taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Friday, November 26, 2004

I smoke, and occaisionally, I'll admit it, I even smoke when my children are present. I mean, I don't blow it in their faces or anything, but if we're outside and the older one is playing and the younger one is upwind, yeah, I'll have a nice cigarette.

I know that this makes me a horrible person, unfit for motherhood. I realize that pretty much everything I do, actually, puts me in complete opposition to the prevailing norms of American Mommyness. I dress too young, my hair is too long, I cuss too much, and drink coffee, full-strength, all day long. I don't regard my children as miracle angels, I didn't breastfeed, I hated pregnancy, and my car is a mess. And worst of all? Sometimes I tell my family that I need to be alone. For a few hours, even.

Now, I know a lot of other mothers, and I know that they don't fit into the Good Mommy stereotype any more than I do. But for some reason I still manage to feel guilty about this. The cultural stereotype of perfect momhood is so pervasive, so overwhelming, and the stakes are so high (I mean, your children are on the line!) that it's impossible to ignore how far short I'm falling.

It also seems like this particular vision of good motherhood is somewhat new. Sure, mothers have always been punished by the culture and wracked with guilt (see Freud, Donna Reed, the Victorians), but it's always in really era-specific ways, because mothers are always forced to the front lines of society's battle with its anxiety.

These days, it seems like it's all about being a good little puritan. A red-state mom. A "moral values" mom. Or else, if you're a lefty? It's all about doing what's "natural" and giving your children the proper "attachment"--which is also like being a puritan, only you punish your calvinist self with a vegan diet instead. Either way, it adds up to the same thing: relinquish yourself, and enjoy it, and then behave in a self-righteous way for the next 18 years or so.

We're expected, upon peeing on the stick and getting two pink lines, to suddenly transform ourselves into shining happy glowing Women, with a capital W, who are suddenly in thrall to biology--and thrilled with the prospect. And once you push the little critter out (after hours of tortuous and somewhat embarassing labor), you must immediately BOND. Bond, dammit, bond! Be a milk cow for two years--hey, even if you work, you can pump, right? They developed that technology on the dairy farm for a reason! Sleep in the same bed with your kids! Get your hair cut! Buy something shapeless to wear!

The next 18 years are more of the same. What, your kid isn't in soccer? Gymnastics? Piano? How dare you deprive her? What do you mean, you work 50 hours a week? Who doesn't? You still have to spend your saturdays making sure your children are being stimulated! What do you mean, you like to sleep late on Sundays? You don't go to CHURCH? Oh, don't tell me you actually like a cocktail! One drink and I'm passed out! Oh, I prefer herbal tea! My baby's watching language videos, why isn't yours? You mean you don't do playgroups? Mommy and Me? Baby Gym? Yoga Kids? You're kidding!

I guess I have to tell myself that this is society doing this to women, but you know, the more I write and think about it, the more I'm convinced that it really is just me--alienated, bitter, cynical me. That somehow these women have either swallowed the kool-aid, or else I really am deficient. The insidious part is, I can't tell the difference. And that's pretty scary.


15 Comments:

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At 10:01 AM, Blogger The Cybrarian said...

It's like sex: if you care enough to worry that you're doing an okay job, you can't be that bad.

But the guilt, it's inescapable. I have a tally of "mom sins" in my head all the time. Today we woke up late and I served Corn Pops for breakfast, and let her wear her pyjama shirt to school rather than fighting with her to put on a clean one. I don't shampoo her hair but once a week after swimming, otherwise she just has to get it wet in the tub-- it smells like wet dog, but it looks okay. I give in all the time and am a total sucker, yesterday she wanted to drink Yoohoo with her breakfast and I let her. She woke up in the middle of the night and wanted water and I got it for her, setting me up to be woken up for water every night for the rest of my life. and on and on... and if I hadn't gotten the water I'd feel bad about that too.

 
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