Can the Mommy Wars please be over? And while we’re at it, how about we abolish breastfeeding-as-a-political-act. Oh, and Mother’s Day. Let’s do away with Mother’s Day.[OMG, I think I will be drummed out of the Motherhood Club. Wait, I already have been.]
Have you seen Time Magazine’s May 21, 2012 cover? It’s hard to miss. It’s the one showing a hot young mom with her three-year-old son, who’s standing on a chair with his mouth on mom’s exposed breast. Way to go, Time, for opening up a can of worms this country is so not ready to deal with. I know, right? Breasts? Shudder.
The cover disgusted me — not because of breasts or breastfeeding or even three-year-olds breastfeeding — but because of two things: I can’t decide which I hate more, the intentional sexualization of breastfeeding, or the cover’s headline: “Are You Mom Enough?”
Fuck, yeah. I’m mom enough.
Isn’t that your response, too? That provocative “Are You Mom Enough?” hit me right in the gut. SLAM. And the flip side? If I am mom enough, then YOU are not. Way to go, Time. Way to fuel the flames of the Mommy Wars, just when things were dying down.[want to see the Time cover? Scroll down. It’s on this page.]
I hate the Mommy Wars. Stupid Mommy Wars. What are we fighting over, anyway? How is it that I have anything to say about the choices you make as a mother? What authority does any mother have over another mother’s choices?
Full disclosure: I once fed the flames of the Mommy Wars. I was a sanctimonious, breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, organic food supermommy. I did everything for my children, and I because I did the things I did, I thought that other mothers should do the same. I didn’t realize it then, but my desire for every mother to give up her life the way I was giving up mine was — deep down — a desire to validate my own choices. Because I was sacrificing my life for my kids I just assumed that every other mommy out there would follow in my Stepford lockstep if she wanted to wear the label of “Mother” with any kind of pride or authority. After all, if you are not giving up your life for your kids, what kind of mother are you? (Don’t answer that. It’s a trap.) That’s certainly the message my mother gave me. And probably her mother before her. I see it now, written all over our culture. Written in the 12,000+ comments on this piece in Yahoo Shine. Written in the interview questions I answered last month for an upcoming piece on mothers who live apart from their children on ABC’s 20/20.
I don’t think the Mommy Wars are going anywhere until we humans make some fundamental changes. I felt angered by Time’s cover, but my anger was about my feeling of helplessness and powerlessness in the face of what feels like crushing public sentiment to become the kind of mother we all wish we had. Good thing I’ve done something about that powerlessness and created The Better Mothers Project, where all mothers are equal and every mother gets to listen to her own heart and make the choices she feels are right for her and her family. Better women make better mothers. Period.
Oh, but I am digressing. Again. Let’s talk instead about how messed up we are about mothers. That’s always fun.
What mothers should be.
Here are some things my 12-year-old told me about mothers:
- Mothers should cook.
- Mothers should clean.
- Mothers should be there when you come home.
- Mothers should take care of your every need.
- Mothers should give up their lives for their kids.
Long list there. Can anyone actually live up to that list and not die inside? And yet those are the things we expect of mothers. Maybe we don’t say so on the surface, but the expectations are there deep down. And we mothers feel them. And we try to respond to them without dying inside.
Let’s face it, nobody’s mom can measure up to the perfection we as a society place on mothers. Mothers give. Mothers sacrifice. Mothers encourage. Mothers place themselves last. Mothers eat the burnt toast. Mothers give their life force so that their children may live. And we applaud this craziness.
My mom did all kinds of sacrificing (she gave up potential careers as a classical pianist and opera singer to become a teacher and raise two kids) and she sucked as a mother. I didn’t receive the kind of nurturance we think mothers should give. How could I? My mom was too busy pushing herself into some tiny place deep within herself to be any kind of awesome for her kids. I lost my mother because she made herself smaller so she could be the kind of mother she thought she should be. Now she has Alzheimer’s and I am losing her all over again. That sucks.
My mom taught me all she knew about mothering, which was about smallness, sacrifice, and passive aggression. Yay. You can imagine the kind of mother I was when I lived with my kids: small, sacrificial, and pissed off deep inside about it. I turned my anger inside where it ate away at me to become eating disorders, fibromyalgia, and eventually cancer. I adore my kids. And I am a better mother to them from 3000 miles away than sacrificing my wants and needs daily up close.
Maybe she can do it all.
Some mothers find balance. They take pottery classes. They have jobs they love. They hire babysitters. They date their partners. They tolerate clutter. They read to their kids at night. They trust their kids to grow up. I adore those mothers. They rock. I wish I was one of them. And I think they are in the minority.
Nope. It’s way easier to judge.
Yay for the moms-that-rock. Everyone else judges.
The mommies who stay at home judge the mommies who abandon — er, leave — their children and go to work. The stay-at-homes think the working mommies are selfish. They drink endless lattes at their offices with their pedi’d feet on their desks. They hire expensive nannies to nurture their children and do what mommies should do themselves. Working mommies should stay at home where they belong.
And the mommies who have jobs judge the stay-at-homes. Mommies who stay at home wear Lululemon yoga pants and drive Lexus SUV’s to their Pilates classes before getting an aromatherapy massage. They sit around the house watching The View and eating Godiva chocolates. They leech off their hardworking husbands. Stay-at-home mommies should get jobs and do something useful.
No woman can possibly live up to someone else’s standards. I could barely live up to my own. I adore my children but I was a terrible mother. Or I was a too-good mother. Terrible? Too-good? How do we tell the difference without imposing our own internal standards on someone else?
So let’s end this thing. Stop judging each other. Stop buying into the sensationalist aspects of a stupid Time cover and instead celebrate the beauty of one brave mother making her mommyhood choice public. Breastfeeding is beautiful to some. To others it’s sacred. To others it is utilitarian. But whatever it is, breastfeeding is each mother’s very personal choice. Shame on Time magazine for hitting mothers in the gut the way I felt hit. But kudos to Time for exposing the horrific burden of judgment we carry on ourselves and one another as mothers. Let’s end this stupid Mommy War. No one won. No one will win until we figure out that it is about the children, not about the mommies.
Now the thing about Mother’s Day.
Consumerism ruined Mother’s Day. No mother needs a mani-pedi, a brunch with a corsage, or a coupon for a dinner at Red Lobster to know she’s a good mother. She knows this in her heart. And if she doesn’t, then it is the job of everyone else to cheer for her when she makes choices that feel right for her and her family.
How can one day a year of having the dishes done or receiving burnt toast on a tray possibly make up for the other 364?
Let’s get rid of Mother’s Day, because every day should be Mother’s Day.
Better still? Let’s have a Setting Mothers Free Day. How do you want to celebrate?