Essential Twenty-First Century Mom Conflict

posted November 24, 2008

Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is it just me, or is everyone having the same fantasy? I find myself saying to myself several times a day, “Oh, that’s okay; when Barack Obama is president, that’ll be solved.” “That” being everything from the ever-sinking Dow to our high health insurance premiums to the mice who have taken up residence in our cupboards to my daughter’s continuing refusal to become potty trained. Now and then I remember that Obama is just a guy, albeit a smart and attractive and charismatic one, and that he probably can’t wave his hand and produce miracles, but I think it’s probably good for my nervous system to pretend he can right now.

A friend of mine sent me two articles today that stirred up my Time, Money, Calories matrix and left me panting for breath. One article was from the magazine Brain, Child and the other was her response to it. The Brain Child article is called “Eco-Housewives” and tells of a woman named Shannon Hayes who is writing a book tentatively titled Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity form a Consumer Culture. It sounded right up my alley—a sort of Annie Leonard “Story of Stuff” homesteady fantasy, and with trepidation, I started to read my friend’s response to it. My friend, the mother of three and a brilliant professional writer and card carrying feminist, took offense at the suggestion that “eco-moms” were somehow more enlightened and evolved than those who, as she does, shop at ShopRite and occasionally accept plastic bags when they forget their canvas ones. My friend raised the question “what is enough?” which to me is at the root of what I keep thinking of as the essential Twenty-First Century Mom Conflict.

What is enough? My friend was clearly disturbed and, by her own admission, thrown on the defensive by Hayes’s embrace of a completely consumer-free lifestyle: no TV, all local organic cuisine, no presents at Christmas, etc. Hayes’s stance didn’t bother me in the least: I admire her; occasionally want to follow that path; don’t (I have many an eco-sin); and figure it’s good enough that I use cloth diapers and make my own wipes and drive a biodiesel (which may or may not be an eco-sin, but that’s a topic for a different post). It’s about batting averages, I figure, and I am grateful to the Hayeses of the world for allowing me to have lower ones.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own areas of defensiveness. I get defensive around moms who spend most of their day actually doing something that can be perceived as “playing” with their kids. I am pretty good at making up stories, but oddly terrible at engaging with my daughter around her stuffed animals or dolls. This is especially odd as that was exactly the kind of play I did as a child. The other day when I was lamenting my lack of talent and interest in imaginative play, my husband said, “You don’t like to play with her that way because you brought that part of you along with you. Now you play by writing novels and songs, and you can’t go back.”

Maybe so, but I still feel like a rotten parent when I see someone else–– a babysitter, another parent, my husband–– animating one of her dolls and getting her to giggle and shriek with joy. I have friends who get defensive––in fact, go on the offense––when it comes to a career they may have left behind. These moms speak with passion about selfishness and priorities and deathbed regrets.

Whatever. Motherhood, career, good stewardship of the planet, It’s impossible to do it all. I give up. Also, I give up on trying to be enlightened. The High Priests of the Present Moment may now come and officially excommunicate me. I’ve been trying so hard to live in the Now so as not miss a single thing my darling children do or say that I think I’m seriously in danger of losing my sense of humor forever. I wish today, with all my heart, that my friend and I (and all the Shannon Hayeses of the world) could just relax and enjoy our few moments here, even if that means we are zoning out and watching Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central; EVEN if that means we are sitting around the kitchen table judging our other mom friends for watching Comedy Central. Either way, at least we will have a few precious moments for ourselves, even if they are self-righteous ones.

Today I let my daughter cry in her crib for five minutes after I put her down for her nap, and yes, I felt terrible, and yes, it was the absolute best choice I could make given how exhausted I was and how my son needed his diaper changed. Then I noticed that she stopped crying, sung herself the ABC song and fell asleep. When she woke, she was in a great mood.

“I say ‘hostibal,’ mama, and you say ‘hospital.’ Isn’t that funny, mama?”

I picked her up and snuggled her. “I’m sorry you were sad before your nap,” I said.

“I not sad now,” she replied. “Talk about the bear and the scary boy, okay Mama? That’s a good idea, right Mama?” and she hugged and kissed me, and perhaps I was forgiven, but at any rate, her innate, instinctive kindness allowed me to forgive myself. In this, as in all things parental, the kids are the best teachers of all.

The Comments

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  1. Parent Coach says: five minutes crying is no bad thing. It’s good for them to know sadness, to know not getting thier way and to get comfortable with crying to let out emotions! A check in and a warm touch every five minutes of crying in bed is ideal. The hospital thing is priceless! P.S. I am beginning to occasionally watch TV!

  2. I’ve just started to read your blog after a friend linked me to your music page (my girls LOVE the two kids music cds), and I love your take on the magical mystery tour of motherhood. It’s never what we expected, is it? And there’s always some person in the grocery store check-out aisle or some psychologist in a magazine at the ped’s office telling you that you are doing it wrong.

    I probably have a slightly different parenting chorus around me. I’m a “military wife” living on the Navy base in SC. I have three daughters in (cloth!) diapers, I’m nursing my youngest two, and, since my husband left for his 3rd tour in Kuwait, all three of them are cosleeping in my bed. The neighbors have no idea what to think. I started out my motherhood journey intentionally obstinately crunchy. Slowly but surely I have learned to let go of the guilt I feel when I plop my 3 year old in front of the TV, and let my 17m old wail piteously from her crib, while I change my newborns diaper with one hand and talk to my sympathetic, but ultimately helpless husband on the cordless phone. It’s a wild and beautiful symphony, motherhood. We do the best we can and show our children as much love as we can muster at any given moment and try to do so gently upon the earth.

    And occasionally, they are all sleeping at the same time and you have a moment to sigh and say to yourself, “It’s a good life.” :c)

    Thanks for the music and keep writing,


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