Tuesday, January 15, 2008

When Mothers Judge

Stop what you’re doing . . . well, finish reading this blog item and then stop what you’re doing and read Ayelet Waldman’s piece in this week’s New York Magazine entitled, “The Bad-Mommy Brigade.”

I was fairly far into my nine-plus years of parenthood before I finally figured out that the contemporary standards for motherhood – that you not only have to be perfect, but that you have to be happy while being the perfect parent (no complaining, for example, that you don’t like playing Barbies) – are utterly unachievable and are responsible for a whole lot of unnecessary parental angst. And in recent years, I’ve found that some folks derive an unmistakable glee from learning that other parents have foibles and fall far short of being role model parents. The glee seems to be exponentially increased if the perceived “failing” parent is a celebrity.

So it’s with that mindset with which I approached Waldman’s piece. Not only did she take on this perverted fascination many mothers have with attacking other moms -- notably misguided celeb parents with whom I think people have become unhealthy obsessed – but how distorted our views of our own parenting has become. Waldman wrote:

“One way to find consolation in the face of all this failure and guilt is to judge ourselves not against the impossible standard of the Good Mother but against the fun-house-mirror-image Bad Mother. By defining for us the kind of mother we’re not, the Bad Mother makes it easier for us to live with what we are. We may be discontented and irritable, we may snap after the 67th knock-knock joke, our kids may watch three hours of television a day, we may have just celebrated the second anniversary of the last time we had sex, we may have forgotten to pack a snack, or, God forbid, bought one replete with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, we may yank on our daughters’ ponytails while we’re combing their hair, but at least we’re not Britney Spears.”

Wanna know what contributes to all of this parenting paranoia to which Waldman refers? Articles like the one in the February issue of Redbook entitled, “How to Say No (Without Saying No).” (“Kids hate to hear it, and you hate to say it – but how else can you keep them safe and well-behaved? Try one of these smart alternatives to just saying no.”)

Usually, I’m a Redbook fan. I admire its down-to-earth positivity, its embrace of different, non-cookie-cutter women’s lives and shapes (a year ago the magazine featured non-models). But then the editors had to go and publish a piece that will simply guilt more mothers into contorting themselves and stressing out when they have to and need to tell their children "No." The article tells parents that they need to be all namby-pamby by giving children the illusion that they have power and control, even when dealing with 3-year-olds. So if one of the “Good Mothers” mentioned in Waldman’s article happens to spot you saying, “No” to your kiddo instead of a gussied up/faux version of “No” that provides a child some false sense of power, you’ll be tagged as a “Bad Mother.” This, my friends, is part of the problem.

No comments: