared into the Baby Abyss! One of my colleagues also had a baby 5 months ago (and at age 37, she was put in the Geriatric Maternity Ward, much to her dismay) and is happily back to designing load-bearing concrete beams after a brief maternity leave.

Oddly enough, only one of my close friends is a mother, and for some reason we don’t really ever talk about how she deals with motherhood. One of the things The Mommy Myth points out is how fucking HARD being a mother (not a parent…not a father…a MOTHER) is and how no one is allowed to really express HOW hard it is. Mothers have been forbidden to say “GAWD! This seriously sucks!” It’s not all rainbows and sunshine and organic produce and fair-trade cotton diapers. But we all have to pretend that motherhood is glamorous and sexy and the one and only thing in life that makes every damn one of us feel the most satisfaction we have ever felt. Puhleeeeeze.

Mothers should all be nurturing SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms) teaching their children to speak multiple languages, organizing meaningful outings, giving only educational toys and healthy food, and providing classical music for the young minds they are charged with forming. Basically, June Cleaver…on steroids. Everyone that is, except of course celebrities who have teams of nannies and educators and baby nurses and chefs and personal groomers and any other serviceable person who is able to make her life in motherhood the most satisfying, most thrilling, most fulfilling thing she has ever done. Oh, and also mothers who are on public assistance. Those goddamn welfare mothers SHOULD NOT be SAHMs…shame on them for wanting to stay home and raise their kid. Right?

The authors of The Mommy Myth take an extreme dislike to people such as Dr. Laura (and really, who can blame them?!) who preach to white, upper middle class women that being a mom (not a mother, a mom – this is another interesting point the book addresses; the distinction between the terms “mother” and “mom”) is the only priority they should even be thinking about, and being a mom, (the right kind of mom, of course) is the highest service she can perform.

And here’s the thing, women buy into this bullshit! I realize it is sometimes incredibly difficult not to be duped by the omniscient media, but many mothers-to-be happily adopt the whole motherhood = righteous, holier-than-thou attitude and it’s nauseating.

It’s also a little more than frightening.

I know a woman who is currently 3 months pregnant. I genuinely like this woman. I do. For the past three years that I’ve known her, she has been adamantly anti-baby. She proclaimed that being a mother was not something she needed or wanted. It wasn’t something she craved. She couldn’t imagine being pregnant. She couldn’t imagine being a stay at home mom. It wasn’t for her and she just couldn't understand how women gave everything up just to have a baby.

Then seemingly overnight (although now that I think about it, probably back in the Spring when she turned 33), her and her husband were trying to get pregnant. She started taking special vitamins and charting her menstrual cycle (and keeping me informed – too informed). And then one day she glowingly declared that she was two months pregnant. It has been downhill from that moment. Downhill.

The baby talk never ends. Never. Every conversation (and I mean every conversation) includes at least some reference to her 3-month pregnant body, or her 3-month pregnancy experience, or the latest pregnancy article she’s read, or the most recent pregnancy-related advice she’s been given. She reads books about infant care and early childhood education (and graciously shares that information with me).

Yesterday her and her husband toured daycare facilities (yes, she's 3 months pregnant). The one they want to get into has a two-year waiting list (unless you’re lucky or extremely wealthy). She enthusiastically recounted every detail of this Harvard of daycares which offers 6-week olds to 4 year olds everything from computer classes and drama classes, to ballet lessons and sports development, to sign language and Spanish lessons. She told me – with a totally straight face – that she intends to teach her infant sign language because it’s been shown that children who are able to communicate their needs before they are able to grasp language arts, are simply happier. I didn’t really know how to respond. Part of me wanted to channel some kind of crass Roseanne comment and part of me just wanted to pat her on her head and send her on her way.

Everything she eats, she prefaces with, “don’t judge me, I’m pregnant”. Don’t you worry, you crazy little motherfucker, I don’t care what the hell you put in your mouth whether you’re pregnant or not.

This sudden and complete devotion to the New Momism (another term used in The Mommy Myth – basically the ultra-competitive, extreme mothering of June Cleaver on steroids) is unsettling to say the least. It’s kind of wigging me out. How? How the hell did she go from not wanting to be pregnant to being an uber-annoying pregnant woman of the highest degree who is already plotting ways in which to make her unborn child smarter, healthier, and just generally better than all other children? HOW?

But I digress. Read The Mommy Myth for a dose of humorous reality and a hard look at how our society has idealized motherhood.


Jennifer said...

LOL - You crack me up!!! I can just see you patting her on her head and sending her on her way. I have to admit, I'm curious about the book - I'll have to check it out! Although, I have to say that I think marriage is MUCH harder than children. This might be due to the fact that you're trying to re-raise an adult child which is much more challenging. I'd take 10 more children over adding another husband to the mix any day!!

Alison said...

Yeah, sometimes I wish menopause would just hit already so I could get on with accepting my fate. Whoa, sorry, that sounded really depressing. I'm actually not sure if having biological children is all that important to me, although I would like to be an aunt.

Reminds me of the recent firestorm of controversy about a Motrin ad. Do you read the Women's Health News blog? A medical librarian at Vanderbilt writes it. But not as part of her official job. Check it out.

boty said...

I love you Cathryn! And reading about your motherfucker friend and asshole unborn child just add to my delight of having you, and all your wonderfulness, as my sister.

Anonymous said...

it was worth the wait. Awesome!

Terah Lynn said...

I have been waiting for this blog with baited breathe...SO worth the wait and I do hope there is more to come :) I mean you do have 6 more months till delivery! Oh JOY!

mom said...

just my personal observation re: mother's who spend their lives plotting to make their children healthier, smarter, and better than all other children. Often these children end up being able to turn almost perfect cart wheels(from decades of gymnastic lessons with promises of being an olympic athlete), play a musical instrument at family functions(from years of music lessons the parents insisted upon) dance around the living room(from years of dance classes with parental dreams of becoming a Fred or Ginger) perform a few karate moves for friends (well you get the idea)
however, they don't seem to be able to support themselves financially, or even balance a check book. They have no idea what's going on in the world and sadly, don't care, they have no real opinions about much of anything, and they spend much of their time boo hooing about how unfair everything is. They were self centered children who grew up to be self centered adults who believe the world owes them everything.

It is hard being a mother, but the hard part is knowing when to worry and step in, and when to back off and leave well enough alone and let your kids figure it out.

Great blog, I could just picture your face and body language when she's talking about her diet, pre schools and all that other stuff. you crack me up.

Mars Girl said...

One of my friends was extremely honest with me about parenthood. When I saw her a few months after she had her baby, she told me that the first month was hell and she seriously questioned herself as to why she had wanted to have a child. And she's a special ed teacher in the Cleveland school systems! You would think that would be MORE challenging than having a child of your own.

The brute honesty she gave me was the best thing I've ever heard. No one tells me that kind of stuff. My mom always glosses over the hard part with comments such as "Well, you forget all the hard parts later when the good outweighs the bad."

I myself am confused about the child issue too. Most of my adult life (since college), I've not really wanted to have any. I think parenthood represented an end to freedom to me (and it does, really, cuz now your life is focused also on something else). Either way, I think lately that my biological clock must be ticking because as the people around me are having kids and I find myself delighted by them, some part of me hears this little voice in my head that urges me to have a child of my own. I guess realizing the influence I could have on a kid, how I feel I could raise a good citizen with smarts that would contribute to society in a meaningful way is part of the desire. But, who knows? Maybe despite all the wonderful observations of life that I pass onto the child, he or she might still end up a loser, so I'm probably just fooling myself. Which goes back to why I've never wanted to have kids--the risks of getting heartbroken seem to high.

But beyond my personal psychology, I think I also know that if I decide not to have kids, I wont be disappointed with my life or feel like I'm missing anything. Once I make the decision either way, I just dont think I'll look back.

I think if I did have a kid, I wouldnt make such a dramatic flip as your friend at work did. I definitely DO NOT think I'd become super-freako gung-ho mother. I think I would employ the same philosophy of life that I've always had which is, "This is how I am and either you like it or you dont. Not my problem."

I think the most important thing to do as a mom would be to let the kid grow into what they want to become and nuture their passions. I wouldnt be trying to make this super-smart kid. I'd start them out with the things that worked for me--reading to them, listening to their needs, being supportive. I think the best parents let the kids pick the activities they want to do at the moment, and then when they are no longer interested, let them quit. Childhood is a time of discovery... much like adulthood too. The parents that suck are the ones who take all the fun out of something for a kid, turning their game of soccer into a professional sport, etc. I'm so glad my parents werent like that!

boty said...

WELL GEEZE MUM! Are you trying to tell me I have NO excuse? ;-) lol

At least I can entertain you with imperfect cartwheels, and my rock star dance moves. LOL

mom said...

boty, you and cathryn have many, many, talents. i was speaking of the mothers who "PLOT" to make their kids better than all others.(and fail miserably). that wasn't me, you and cathryn just naturally excelled.

Mars Girl said...

I wish I could have learned to do cartwheels...

Gibbarella said...

I told Matt about the soft cheese and he said shit my mom drank and smoked with me and I said mine smoked too. Matt got drunk off his mom's breast milk. OMG you know how much I miss making fun of her and her OCDs. She is a crazy motherfucker and I could have told you this was coming and why did you have to say you like her do you really like her. Bless your heart, how can you? Especially after hearing her talk about her hoity toity life and her hoity toity friends and her hoity toity rules to life and baby showers. Ahhhh I get frustrated just thinking about how damn hoity toity she is. Of course her baby will be better than any othe baby in the world and smarter and better looking and Greek and its name will be George and it will be good with money and marry the right person after it dates them for a specified amount of time and will not live together before marriage and will buy the perfect house and have the perfect dog and perfect amount of grandchildren for her. She is have a super perfect baby to follow in her super perfect footsteps.