I finally carved out some time last weekend to see Bad Moms with two of my mom friends. We laughed. One of us cried. Then we talked.
We agreed that this whole "perfect mommy" standard is ridiculous and should be retired immediately, if not sooner. There are a million ways to be a good mom. If you let other people tell you how to do it, you'll be a whack job in no time flat. You know yourself and your kids better than anyone. Living up to other people's expectations, or your kids', or even your partner's, is no path to success.
We also agreed that we are our own worst enemies. Mothers feed themselves sabotaging self-talk, second-guess themselves at every turn and lay on the mommy guilt. We allow ourselves to be conned, stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Does that make us better mothers? Not hardly.
Image: Tim Sackton via Flickr
The one unifying element that the perfect mom and the bad moms all shared was that they were suffering. This, at least, was true-to-life. Motherhood in America is totally out of control.
On the one hand, motherhood is idealized to mythic proportions, and on the other, it's remarkably unsupported by our culture and our public and private institutions. If caring for kids and keeping households running is so ennobling, why are women still spending twice as much time doing this unpaid domestic labor than men? Why do men with children see their salaries tick up, when women with children are perceived as less competent and less valuable at work? And why, in 2016, are there so few female directors, producers and screenwriters that a movie about "Bad Moms" is written, directed, and produced (2 out of 3) by men?
The majority of moms in the US go to work. They have longer career breaks and lower-paying jobs because mothers - still - are more likely:
- to be called by the school nurse when the child is sick
- to quit when paid maternity leave (or paid paternity leave) is not available
- to stay home because the cost of child care is more than what they can earn
What's even more alarming to me is the mommy guilt trap. If you work, you risk not "being there" for your child. If you are at home full-time, you are "lacking ambition" and performing "unskilled labor" that isn't even worth minimum wage at market prices. You become economically dependent on your spouse, and risk being seriously poor in retirement.
You compromise your ability to earn an income, feel you have to explain your employment gap to prospective employers, and - worst of all - come to believe you have nothing to offer because you are "just a mom." WTF?
It's high time women in the US took back the motherhood narrative. We are killing ourselves to make everybody else's lives a cake walk by sucking up the impossible demands, unreasonable expectations, and soul-killing standards.
My friends and I agreed that the funniest thing about 'Bad Moms' was that the moms weren't bad at all. (WE'VE done MUCH worse!) They were just normal women with kids trying to make it all come together in a society openly hostile to motherhood. The title could have been 'Real Moms,' or even just 'Moms.'
The film showed that one way to react to the impossible standards of motherhood is to over-perform and convey a facade of perfection. That character turned out to be screaming on the inside with a host of issues just as depleting as the openly struggling moms.
On the other end of the spectrum are the moms going through the day feeling like total failures, hopeless and helpless to succeed at home or at work. Neither perfection nor failure is truly reality. All their children are alive, safe, and loved to bits. But they tend toward one or the other because all the tropes, media messages, Hallmark cards, and advertising lie about motherhood all the time. And we believe them at our own peril.
The way out of this mess is not to throw out our spouses, stop packing school lunches (though I did stop because I realized my kids were perfectly capable by about second grade of packing their own), and sleep with the smoking hot single father down the street.
We could instead admit it is really hard, revere ourselves for creating functional humans (eventually!) and honor all the unpaid domestic labor we do. Let's acknowledge that if we didn't do these things, nothing else in our homes or our work or our country would be possible.
Let's tell the truth about motherhood, respect ourselves, and insist on the respect of others, starting with our families.
And then, maybe, we can reconsider that part about not sleeping with the hot single father down the street . . .
'Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
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