Friday, January 18, 2008

The Bad Mommy Brigade is Watching

Thank G-d for Ayelet Waldman. Say what you will about her (and I know she is controversial), but she has just rung my bell with this piece.

I literally cried as I read through it, mostly because I am just coming off one of those oh-so-fun marriage fights where all the big questions--Who does more around here? Who is a better parent? Who is better, period?--come out to play. In her piece, Waldman talks of the double standards by which mothers and fathers are judged and she also names the number one bad mommy sin: selfishness. Ouch. Guilty as charged. The nagging question in the back of my head all day, the one I already know the answer to: am I a selfish mommy? Well, yes. I am. And apparently that also makes me a bad mommy. But then I already knew that.

I am exhausted. Being pregnant and momming at the same time while trying to maintain a career is laughably tiring. Laughable in the sense that if it were not my life, I would laugh at it and tiring in the sense that I often fall asleep as she plays only to be jolted awake by her shrieks of laughter. I am sure a good mommy could stay awake while her daughter plays with her leap frog table. And so I fail again. Add to this the fact that my sweet baby is moving full throttle into toddlerhood, replete with all its demands and tantrums and we have the recipe for a mom who pretty much thinks she is incapable of making it through the next year, let alone the next 19 or so.

Meanwhile, the sad truth is that I am married to super dad. Super dad comes home, walks the dog, feeds the animals their dinner and takes over all baby duties until it is time to put her to bed. He is also a semi-attentive housekeeper (or, at least as attentive as I am, which ain't really saying much). But the standards by which his "wonderful fathership" are judged are so much more lax than the ones by which I am judged. To be a good father means, as Waldman says, "to show up." While being a "good mother" is more or less akin to finding the blue fox at midnight on a moonriver in Dubai (shout out to my cousin J) In other words, it is f!cking impossible.

I once read an article by a mother whose husband was such a saint that she felt usurped in her motherhood. I feel that woman's pain. No matter how "good" a mother I try to be, I will always pale in comparison to my husband whose own parenting skills far exceed my own. His patience is endless, his exhaustion less consuming, his ability to keep the big picture in mind astounding Yeah, so he is perfect. He feeds her every meal when he is home, takes her to museums and grocery stores alone on weekends, goes to her pediatrician appointments, puts her to bed each night, goes to the lab for five hours after he puts her to bed, "just so I can get more time with her." This is what I am up against.

Still, the fact is, I do all of those things (and more during more hours of the day). I feed her. I sit on the floor, endlessly listening to cloying children's music. I take her to playgroup, to doctor's appointments, on long walks. The problem is, those are all the things I am "supposed" to do for my child--and with no kvetching, which we all know is an impossibilty. Constantly squelching one's own needs for someone else is hard, harder than they ever tell you it will be. But unlike me, my husband does not struggle with these issues. He seems born to parent while I often feel like I am trying to force a hat on my head that is far too tight.

But here are the nagging questions: if I am not a good mother, who is? What goes a good mother do? Gather moonlight in a straw basket and sprinkle it on her children's heads each night while singing lullabies until her throat is hoarse? In the end, it is a double standard. Men can do half of what we do and get called "Saint Dad" while we get labeled bad mothers if we--G-d forbid--indicate that we have any needs of our own.

In the infamous words of Tammy Wynette: Sometimes it is hard to be a woman. I love my husband and I am so grateful that he is here everyday to take the baby off my hands. He truly is a wonderful dad. But the unfair truth is that I am the primary caregiver and sometimes I slip. Sometimes I am tired, especially now that I am pregnant. Sometimes I just want her to sit in her crib and be quiet while I eat a snack, put my feet up and watch part of a movie. Does this make me a bad mom? Sometimes I think so. But I love her more than I have ever loved anyone or anything else. And in my low moments, I try to remember that has to count for something.


Lis Garrett said...

I think there is a bit of "bad mother" in all of us. Heck, I yelled, I mean REALLY yelled, at my oldest daughter and had to catch myself before slipping and telling her that her teacher might think she is stupid and lazy if she continues to forget her homework. And it was only 7:15 - great way to send my kid off to school, eh? And there's my son, who has some REAL problems, and I often forget to keep that in mind when speaking to him. My youngest is constantly trying my patience, and I am constantly losing it.

Speaking of being pregnant - when I was pregnant with #2 and #1 was less than 2 years old. I would stick a tape in the VCR and practically restrain her on my lap until she fell asleep. Then I could fall asleep too. I was so sick and couldn't even manage to play on the floor.

My husband, God love him, doesn't do half of what I do. He's a good man, but I get the brunt of the childcare.

Yes, and I feel selfish for wanting to FINALLY do something for myself - write and work.

Kristi said...

Not only are we eerily the same, but apparently we are married to the exact same man.

Rich does much of what your husband does, without half of the bad attitude and impatience I have about being constantly asked to "squelch my own needs" for my daughter's.

And you're right, the bar for being a "good father" is set very, very low, while the one for being a good mother is so high it is always unattainable.

The mother martyr routine never ends well, so I say take all the time you can now for yourself, and allow your fab husband to continue being such a great dad.

g&c boyarko family said...

"Sometimes I just want her to sit in her crib and be quiet while I eat a snack, put my feet up and watch part of a movie. Does this make me a bad mom?"

In no way does this make you a bad mom. It makes you human! I don't know when being human turned into being a bad mom, but we really need to put a stop to that. What you do for you and what you do for Sam is really your business, and your business alone (well, R's business too obviously), and shame on those who might judge you for your decisions. Those are your decisions, made in the context of your life, not anyone else's. The bottom line is that you know what is best for you and you know what is best for Sam. And that is all anyone else needs to know :).