Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Mommy Myth

Ever since I read this book I have been quoting it ad nauseum. I knew I would love it as soon as I read an interview with the author on Salon, so when my Bitch Magazine arrived shortly afterwards with an article on the book, I ordered a copy the very next day. In short, the book is about how the media have idealized motherhood in a way that makes the average mom among us (especially those of us who dare to admit that we don't absolutely relish the experience one hundred percent of the time) feel hopelessly inadequate.

I have never considered myself a completely unquestioning consumer of popular culture, so some of the points were not new to me. For example, I ALWAYS roll my eyes whenever I read yet another gushing "celebrity mom" profile, knowing that I, too, could appear well-rested and attractive - even sexy - while waxing beatifically about the profound joys of parenthood, if only I had a SWAT team of nannies and maids and stylists and personal assistants and the endless budget to cover them. When you have to run frantically around the house each morning, corralling the kids and shoving oatmeal into them and changing diapers and hoping they will stay glued to their Wee Sing video long enough for you to brush your teeth and throw your wet hair in a scrunchie so you will meet a minimum standard of presentatibility for your monotonous 9 to 5 job, it does take a bit of the glamour away from the experience.

But the overall message of the book - that there are more pressures on mothers in our society than ever before - really struck a cord. It seems that, no matter what you do, it is never enough. If you work to keep a roof over your kids' heads, you are neglectful, selfish and materialistic. If your kids have enough food to eat, you still need to question whether you are trying hard enough to provide nourishment which is nutritious, organic and doesn't contain too many additives or refined sugars, or else you are personally contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity. You can buy the best car seat on the market, but chances are you haven't installed it properly. You can vaccinate your kids, but you will be accused of putting them at risk for autism by being an unthinking pawn of the medical industry. Or you can choose NOT to vaccinate them, but then you will be charged with placing your children and all others around them in danger of contracting of a fatal disease because of an unsubstantiated (and scientifically discredited) theory. And on and on and on, until you can drive yourself crazy questioning every decision you make.

Mostly I try to take the common sense approach that there are as many ways to parent as there are parents, with no objective "right" method. Still, it is sometimes hard for me not to feel sheepish when J's daughter Peanut clamors loudly for broccoli and green beans while Bee regularly asks for hot dogs and ketchup (often washed down with a couple of cookies). And sure, I cringe a bit when I hear that Peanut has never watched television - in comparison, Bee can instantly identify Dora and Boots, name every character on Sesame Street, and even correctly pick out the "cuuuutte!" Wiggle.

But I guess J. is affected by the Mommy Myth too, even though from my perspective she embodies so many qualities of the "ideal mom" I find so hard to live up to - she quit her job to stay home with the baby, did natural childbirth, and - most amazingly - provides stimulating activities for Peanut above and beyond sticking her in front of the television. I loaned her the book last week, and yesterday she called me raving about it - she has bookmarked numerous pages with Post-it notes, typed out lengthy passages to post on her moms' forum, and is planning to buy her own copy so she can mark it up with highlights and return to it again and again. I guess I will have to let her on to my secret antidote to the often overwhelming pressures of being a mom . . . Erma Bombeck, a mother much more like me.


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