Lynn Harris of Salon lit up the blogosphere last week with her article "Everybody Hates Mommy." In it, she writes particularly of white, urban, upper-class mommies and the unique venom they engender in the childless, a venom she attributes to the feminine, to the mommy:
But I still say that when it comes to mother bashing, there's more going on. Something deeper, more venomous, even more timeless. The level of vitriol is so high, its target so clear and consistent.
Does everyone really hate women? Does everyone really hate mommy?
Harris' article vacillated between agreeing that some mommies are really annoying and expressing shock that anyone would vilify them. In it, she strives to put her finger on really what is so annoying about mommies. In Harris' view, it's the space they take up, especially with their damn strollers.
Yes, the lowly stroller. It has come to represent all that is thoughtless and space-hogging in America. It seems the stroller, and by association, the mommy, is taking up just a little too much room on America's streets, in her malls, and in her headspace. The strollers are too large for city sidewalks, just as minvans and SUVs are too large for its streets and its parking lots. This hogging of space in and of itself represents a lack of concern for the space others need in order to live their lives. The stroller is an inanimate manifestation of parents who bring their undisciplined children out of the nursery and into the public sphere, not at playgrounds or library reading rooms but in coffee shops and workplaces and the grocery store. And these mommies? Not only will they encroach, but they will do it without mercy.
Sadie Stein of Jezebel writes:
This is really it in a nutshell: the sense some of these parents give is that they'll have it all, on their terms. There will be no concessions made: instead, the world will concede.
And ... I get it. I know, I'm a mommy and family contributing editor at BlogHer, a mommyblogger at Surrender, Dorothy. I should so totally be taking the mommy side here, right? But, no. While I love me some mommy, I think it's possible to be an ass whether or not you have kids.
And: I think this discussion is bringing out the worst in all of us.
I was disconcerted by the level of vitriol I saw in the comments on Harris' article on both sides of the stroller. I've written for a variety of comment-ready online periodicals, and I know that if you're going to put an argument out there, you're going to attract some haters. But this -- THIS! Was beyond what I've seen before. In the space of time it took me to start this post, eat dinner, and come back to it, the comments shot up from 152 to 470 on Harris'post. Here's a sampling:
We don't need mothers to reproduce to shore up our dying populations. Having children these days is something that highly uncreative women do to fill their lives. PERIOD.
And while you're letting that one rattle around in your head, try this one on for size:
if I had a dollar for every time I've had to deal with some entitlement-minded mommy or the utterly undisciplined fruit of her womb, I could likely afford to build my own rocket ship and leave this sad planet and it's breeding-to-their-own-extinction primary species.
But lest you think I take the side of the mommies, they are just as bizarre with their comments:
It's not the mothers being too demanding, it's the whiny, boorish self centered, self righteous, non-breeders being upset that mothers and children are upsetting their vision of a hip rugrat-free urban landscape.
Well, then. Aren't we all pleased with ourselves?
Before I was a mommy, I was childless. (This is the adjective I prefer for myself.) I swear the entire time I was a teenager, I thought my own mother was an alien from another planet. (I've since changed my mind.)
After I became a mommy, I was schooled in how annoying mommies can be by my child-free sister and an entire department full of child-free co-workers. Initially, oy, it burned. But after a few years on the mommy job, I realized that it's not about whether or not you have kids, it's about whether or not you consider if what you're doing, what you're going on about, the space you're taking up -- whether it's interesting or enlightening or matters at all to anyone else, or whether you're just boring the rest of the universe with your prattle and blocking them from their space at the table with your high chair.
If you take a look at your stroller from someone else's point of view, mommy, you won't be an ass.
However, I have to add: Some of the actions that look selfish and space-hogging are a function of the awkwardness of caregiving. Ultimately, this problem we're arguing about -- this dragging-people-who-aren't-camera-ready into the streets and coffehouses of the world -- goes beyond parenthood precisely to caregiving, according to MojoMom. She writes:
This issue is eternal but for too long it has been invisible and marginalized: at best, sentimentalized, at worst, scorned. Our the modern generational twist makes this truly a lifelong issue. As challenging and intense as parenting is, we need to face the fact that we may be caring for aging parents for more years than we raise our children.
I think she has a good point. Today, it's snotty-nose Junior who's running around the restaurant as we parents cringe and try to whisper-yell to get him back into line without frustrating anyone around us (and hopefully, HOPEFULLY, we're in a very loud, family-friendly restaurant while we're doing it), but tomorrow, it may be Mom or Dad who's wandered out of the house and is going door to door asking people how to get home.
Caregiving forces you into incredibly bizarre and sometimes embarrassing situations. I know my street cred has suffered more at the hands of my daughter than in any other circumstance -- even learning to ski -- and I wish, OH HOW I WISH, that I could always come off in public as calm, cool, and mercifully accoutrement-free.
I realize my extra forty bags in the airport are annoying. I realize my Corolla is crumb-filled and packed to the gills and disgusting to the childless. Hell, it's disgusting to ME.
By the nature of my caregiving, I have also realized how much of my life is completely out of my control. And as a control freak, I'll tell you: It sucks. It's humbling. Caregiving is humbling. And those mommies who are annoying everyone so badly? Haven't ceded control yet. And neither have the other people who are complaining.
None of us are in control. The best we can do is be kind to each other in the midst of the storm. All we can do is try not to lob mud at each other, to try not to take up more than our fair share of space, try not to stick out in the aisle of humanity. And also? To try to cut everyone in our path -- mother, child-free co-worker, aging parent -- a little slack.
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