Monday, November 8, 2010

The Anti-Supermom

I don't usually do this, but I would really like you to read this article before you read my post.  It's not too long and totally worth it.

In my dream life I am the "perfect" mother.  By perfect, I mean that I breastfed exclusively for a year, made all of the baby food for my kids, and the weekends are spent in museums with TV watching being a very rare occurrence.  Like I said, in my dream life.  M pointed out the article linked above and when I read it, it really struck a chord in me.   I never imagined that the ideas that have become accepted in motherhood over the last twenty years could be viewed as a burden or even a prison, but if I am honest with myself, I admit that it feels that way, sometimes. 

I don't totally agree with everything that Erica Jong says, and she comes across as being almost as hard lined as the proponents on the other side, but I think she has some very valid points.  It is easy to forget how much motherhood and its ideals are perpetuated by the media.  In this age of social networking, I would say that it is even worse.  If someone makes a comment on twitter that they were uncomfortable seeing someone breastfeed in a restaurant, they are attacked and verbally beaten until bloody.  My question is, why wasn't there a place that the mother could go and quietly feed her child?  Why isn't that the norm in a society that so clearly thinks a good mother = a breastfeeding mother?  We expect mothers to breastfeed, but there is very little support.  Lactation consultants in hospitals are an absolute nightmare of conflicting information and the state laws that require employers to set aside a room for pumping are inconsistent and weak.  So, basically, we are supposed to be comfortable breastfeeding in public, but we are also expected to take the abuse and defend ourselves when people object. 

If you open up a People magazine, there are entire subsections devoted to pregnant celebrities and celebrities with babies.  I'm sure their research tells them that the readers like to see that celebrities are just like them, raising their children.  Really?  Just like opening a Cosmo makes me feel like crash dieting, seeing some perfect looking celebrity mom does not help me, either.  I'm not going to make assumptions about Angelina Jolie or Madonna and say that they are using children as accessories.  Maybe they are, or maybe they just love children.  My issue is with the depiction of it all.  Women shout from the rooftops about the horrible things that supermodels do to our daughter's body images.  How can they put these skinny girls in magazines when it's not realistic?  Shouldn't we also decry the entire spreads that are put in magazines about women losing all of their baby weight in six weeks?  Why aren't there photos of Angelina with pink eye that she caught from her kids, or Giselle with toddler puke all over her?  This fake ideal that is constantly being pushed and that people eat up is a sort of prison.  Just as looking at a fashion magazine makes me feel bad about the size dress I wear, reading an article about  celebrity mom doing it all with no mention of the support she has from nannies and assistants is deplorable.  Getting help is not shameful, but that's the way it is treated.

It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable with my choices as a mother.  I'm not looking for anyone to tell me I am doing a good job or that I should do whatever I want as a mom.  Until I read this article I didn't realize how much of a burden the barrage of do this, do that or you are a sub-par mom was weighing me down.  I think that attachment parenting is great, but it just wasn't a reality for me.  I am a strong advocate for breastfeeding, but the reality is that it's extremely tough and not everyone can make it work.   I breastfed my kids for six months until my supply was literally nothing and they got formula for the rest of the time.  I made some of their baby food and fed them plenty of the jarred stuff, too.  If I really need to get something done on the weekends, I turn on Nick Jr.  I never let my babies sleep in bed with us when they were tiny because I just didn't think it was safe.  I hug and kiss them as much as possible and it annoys them sometimes, but that's just too bad.  I miss the kids when I drop them off at daycare, but when L comes home and counts and names the planets, I can't really say that being in daycare is a bad thing for him. 

I think that all moms do a little helicopter parenting and  little hands off parenting.  Sometimes, it's as simple as just reading what your kid needs.  I am lucky because my job doesn't include a long commute, so a mom that  barely gets home in time to tuck the kids in might have different views about all of this, but I do know that some of the things that I am seeing in magazines and on Twitter and Facebook are a little disturbing.  If moms are being victimized by the expectation that there is an ideal mother who can work and carry a baby all day, then we need to start by not victimizing each other.  I'm not always going to agree with the choices that another mom makes for her kids, but I can't possibly know the inner working of their lives.  Is this feminism?  I have no idea.  I have the luxury of not really having to answer that question.  The combination of work and home is my life and it's not really a "choice" as the feminist movement loves to call it.   

I think that this quote from the article sums is up for me:

"We need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules."

 What do you think?  I am really interested to hear your thoughts on this article.   If you are a mom-to-be or a mom-in-waiting, I am looking for your input, as well.  As a follow-up, Erica Jong's daughter wrote an article about what kind of mother Erica was and it is worth a read, as well.


  1. I totally agree..although I don't have kids yet. I actually have n ot looked for work since i was 'let go' bc we want a 'lower stress' atmosphere while I am pregnant. I have visions og cloth dipes and pureed peas. I think it is unrealistic, but ehat is the best.
    I agree-it is a tough bar to live up to.

  2. To be honest, I do what I have to do to get through. Seriously.
    My kids have sleeping issues and one has eating issues...and while they aren't 'issues' to another mother - they are issues to us. Sure, I could make her sit at the table and not offer her anything else until she eats a green bean - but I'm just not going to do that.
    It's not worth it to me.
    Am I judged? Sure. Does it bother me? A little. But at the end of the day, knowing that I am doing my best is all I've got.
    I try not to pass judgement on other mothers...though I do shake my head when I know they have an entourage of help & they are crying out how stressful life is...
    I'm not MOTY...but is anyone really?

  3. I feel like you could have written this post for me. And I will warn you in advance, I may write a very long essay in response.

    Even with a husband that is a very involved, loving father, I still feel that things fall on me, and that is an overwhelming burden at times. Just yesterday I was frustrated with J's inability to soothe herself for a nap. K's response - "she's just a baby, why are you so frustrated?" I told him - her failures are my failures. If she can't soothe herself, if she wakes in the night, I must be doing something wrong. When she does poorly in school, I must not have taught her well. When she can't roll around a room at six months, I must not have given her enough tummy time. Perhaps this isn't an entirely rational form of reasoning, but it's how I feel. So as we struggle with what may very well be something as "simple" as teething, I continually feel that I'm failing as a mother.

    To compound this, I've found myself in a very earthy circle of friends - cloth diapering, baby wearing, homemade baby food making mamas. In many ways I love the community of support, the friends J and I have made, and the connection I have to these mamas. They are a wonderful, loving group of women and I truly have a great time with them. But I also feel overwhelmed by what I'm not doing. Yes, I am exclusively breastfeeding. Yes, I am making my own (organic) baby food. But I don't cloth diaper. I still use 409 on my counters. I wash my baby in Johnson's baby soap. I give her TriViSol vitamins instead of the pure D drops. I've even used baby powder, a known carcinogen, on her. And the night I had to get store-bought prunes for her and they didn't have an organic option? I felt horrible. I have real anxiety about these things. Am I poisoning my baby with these chemicals? How can I be sure that she never encouters BPA? It's overwhelming. I don't even know if I believe that organic is truly better, but I have too much guilt to buy anything else for her. (Not that I buy it for myself most of the time...)

    What's interesting is that my husband tells me all the time that I'm doing a great job, exceeding his expectations, and raising a great baby. That should be enough. It shouldn't matter what anyone else thinks as long as our family is happy and thriving. But it's so hard to close off the outside influences, to push away the guilt and relax.

    What it comes down to is that I love this little person so much it's terrifying, and all I want is for her to be safe and happy and healthy. It's just too bad I don't acknowledge that she probably wants that for her mama too.

  4. I think that the article represents the other side of the extreme, a bit extremely.

    I have always believed that parenting is all about common sense. And like Darcie above--I do what I do to get by. Do I fuck up sometimes--sure. Do I do right by my kids--yes I do.

    But, in the end, I think that all these issues come down to one major thing--is the parent SECURE in their own identity. If they are insecure, of course they feel they need to be dictated to--they want to follow the RULES and do it "right".

    The thing is--there are no real rules or right ways to parent as the child(ren) are individuals--and there are as many parenting styles as there are children.

  5. It's funny that you posted this today, because I've been stewing on a post about helicopter parenting. I am on the same floor as our college's admissions office so I see what helicopter parenting looks like when it reaches the 17-year-old set, and it's ugly. So I'll post on that another day.

    I both agreed and disagreed with points in the article... I honestly had a hard time staying focused because as you said she was a bit hardlined and seemed a bit... bitter or something.

    I'm not sure where this comes from within me, (it's not just in regard to parenting) but I tend to live my life truly without caring what others think of my actions. Sometimes this gets me into trouble because I've slighted a friend's feelings, but when it comes to parenting, j and I do what we do, and really have no second thoughts about it. There's not enough cloth diapering mommmas in the world who could convince me that it's what we *should* do for B, it's something that positively won't work for us because no daycare we'd choose would allow cloth diapers. But more power to them if they want to do it. I'm mindful of making him independent, almost to a fault, and then I catch myself smothering him with smooches when he doesn't really want them. :) It's a give and take, but I've got too much on my plate to either feel guilty for something I've done/not done or to judge how another family goes about its business. It's sad there is judgment in parenting at all, I wish we could all be more supportive.

  6. That was my favorite quote of the article, too.
    Thank you (very much) for this post. xo

  7. This is a great topic.

    I find it interesting to be a mother of multiples... we're constantly told, "I don't know HOW you DO IT" by strangers in grocery stores. It is a constant reminder that we're doing something and it must be pretty hard.
    Mothers of singletons don't receive this outside unsolicited praise. In fact, mothers of singletons often have the bar raised by "helpful advice" from strangers.

    I know that I'm winging my parenting.
    I know that I'm doing the best that I can... and it probably wouldn't live up to the expectations of most.
    I also know that I love my girls. I LOVE THEM so much.
    If that love and effort isn't enough for them, they can write a sob story book about it when they grow up.

  8. Every day is a "learning experience" for me as mother. My mom wasn't exactly the best example, and I ended up having to act as the parent in our screwed up relationship. For my friends that are expecting or currently trying to have children, the only advice I really try to impress on them is do what YOU think is best. Pardon the harsh language, but fuck anyone else who thinks they know any better than you to raise your child. That's your kid, and you are the one that creates the bond with them, who cares for them, loves them, and worries night and day over their health and happiness. To those who think they have to prove how "perfect" their families are when we ALL know the reality, working mom or stay-at-home mom, it's all a battle. We have all spent late nights cleaning up kid puke, sobbing quietly in the bathroom when a child accidentally breaks an item of sentimental value, or trying to hold back curse words when the baby spits up on your only clean outfit before family photos. Unless you are in that tiny percentage of wealthy families that can afford a nanny, a housekeeper, a personal trainer, etc; as parents, we have all been there.

    As a full-time working mom, my husband stays home with my 2 year old son. It's a struggle for both of us. My work days are almost 12 hours total, including the commute. The time I have with my child is limited and precious, and I often feel guilty about being gone all day. My husband loves being a stay-at-home parent, but he has his bad days, too, as all parents do. For us, having a parent stay home is what we intended. It's not a status symbol, we make many sacrifices in order to do this, and we know how hard it can be. Attachment parenting can be extremely difficult for some parents - some people are simply not wired that way. I am not one to hover above my child, but I am also not a neglectful parent. To imply that a parent has to be one or the other is a myth. Personally, I worry that helicopter parents may face some backlash when the kids get older. Even the best kids will test boundaries and rebel. It takes a smart and aware parent to know how to address this and avoid awful consequences down the road.

    We do what we can to get by with our son, and we are always trying new approaches to situations. Not one day will be alike. And you know what? I think it makes us better parents. It helps my child try new things. I think that makes us better people, to not be afraid, to dare to be different and do what we feel is right for us as a family.

  9. Interesting article and great post, Miss K.

    I admit that I have already felt like a failure in many areas of my short 17months of parenting so far. I'm sure it will only worsen as B gets older or if we ever add to the flock.

    I tend to think that it's important to research, educate, and listen when it comes to issues that affect our lives. I've always wanted to know "why" things have to be done a certain way, or tried to find many ways to do other things (sort of like Plan A, B, C, all the way to triple Z:-)). I think that as a parent, it's important to find things out, take time to ask "why" and educate ourselves to the best of our ability. Yes, sometimes the technological world can be damaging and give us too MUCH knowledge. However, I can't just say "well, I'll fly by the seat of my pants and not care what anyone thinks or feels."

    That being said, I feel like once you've looked at all the cards on the table, along with lining them up with your own family, self, etc, etc...then it's each family's decision to do what is best for THEM. What works for THEM. And if other ppl care to share their "advice", so be it. But it won't change what we've decided to do.

    Like every other mom (well, okay, not everyone, but the majority), I worry that I'm making wrong decisions on how to raise my son. I think I take the easy/lazy way out of things sometimes (read: most of the time), in order to survive. But that's what we, as humans, do: Flight or Fight. It's in our make-up. Yet, I think beCAUSE we worry and try to do the best we can...well, that makes us amazing:-)

    We won't always agree on each other's parenting skills. We won't always think each other's kids are "just THE cutest thing ever in that outfit!". We won't always see eye to eye on what's "best" for a child.

    But what we CAN agree and focus on is that children deserve our love and our time. They deserve our best. It's not someone else's best that they's OUR best. It's MY best, for my child. People need to realize that they are entitled to their opinion, morals (or lack thereof), etc, but they need to see that no one wants to be belittled for doing the best they can with what they have. We should be encouraging one another, patting each other on the backs for surviving the time change (ha!), and giving a hug just to show support when there is no one else to give it.

    I think the biggest issue ppl have is that they don't know how to express their beliefs/feelings/whatever without offending others. They don't care who it hurts.

  10. I have a similar post brewing for this month!
    I will say, that I go through phases of caring about others opinions and not caring at all in regards to being a good mom.
    now that I am home? I love her 1000x more than I ever have, I never thought it would be possible, I thought I would hate it. But you know what I love? I love knowing what she is doing/eating/saying/learning. (I am a control fah-reak....)
    but, I never feel "good enough" when talking to other people.
    One of the commenters said hearing her husband tell her how amazing she is shoudl be enough. I agree. My husband tells me this very often, and it is a great feeling. But why ISN'T it enough? I guess I need to figure that part out, huh?

  11. Ahhh, like many others said above me--this couldnt be timed better--I had a "get-through-it" kind of day. I worry I have a candid camera looking at me making sure I am doing all the things I "should" be doing--but some days I am no where near the perfect parent. But I am caring for him and doing the best I can.
    I have to remember that being a mom is a tough, tough job--and I am allowed to have an off day and then try again tomorrow--maybe different approaches, but no candid camera is following me.

  12. Awesome post, Miss K. It' sums up a modern mother's dilemma.

    And for the record, I'd just like to tell you: You ARE doing the best you can. There are no rules.

    Thank you for this.

  13. I agree with Deleen: it's all about being secure in your self identity. You know if your child is happy and adjusted and safe. In the meantime if you're miserable doing it, what a horrible example for the child. Moms need to stop judging each other: it takes all types to make the world go around. Now excuse me while I go pull my daughter away from Dora for a game of Candy Land before bed :)