02 March, 2005

Is Motherhood Really Madness?

The "madness" written up recenly was the subject of a Newsweek story by Judith Warner, author of the new book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.

As Chuck Colson, in his news commentary "Breakpoint" highlights, "Warner's experience and observations led her to ask why "arguably the most liberated and privileged group of women" in American history have "driven themselves crazy in the quest for perfect mommy-dom," making "high-pressured, time-demanding, [and] utterly exhausting kids' activities" an essential part of parenting?"

Maybe this is just a cause close to my heart, but I think if we don't ever respond to or rebut articles like this, the myths will continue to live on in our culture.

I was raised with a propensity not to fall for what is culturally popular. Or at the very least to consider and measure it carefully (count the cost) to stand on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, praiseworthy....dwelling on these things.

My mom babysat for the moms who decided to work in the 70's and 80's, so I saw the effects, both short and long-term, that had on the moms and the children; the regret, separation, distance, frustration, etc. I, like many of us, remember the mantra of the 80's, especially, was that "you can be it all and have it all as a working mommy."

I was a nanny for a doctor and a nurse at this point, and worked for another family one day per week, as well. I had the blessing of the lessons of walking through "childcare" as a caretaker for others. I gleaned much by having a relationship with my employers and discussing their thoughts, both positive and negative, on the issues facing women. Interestingly, my primary employer was not a practicing "organized religion" Christian (she was raised in organized religion, but did not believe in it), and her husband, a pediatric specialist, was a universalist. Even they felt like culture was sending the wrong message of affluence, status, etc., and lived counter-culturally to the beliefs/trends of the decade. They seemed to have a better handle on values than some Christians I knew.

I decided that "career mom" was not a route I felt I should take, even though I was going to college to become a psychologist or Christian Counselor. That lifestyle choice didn't seem to be going so smoothly for very many moms that I knew, through the Christian college I attended and the professional Christian women I knew at church, to the moms I worked for. As a working woman in Boston, after college, the Catholic moms that I worked with worked "mothers' hours" (during school hours) so they could be home when the kids got home. They seemed to understand the importance of their roll of "Mother." Those of us who didn't have kids, yet, tended to cover the later afternoon hours. A lot of women were measuring what was best for their marriages and families, at the time, and that was a good "Titus 2" example for me, whether they were of the same "church family" to which I belonged, or not.

So I struggled over the issue of what to do about the "cultural lie." It was infiltrating even women in churches I attended. Justifications were being made, or understandable regrets expressed over the choice the need to work, among some of my peers. It went to the core of my identity and what I was going to do as an adult, so much so that I developed anorexia. There were a couple other factors thrown in there, but this issue was at the core! I prayed to the Lord for wisdom and direction, and clarity...and discussed it with my [now] Hubby while we were engaged, to be sure that he and I had the same heart on the issue. I didn't mind being a working woman, but really felt the Lord wanted [me] to stay home with children when they came along.

The premise and research of this article and book is all based on a worldly standard, I didn't buy it when my time came to make the decision re: career vs. motherhood, and I don't buy it now. I wish she would interview moms who are living counter culturally. They are NOT hard to find. I am just perplexed by the author's lack of including a broader base of moms for her "research."

There were over 900 at the WholeHearted Mother Conference in Texas alone, and surely some of the women who were there would not agree with the basis or the outcome of this writer's study.

On pg. 2 of the online article, it says: "Nine hundred and nine women in Texas recently told researchers they find taking care of their kids about as much fun as cleaning their house, slightly less pleasurable than cooking, and a whole lot less enjoyable than watching TV.And I wondered: Why do so many otherwise competent and self-aware women lose themselves when they become mothers?" then:"—told me of lives spent shuttling back and forth to more and more absurd-seeming, high-pressured, time-demanding, utterly exhausting kids' activities. I heard of whole towns turning out for a spot in the right ballet class;"

I'm saddened that the parenting of children is veiwed by the populous as "less fun than cooking." Of course it's more difficult than watching TV, Tv is just an escape from reality, and it numbs the brain cells. (Read the book by Jane M. Healy, PH.D called Endangered Minds or The Plug-in Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life by Marie Winn)

Again, I say, something is terribly wrong with the picture Warner has painted by her observances of a small cross-section of American moms. As for feeling pressured to attend endless activities, I say that activities are not bad, but we have to learn not to overdo it by filling every waking hour with scheduled, group activities. We have the choice not to buy into this type of "placing hopes on this-or-that highest rated class or camp...in order to have my child in the best the country has to offer" mentality.

I know that we moms still want the best for our kids, and sometimes agonize over the amount of chores that we have to keep up, or we spend way too much money for "just the perfect curriculum," so I know that we resemble some of the issues of struggling with "comparing ourselves to others" etc., but we are still different, still "Set Apart" you know? I'm not naive to think we've arrived.

Culture may say it is so, and it may be true for a lot of people, but it does not make it *truth.* Instead of following culture, which she asserts has quested for "perfect mommy-dom," we know as Christians that we only have to strive for Godly Mommy-dom, as a part of a whole Godly life! It all depends on what or in Whom our beliefs are rooted...it all comes down to our worldview. From what source does our very living, breathing and basis for truth spring forth?

That is all I have time to preach on today :-). I promise this commentary was not meant to offend, or make anyone feel like they are being less of a mom. If one is having to work outside the home out of necessity, or been thrust into single motherhood, I do not begrudge the need to work.

I am not a perfect mom myself, and my home is not always immaculate, but I know whom I have believed in, and am persuaded the He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him...


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Great article. Having been raised by a working outside the home mom myself, I knew I didn't want the same for my kids, so I've been a sahm for the last 22 years.
I figured out a long time ago that one way to do this was to continue to pursue my interests and include my kids in them, rather than let the kids lead in everything and me follow, car keys and checkbook in hand. I figured that God put these children and this adult together for a reason, and one reason might just be He wanted them exposed to the human beings that their parents are.

One of the most eye opening experiences I have had as a sahm was shopping in a tiny little convenience store once, when the clerk was complaining about her boss, her job, her lack of advancement, her pay- and then, noticing my children with me on a schoolday, she asked why they weren't in school.

I explained that we homeschooled, and she told me that she just couldn't stay home with kids all day because she needed more mental stimulation than that.


Javamom said...

"I explained that we homeschooled, and she told me that she just couldn't stay home with kids all day because she needed more mental stimulation than that."


Wow. That is astounding, wit hthe understanding we have on this side of the issue.

I've had the more typical response of "I don't know HOW you do it!"

or the more snide response, "Isn't it selfish to keep them at home, away from other kids...they need to learn to grow on their own," or some similar wording.

It totally misses the point (better socialization and "real world scenarios" within the family than the school setting); something that I don't think they'd understand, even if we worded it in the simplest of terms.

Ann V. said...

Nice to sip the coffee here, Kim---Read your post on Ambleside and had the privilege to rest awhile and browse a bit with you....I blog about how PROFOUND this mothering experience is, how life-changing and CHALLENGING it is to raise up other HUMAN BEINGS--I found your post and perspective quite fascinating--thank you for sharing...
Ann holyexperience.blogspot.com