Sunday, July 03, 2005

Mama Knows Best

Or something like that...

Maybe everyone feels this way at some point in their lives, but I think mothers especially get hit with it on a regular basis. It's that feeling after you become a mother that you have somehow morphed in people's minds into The Neverending Need-Meeting Machine for every person in your social orbit.

Perhaps you know what I mean by that. You feel kind of like the Wants and Needs Delivery System for your loved ones. Where are my shoes?--ask Mom. Why isn't that fixed yet?--ask Mom. What about the doctor's appointment?--ask Mom. We are out of milk;--ask Mom. Does she know her alphabet yet? Why not?--ask Mom. Do you think she's pooped in her diaper?--ask Mom. I really need someone to listen.--Ask Mom.

My other Mom friends and I have been commiserating at the very subtle but very real change that occurs in your life when people get comfortable with seeing you as The Mom. Perhaps it's a sign of your family's profound confidence in you, but the subconscious belief that Mom Has It Covered, while in some ways ennobling and encouraging, is mostly an invitation to performance anxiety like you've never experienced. You want to be that Mom, the one who can do it all and Have It Covered, but in reality you know you aren't and can't and, quite frankly, don't want to be.
Primarily because such a Mom does not exist without a Ritalin addiction (see last season's Desperate Housewives).

Secondly because sometimes 14 hours of meeting my family's needs (heresy of heresies) is just not enough to make me feel like my presence on the earth mattered today.

And thirdly because sometimes it's nice for someone else to JUST THIS ONCE cover it for you simply because it's a nice thing to do and so you might actually be able to leave the house today feeling like an actual woman: with blow-dried hair and shaved legs and nicely nail-polished toes, all of which [believe me] are the first things to go when you are taking 3 minute showers and getting back to baby ASAP.

It's not that fathers do not have their own set of pressures related to parenthood. But I'm the mom and that's all I can speak to. Besides, mothers have the weight of History and Expectation upon them in ways both large and small. If the father comes home late from work and still wants to go work out to stay in shape, no one questions his commitment to his children. If the mother wants to go work out after the father comes home, and therefore misses dinner and bedtime with her child, people wonder what kind of mother would not be present for such important daily rituals simply for reasons of vanity, like exercising. Then the MOM wonders what kind of mom she is for missing such important daily rituals. So it's a combination of the differences in societal expectations for women and men in parenthood, as well as the expectations that women place upon ourselves and each other.

There was recently a very in-depth article in the Washington Post about career women who become either full- or part-time stay-at-home mothers. The thesis? Bringing the same level of perfection and competitiveness to your family as you brought to your job will kill you. Holding yourself to your zero-error rate "at work" standards while you are at home will kill you. Competing with other women for achievement via your "product" will kill you and your kids. In short? You cannot possibly be all things to all people, and you cannot possibly always have that daily sense of project completion and gratification you get at work.

After reading that article, I have tried to get some peace with the fact that I am trying to work while trying to nurture my most important priority: the bambina, and quite frankly ending up exhausted and feeling like I'm doing neither job very well. I found myself almost longing for the life my mom told me about when she stayed home with us till we all went to school, where she said she was so desperate for adult conversation by the end of the day that did not mention children, that she wanted to scream sometimes. When she told me that story I felt simultaneously bad for, and grateful for her. Now I think about that story and think, "well at least you were feeling inadequate in only ONE area! At least you weren't also missing important client deliverable dates and struggling to find 10 minutes to speak on the phone with a client without Elmo singing in the background! You had it EASY!" Not the case, I know. But tempting to believe nonetheless.

I guess what I have concluded is the following:

You cannot have a happy, engaged, curious, active kid and a spotless home (for those of us who clean it ourselves).

You cannot measure your child against anyone else's child to see his developmental progress.

You cannot every day simultaneously feel fulfilled as an individual and as a mother. You have to pick the day and time when you will get to feel the former, because being the latter is, by definition, all about fulfilling the needs of your kids. Assuming you can feel both every day is a one-way ticket to daily two-wine lunches, a prozac dependency, and/or a truly frustrating and quietly desperate existence on this planet.

There are no quantitative metrics or benchmarks, really, for being a good mother, short of avoiding school expulsions, jail sentences and (as we say in DC about political black holes to avoid) any situation involving dead women or live boys.

Other than that--to be a good mother and a happy, fulfilled woman--all you can do is block out the real or perceived judgments of others, lose the expectations in your mind and in your ears, follow your own heart and head, and--as Mom always said--Just Do Your Best.

6 comments:

Miko said...

...The subconscious belief that Mom Has It Covered, while in some ways ennobling and encouraging, is mostly an invitation to performance anxiety like you've never experienced.

And also an invitation for others to cede their own problem-solving and decision-making chores to someone else, neatly handing off responsibilities which they would otherwise have to consider their own.

Miko said...

...The subconscious belief that Mom Has It Covered, while in some ways ennobling and encouraging, is mostly an invitation to performance anxiety like you've never experienced.

And also an invitation for others to cede their own problem-solving and decision-making chores to someone else, neatly handing off responsibilities which they would otherwise have to consider their own.

Miko said...

...The subconscious belief that Mom Has It Covered, while in some ways ennobling and encouraging, is mostly an invitation to performance anxiety like you've never experienced.

And also an invitation for others to cede their own problem-solving and decision-making chores to someone else, neatly handing off responsibilities which they would otherwise have to consider their own.

Miko said...

Oh geez- sorry. I'm not trying to belabor the point - just having trouble with my browser. Yeesh!

Anonymous said...

Once again, E, you have completely nailed your point. You have spoken the words that have been in my head for about 2 years now! I love being a mother, I would die for my kids, but some days I just want to feel like I have value beyond what I bring to others' lives. I want to be well-dressed and unrushed and able to put a sentence together like an adult; all rare occurrences these days with 2 little kids.

I've been told to hang in because it apparently gets easier! Some day soon you will have time to shave your legs again! In the meantime, we won't make fun of your peeling toenail polish. ;)

kingoftherabbits said...

It doesn't get easier, it gets different, and you get more used to it. The young rabbits are 9 and 11, old enough to carry their own stuff but not so old that I embarrass them yet, and have complete faith in my ability to solve EVERY problem which comes up which of course I can't. Last summer, we were getting backpacks from LL Bean, and I asked the kids if they wanted them monongrammed, as it was cheaper now than if we decided to do it later. My son said, "oh Mom, I'm sure YOU could do it." Well yeah, but I sure as heck don't WANT to.

It is also true that the more competent you become as a mother, the more you are expected to be mother to the world. While I only do an adequate job in my profession, I do make sure my boss takes his medication when needed.

Finally, there is a time when you can make your kids ride their bikes with you while you run. It means I no longer have an excuse for being as hideously out of shape as I am, and it is SO enjoyable when my daughter calls out, "c'mon mom, why are you so slow?"