No more perfect mothers
CBC News Viewpoint | May 3, 2004 | More from Georgie Binks
Seventeen years ago, just a week before Mother’s Day, I became a mother. When Mother’s Day rolled around a week later, I envisioned a lovely breakfast in bed – sipping champagne, roses on the night table, a cooing baby in my arms.
In reality I was guzzling champagne in the kitchen, making scrambled eggs for a sick husband, alternately checking on and feeding the baby. By noon I was so exhausted I went back to bed. Mid afternoon a friend of mine, who didn’t at that point have kids, arrived with a casserole. Every year on Mother’s Day I call her and thank her for that casserole.
She knew the reality of motherhood. These days there’s a growing gulf between reality and the images fed to us by the media of what a mother should be. That’s why the book, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, comes as such a welcome piece of reading.
If anyone thought the dishwasher, nannies, the new daddy and the new electric kitchen brush were going to make the job of being Mommy a lot easier, they never expected the counter-attack from Martha Stewart, the media, all those movie star moms who wax poetic about motherhood, and the collective guilt of the 00s woman.
The Supermommy phase started about 20 years ago when mothers were well entrenched in the workplace and were made to feel guilty by just about everybody. Despite the fact that their kids wouldn’t be able to eat if they didn’t work, and that they might go crazy if they stayed home, they felt the need to do everything for their children. And women who stayed at home felt so darn grateful that they could afford to stay home, that they continued making lunches for teenagers unable to move themselves away from Simpsons reruns long enough to take 30 seconds to make a sandwich.
I remember a woman asking me when my daughter was young which courses I had her enrolled in. “Nothing. Is she supposed to be in something? What’s your kid taking?” It was that competitive mothering thing that I hadn’t quite got the knack of. I clearly had children too soon. These days I would be reading a book like The Three Martini Playdate, An Essential Guide to Happy Parenting by Christie S. Mellor.
I think my mother’s generation had the whole mother thing figured out better than we do simply because it wasn’t something they sat and pondered daily, nor did they feel guilt or indecisiveness about what they were doing. With four kids to feed, clothe, burp and squeeze the truth out of, my mother never had time to take an eight-month-old to baby music where she could sit with nannies and listen to tunes on a tinny cassette machine. She wasn’t trying to be perfect.
It’s not enough, though, that we inflict guilt upon ourselves. The public schools have got rid of the school nurse, so lawyers in the middle of trials pack up their briefcases quickly to pick up a child who lost the fight in the schoolyard. Those same women are up at 5:30 in the morning making 30 hand-decorated gingerbread cookies for children in kindergarten.
One thing The Mommy Myth takes aim at is the new “celebrity Mom,” those lovely actresses whose lives we are unfortunately treated to, as they smile at us in the supermarket line, with their perfect children. They appear to be doing it “all,” their kids in tow on the set, tiny tummies surviving on organic diets and rigorous training workouts, beautiful clothes, homes, yada yada. Oh, and of course, nannies, personal secretaries, the entourage goes on.
It’s bad enough that for years women were told that they had to compensate for being at work by doing crafts, baking etc. Now women must be glamorous mothers before and after birth. How do you like this book? Buff Moms-to-Be: The Complete Guide to Fitness for Expectant Mothers, by Sue Fleming. I think a better title would be something like Eat All You Can, While You Can – You’re Going to Get Fat Anyway.
I read last year about mothers in the playground wearing high heels and sexier clothes in an effort to throw off the frumpy mother look. What was wrong with the frumpy mommy look? At least milk stains on the shoulder, wrinkled shirts and one perfectly made up eye were authentic.
I remember writing a profile of a woman several years ago who was in an important and very stressful job. She also had three daughters. I asked her what she read when she had time. She told me, “Look, I don’t read anything. I’m not going to pretend I read books because I don’t have time. And I don’t want other women to feel badly about themselves because they don’t read.” I hear her. Try reading The English Patient in two-page intervals at night before you fall asleep. After two years, it just doesn’t make sense.
I think the only thing “work moms” and “stay-at-home moms” have in common is that sometimes we envy each other, but most of the time we appreciate what the other one is going through. Many women move back and forth between working for money and staying home. We know our lives aren’t perfect and we disdain those who pretend theirs are.
This morning as I rummaged around for toast for breakfast with my daughter, I found several pieces of bread looking a little dry on the edges, some of it a little green, but nothing that a knife couldn’t cut off. So I did. There you go.
The late great Erma Bombeck wrote, “No mother is all good or all bad, all laughing or all serious, all loving or all angry. Ambivalence runs through their veins.”