Hauling nutritionally balanced snacks to Little Leaguers (who engage in actual exercise for about 10 minutes.) Creating elaborately themed birthday parties for children who would be happy with a whoopee cushion and a pizza. Dressing little girls as miniature Mae Wests. What do these, and many more slightly wacky things, have in common?
When asked, the majority of adults will explain (variations of the above) behavior with the following: “There’s such pressure.” Such pressure. From their child? Visions of a pigtailed girl a la The Bad Seed dance in my head. There she is in the middle of GapKids/Gymboree/Children’s Place, her $200 doll held aloft prepared to swing; “Buy me the fur shrug or the latte gets it.” I don’t think so. If so, someone call Willy Wonka and have him rustle up some oompa loompas. I think what these parents in fact mean is that there is perceived peer pressure. That’s right; peer pressure. That plausible excuse for the pack of cigarettes your parents found in their car, the explanation for shoplifting that 45 (a small disc when placed on a turntable emits prerecorded sound,) and a plausible excuse for kissing that boy in the basement. But peer pressure in adults? How does that work? How does one even keep a straight face? I suspect that it is not peer pressure so much as it is herd mentality. Semantics perhaps, but defined as “group think” it makes just a bit more sense.
Very few of us, no matter how many times we’ve done it, feel like professional parents. Every child, every developmental stage, in fact every day presents new challenges. Yes, there are some whose very nature is laid back. They feel confident that their child is well fed, healthy, happy, and curious. They don’t grasp at enrichment programs as if they were life preservers or buy every latest geegaw and gizmo. Their confidence might be innate or may be a reflection of their diverse portfolio. Perhaps all their identity eggs are not in the parenthood basket. They may have a paid job or not. They may be married or not. The diversification is more internal than that.
But these are not the parents hiring aerialists and face painters for a bris. They are not the ones baking for the school/church/scouts/karate class/soccer club every week. The parents staying up to create bespoke goody bags for their 6 year old’s birthday party are hearing different voices in their head. They want desperately to get it right and like the creature in the strange land (that all parents really are) they take every cue and piece of advice to heart. A cycle is created of external reinforcement. Where the trouble may lie (if you consider hovering parenting and spoiled children, trouble) is a sense of unease and disquietness. Look around. How much of the media noise is about “stressed moms” “mommy wars” or far worse “the hidden drinking life of moms.” How long do you think it will be before we have a psychological condition known as “stressed mother?”
Feeling exhausted and strained is nothing new. Mother’s little helper, anyone? But the angst which comes from losing one’s internal compass is. What would happen if we tried something new, yet very old for 30 days? For 30 days, let’s not visit any parenting websites, chat rooms or magazines. Let’s only talk to our friends and acquaintances about what’s going on in our own lives, not our child’s. Let’s plan weekly dates with our partners (and hire babysitters.) If something comes up in those 30 days which really warrants guidance, call a parent, or aunt, or uncle or grandparent. Look to the elders, the survivors if you will, for guidance, reinforcement and comfort. For 30 days, do not look to the others floundering in the sea of parenthood for help.
Let me know how it goes.
*Children Will Listen – Into The Woods, Stephen Sondheim (1986)
Susanne Jacoby Hale
March 1, 2012 at 12:51 pm
Where were you about twenty years ago when I started reproducing? Once a pediatrician told me to read a little less and I wouldn’t worry so much. Three children later, many nights lying awake trying to solve their problems, rather than allowing them to learn to solve their own and one too many science fair projects or personalized goodie bags for the aforementioned birthday parties; I’ve come to the conclusion that a date with my husband, a night out with a friend or even better, a chance to make something my own feels, well, pretty darn great. (http://shadesofgraynovel.com/)
I often joke with a friend as we walk each morning at 7am, between rounds of breakfast-making for my high-schooler, then middle-schooler (an hour later) that my goal is to be the parent that just doesn’t care. I suddenly have a whole new respect for the oblivious mother that is unaware of her children’s grades until the report card shows up (and even then might not know until she is notified that her child is going to have to repeat a grade) or hasn’t spent open-house at her children’s school running through the halls like a mad marathoner simply because she has more than one child in the school and heaven forbid she didn’t get to see all fourteen teachers, or gave up a wildly rowdy night out celebrating a friend’s fiftieth birthday, because Johnny had a baseball game and that night he might actually have left the bench (but didn’t). At one time I rolled my eyes at these mothers who didn’t seem to care, but then I began to wonder if some of the children of the parents whose mommies did put “all their identity eggs in the parenthood basket” were creating children who would need their mommies to continue to do their laundry while at college or worse yet, actually go with their children on job interviews.
Yes, many of us well intentioned mothers do need to take a step back and read a little less of those parenting handbooks, etc. and indulge in something a little more fun. It is time to take our lives back and let our children develop lives of their own. Perhaps we don’t have to really be the parents that don’t care in order to do this, but rather the role model that we want for our children. I am stepping aside, removing myself from the herd and continuing to love my children and love myself as well. I am taking your challenge, Brenda, and hoping to take a few otherwise brilliant, when not embedded in parenting hell, moms’ captive along the way.
March 1, 2012 at 3:29 pm