Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Mess

While we were in California, MacTroll and I were able to have some heart to hearts. Well, to be fair, I was doing the talking and he was doing the listening. And I think he did a good job of not trying to stare at me slack jawed as I confessed that I've been feeling like I've been failing pretty hard as a wife and mother.

Other people seem to enjoy this whole parenthood thing more than I do. And as much as I love my kid, there are distinct times when I think -- some other woman would be much better at this than I am. I don't know how others feel about it, but it's shitty to know that you're giving something your all and that it will never be enough. I always figured I'd break my kid in different ways than my parents broke me. But I promise that I'm trying my best -- just like they did.

I started reading a book tonight called Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner. It was published in 2005. And it's a doozy. I can't stop reading and feeling even more and more sick about the state of motherhood. Because what the book spells out for me, is that I'm not alone in my feelings and that this situation has been going on for a very long time. And it doesn't matter if you work full-time, part-time or if you stay at home. It doesn't matter if you're an attachment parent or a formula feeder or a single parent. The guilt. The expectations are all very much the same.

She focuses the book on the middle to upper-middle class mothers. She interviewed over 150 of them. Some online and some in person. She did a lot of comparative research about motherhood over the last 60 years and traces that what is popular in mothering -- is what is popular during that time in culture.

She goes through the decades of the Murphy Brown Mommies of the 1980s and the Soccer Moms of the 1990s. And then she gets to the "Minivan Mom" of 2000. And whammo, this giant bat hits me in the head.

"The new definition of motherhood was, in the popular imagination, the state of being 'almost always on-duty.' Yet the duties of parenthood had now reached epic proportions. It wasn't enough, if you were 'at home' or working part-time, to be there to pick up your kids at school if you wanted to clock in virtuous mommy hours. You had to do homework with your children, bake for their bake sales, and volunteer at their schools. You had to give quality and quantity time -- and if you wanted, at the same time to set your child on the path to a productive future, you had to model productive behavior, and keep yourself in a state of constant busyness. Your love for your child was judged not just by the amount of time you spent with him or her but by the amount of time you spent doing for him or her..."

'We were the girls who could Do Anything. This was not something we had to shout about, or something we had to prove, it just was...Coed gym and woodworking shop, and told us to never let the boys drown out our voices in class. Often enough, we did better than they did in school. Even in science and math. We called our teachers 'Ms.' We went to college in classes that were more than 50 percent female... We believed that we could  climb as high as we wanted to go, and would live adult lives that would allow us to be the people we wanted to be. Other outcomes -- like the chance that children wouldn't quite fit into this picture -- never even entered our minds... In the 1980s, while our baby boomer elders continued their quest to achieve firsts in the worlds of business and politics and elsewhere, we earned the dubious distinction of being the first generation ever to register an 'epidemic' of eating disorders... 'Even though feminine dependency is no longer in fashion young women combine traditional expectations with a quest for equity and power. To be brainy and beautiful; to have an exciting $75,000 a year job; to nurture two wonderful children in consort with a supportive but equally high-powered husband-these are the personal ambitions of many in the present college generation'."

Groan. Groan. Groan. And it only got worse...

"Now her little boy was in weekly occupational therapy and, at more than $100 per session, it was worth every penny, she told me. She laughed about it. She was un-self-forgivingly clear-sighted. 'OT' might or might not be doing much of anything for her son. But it was proving highly therapeutic for her. 'Look, I'm a very high-anxiety person,' she said. 'I'd rather believe my son has issues -- that he doesn't listen to me because he can't, because, as the occupational therapist says, he's too busy listening to what's going on in his body-- than to have to think it's just because I'm a bad mother.' A bad mother? I asked... She looked down and twisted her napkin nervously. 'If I did things right,' she said softly, "he'd listen."

... because I identify with it all.

And what makes me feel the most terrible -- Is that my whole life suddenly feels like a total cliché.

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