Sunday, January 28, 2007

Underwater Basket Case 101

This is the post wherein you realize I am so not kidding when I tell you I am not even a contender for a spot on the team for Mommy Olympics.

My kids are very creative. Long-time readers, and those who caught the recap in my questionable sanity post, know this well.

I don't say "creative" as a euphemism for "poorly behaved" or "poorly disciplined" or even "inadequately supervised." I say "creative" meaning:

children who are actually unbelievably curious, extremely ingenious, with true scientific explorative natures---above and beyond the usual---that compel them to Try Things and Do Things (despite rules, repeated warnings and lots of supervision and positive directed activities) that often lead to stories within which I use humor to deal with the really horrifying, terribly messy, unbearably annoying, or horrifically embarrassing


This drive to Do In Spite Of, I believe, is a result of nature rather than nurture (or perceived lack thereof).

I blog about these events so that others may read them and think, "Geez, never mind my complaints about my own kids...at least they've never done that!" or more likely, "Thank goodness, I am not alone!"

As self-deprecating as I might be in these posts, despite the humor I try to infuse them with, and as much as I depict myself as the Mr. Magoo of Mommyhood...the truth is:

* I am not terribly graceful all that often,

* I have a quick temper,

* My expectations of my children (and myself) are really, really high

* I'm sort of a hard-ass

I too am fairly creative. I'm also a quick study (learner) and an avid researcher. Despite a very full bag of tricks and these skills, many, many times my kids get the better of me.

At any one of the times, someone who doesn't know me, or hasn't seen me in action...who doesn't have an across-the-board perspective of me might judge my parenting poorly.

In fact, recently, my mommyhood was called into very large question when one of these posts was widely circulated on the Internet. It got picked up at Digg or Reddit first, then went on to delicious, and a variety of other lesser known news services. Eventually a newspaper out of Virginia snagged and posted it. A number of private bulletin boards did too, including attachedparent.com and something I believe was called mennonettesrus or somesuch. It also, apparently got forwarded broadly and widely via email. I think sometimes my blog was not even accessible, maybe due to clogged lines.

Instead of the huge thrill I expected when traffic to my blog exploded, I had a mild panic attack. When I write, I naively imagine my readers as my little group of favorite bloggers...just those few people who comment. I know that's not really accurate. I know that's merely a percentage of traffic. But I guess I figure those who comment are the only people who are actually reading and paying any attention at all to me.

So all of the sudden Me and My Words are Out There. Big time.

Also, I could see the comments on most of the news services. These were comments by people who have probably visited my blog only one time to read that one post. The things they projected onto me were intriguing.

My husband told me to back away from the computer and Leave. It. Alone. He told me to not look. Not pay any attention.

Could you do that?

I couldn't. I looked.

I'd be the girl turned into a salt pillar if these were Biblical Times.

Many comments were nice, and stated an enjoyment of a funny story and a good laugh. In fact, in my mind, these were the majority. Those made me feel great. When and where I could, I replied with my thanks.

A couple of people shared their own funny stories with me about similar experiences. I really enjoyed those.

Some comments were downright vicious using words like "hate" and "breeder." Others were simply very judgmental, assessing me very, very poorly as one of those "out of control parents" who "hasn't got the balls to discipline her kids and the behavior shows that." I didn't let those get me down. I knew these people didn't know me, and you can't really judge off of one tale, humorously told (or, in my opinion, you shouldn't judge).

My all-time favorite comment was from a newspaper reader who wrote, "Too funny! Totally fake, but too funny!"

I felt complimented on several levels, and I'm hard-pressed to say which one struck me more:

(A) That I am perceived as such a good writer who is so creative that I can make up this stuff and write it all so convincingly (it's all totally true and I usually have witnesses or photographic evidence to prove it)

or

(B) That my child is so amazing as to defy believability

My second-favorite comment was that I am too long-winded. That person will have to stand in line behind professors, other writers and editors of great ability (but clearly little influence) who say that to me frequently. I say it all depends upon the medium and audience. But I concur that typically I am pretty long to very long.

All in all, initial panic-attack aside, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about how news services can boost your traffic, the effects to your blog (positive) of high traffic, the awesome feeling of knowing, "hey total strangers who I didn't even bribe think I write well and enjoy what I write," how news services work, that I like Reddit a lot more than Digg, and that the Internet is a powerful medium full of very interesting people. I found some great bloggers I hadn't known, found new and useful web sites, and learned a lot.

But by and far, one key thing stuck with me: wow, a lot of people really judge parents harshly, across the board, based on one incident

I'm not just referring to myself and my experience, I am also referring to many other people's experiences and many other incidents.

The currently most famous is the recent Today show segment about moms drinking alcohol at playgroups, "Do playdates and happy hour mix?"

Other bloggers have blogged extensively about this, and received ample comments about it, so I won't rehash, but I will link to two of my favorite bloggers who wrote about it:

Izzymom wrote I call bullshit

Gwen wrote Via Media

I'll also link to two of the moms portrayed:

Baby on Bored's Stefanie wrote The One with the Green Shirt

Suburban Bliss' Melissa wrote several posts on it, all current.

It feels like every time I turn around another mother, mother's story, or mothering style is held up for dissection. Not discussion, which I welcome, but dissection. I want to clearly distinguish those.

Sometimes I wonder if my husband feels a little left out. He's Dad just as much as I am Mom, and we usually do most things pretty much the same way. I imagine if we counted hours, it would--despite the fact that I stay-at-home with the kids---probably, and possibly surprisingly, show that we spend a pretty equitable amount of time with the kids.

I used to simultaneously laugh and feel resentful about all the accolades he got if he so much as said our daughter's name aloud. For example, two years ago we split school drop-off and pick-up. He dropped our daughter off at school. Every day the teachers gushed over him, complimented him, said he was such a GREAT dad. He loved it. Every day I picked her up and they said...have a nice day.

People frequently tell him, "You're such a great dad."

People frequently tell me, "You and your daughters are so lucky, your husband is such a great dad."

We agree.

But still.

It's not like anyone says similarly to my husband. Which is not, I want to state, a reflection on me and my parenting. It is instead, I want to be clear, a reflection on the societal expectation of mothers.

My parenting is to be expected.

My husband's parenting is gratuitous.

So I've long understood the gender difference in parenting.

It started with trying to conceive. It was, initially, always my body under review. It proceeded with infertility, when (outside of one little fairly easy test my husband took) it was always my body being poked, prodded, tested and treated.

Pregnancy, however, was the real treat. At the moment of conception, my body, me, and my life suddenly became Public Property.

The normal boundaries of privacy and "it's your life, it's up to you" immediately evaporated.

People felt free to ask me how I got pregnant (you don't KNOW?), what my symptoms were, what vitamin I was taking, habits I had added (alleged good ones) or dropped (alleged bad ones), and more. They felt free to offer unsolicited advice, and extend judgment, "Oh, you know, coffee is bad for the baby, I hope you don't plan to drink more than one cup!" (Don't worry, I only planned to warm up with one cup of decaf, thanks.) They had no compunction about touching my body without asking, something each person seemed to expect I would love, whereas normally touching a woman's lower abdomen would garner a spray of mace to the face.

In fact, what I did with my body from the moment of conception, argue many, is not even my right to choose.

Like I said, becoming pregnant and then becoming a mother apparently makes you Public Property.

Therefore, people feel allowed to judge what you do---when in general your kids are healthy and well-cared for---and how you do it. Nitpick.

That is the part of this Today Show segment about moms who drink (at playgroups or in front of their kids) that bugs me.

In my opinion, at heart, it perpetuates this myth that each story of mommyhood, each example of mothering, is fodder for judgment and a platform upon which people may once again shake out the tired principle that moms need to be Super Humans, held to a higher example. (Or as Izzymom says, not only be perfect, but be perfect in contrast to men who are allowed to make mistakes...an excellent point.)

It doesn't even matter whether I have had alcohol at a playdate, or whether I think it's fine. It doesn't even matter whether I think mothers ought to be held to a higher standard, or whether I hold myself to a higher standard.

The point is, as long as my kids are healthy and well-cared for, I want that to be my business.

I don't think we need to dissect each act of mothering. Sometimes we are grand. Sometimes we are slack. In general, most mothers, I think, do the best that they can. I'm fairly sure that most of us are our own harshest critics. Hearing public outcry...I don't believe that is constructive. It is merely criticism.

Even worse, it usually asks us to choose either (A) or (B), neglecting to notice that there is an ocean of gray in between those two extremes.

Whatever happened to the middle, as Gwen asked.

We're missing the forest due to the trees.

I know, for me, frequently when I hear criticism about mothers, I think, "Oh my gosh, that could be me, I suck." I catch myself saying "I suck" or "I wish I had done better" or "Okay that didn't go so well" with regard to mothering, a lot.

Stories like this don't help. Lots of voices don't help. Loads of advice, especially bits that start with "You really should..." or "You really shouldn't..." don't help.

And anything that begins with, "Ideally..." can bite my ass. I am ideally fatigued.

I just want to be "good enough" and that has to be good enough. So none of the "if you were perfect..." advice helps.

What helps?

* Considering myself, my kids, our situation, and finding what is okay for us, specific us, not general "in a box type" us.

* Being allowed to fail at times without being considered a failure who has done permanent damage to her kids. Not being asked to wallow in it, or having it held up as explanation for some issue, "Well do you think you did too much...? not enough...? what about that time you...?"

* Being allowed to make mistakes, and knowing that's okay, then learning from it.

* Understanding that at the end of the day, I'm just the mom, not the owner, keeper, puppeteer, or All Powerful Q. This means that sometimes, regardless of my parenting, my kids are going to make their own decisions, which might or might not be bad choices, and then they can start walking through these asterisks (find what works for them, make and learn from mistakes, etc.).

* Recognizing it's not all about YOU. My kids walk this earth too and sometimes they don't like you any more than you like them...and how they are in that moment is not a reflection of them or me being bad at anything any more than it would be for you if I were to judge you.

And offers of babysitting.

What do you think? What do you find right and wrong, helpful and not helpful, (A) or (B)? ;)

(The winky is at myself..I really do want to hear your opinions.)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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13 comments:

jen said...

First, my brilliant friend...you must be applauded. What a perfectly written piece.

Second, I think, wait, I KNOW it takes a community, but a community that dissects and shames you when it's hard enough sometimes, as is, can cause a lot of pain. And god knows, there's enough of that in the world already.

I would make jam while drinking cocktails while babysitting your children any day of the week.

Mary-LUE said...

I know that when I've told some stories of my children's antics, I'll often get a "I've been there" response but occasionally I'll get a horrified look as if I've just pridefully recited the exploits of a serial killer. Usually, these are people without children. Sometimes they are just people with less whatever it is my kids have which lends itself to these antics.

How crazy, fun, interesting, etc. that one of your posts got picked up and circulated like that. (You're famous! Can I have your autograph?) I think your perspective on the comments is great. I'd probably get more worked up than I should about the more negative ones.

Julie Pippert said...

Jen, absolutely. A community that stares at you like your worst nightmare of a micromanaging boss, just waiting to catch you out doing something *wrong* so he can fire your ass...yes, it can cause pain.

I'm thinking of the time a car cruised my house. I moved and assumed a defensive position between the street and my kids and gave the driver the hairy eyeball. The car stopped in front of my house, backed up, the window came down and a woman leaned out and said, "Ha ha! Hi there, it's just me! Ha ha! I just thought the kids were out running loose *with no supervision.* You might want to move closer out here so other drivers can see you and don't think there's no mom around."

Am I crazy to still feel a burst of annoynce about that?

The kicker is...she's not a stranger! She knows me, knows this is my house, and has socialized with me for over two years! I happened to not know her car (which is a common one) and couldn't see in the windows...but my house is unmistakably MY HOUSE!

I was *right there* where I needed to be. Albeit apparently not where SHE thought I SHOULD be.

On one hand, okay, she's looking out for the welfare of kids and means well.

On the other hand, who scared her to such a depth? What put into her head that "your very neighbor might be a neglectful and abusive and dangerous parent!!!!!"

I blame the polarizing, attention-hungry sensationalistic media (rage against the machine man!).

Violence against children is a REAL problem. However, somehow we've gotten past a "theoretical" idea of "it's a problem in our back yard" (which means it happens in our town) to a literal idea of that and has neighbors looking at and judging neighbors, too quickly.

I'm also thinking of a lady who wanted to report a friend of ours for making a different parenting decision, one she felt was wrong enough to report her. To CPS. The kids weren't in danger. The kids weren't harmed, or neglected.

I'm afraid that the news reports like this have led to an unhappy consequence of people becoming unable to distinguish between a Real Problem (truly neglected, seriously harmed, etc. children) and a Difference in Style (not what you might do, but at the end of the day, not harmful).

KWIM?

Julie Pippert said...

Oh Mary-Lue...I know both of those reactions well LOL.

I also love the, "OMG! Where were you when this happened?" question.

My new answer is going to be, "Oh, on the patio...sipping a momtini."

Even better is the, "Hmm my sister's friend's cousin's boss's nephew's kid had that problem and they did X and it never happened again!"

You know, you hit on something. You said "pridefully recited."

Perhaps my humorous telling somehow implies I think the action is OKAY and I support it, and didn't use any discipline.

Which isn't the case.

It's just like I said in my blog that it is a sort of defense, the humor.

Oh I'm not famous. More like infamous for about a week. I'm sure I'll quickly fall back into obscurity. But I'll sign your arm anyway if you want. ;)

This is the second time this has happened. At least this time I wasn't boggled. Vernon Lun had kindly done some checking for me just a week ago about the last time it happened (beginning of month--also one of Those Parenting Moment stories) and explained it all to me (thanks again Vernon!).

It is crazy, but like you said, also fun and interesting. It's a definite new readership!

Queen of the Mayhem said...

What a spectular snapshot of motherhood! I am truly impressed! I came here to thank you for the extremely helpful comment you left for me. I am touched by your wonderfully insightful and honest portrayal of the double standard of parenthood. EXCELLENT JOB!

I just posted on a (somewhat) similar subject. I am questioning some choices based on possible judgement. I would LOVE to hear your opinion!

Gwen said...

First of all, dude! You linked me! I feel speechless!












Oh, no wait, I do have something to say. ;)

I've been thinking a lot about why we're so hard on each other; is it because it's one of the few ways we can make ourselves feel "good enough?" I know that's pathetic and wrong. Why do we have such unrealistic expectations about what good enough even looks like? I'm thinking about the strangers who commented on your lack of discipline, as if we really believe that angelic children are the only worthwhile kind. As if robotically happy and calm mothers are the only acceptable kind. Really, honestly, perfect people can be a little boring.

And look, I even bitched about my neighbors giving their child $20 for a tooth, so I'm not immune to being judgy. I keep hoping that once I learn to be kinder to myself, I'll be kinder to everyone else, too, but perhaps it should go the other way (lest I sound like a hopeless prat, I will say most of my judgment takes place in my head).

I have troubles with being too wordy, also, but I love your long posts because they give me that much more opportunity to think.

Gwen said...

I meant to add something about fathers, but I was so busy--ahem!--talking about myself, that I forgot.

My husband is a fantastic father. He will actually play Barbies with his daughters, which I cannot do without falling into a coma. I often think he's the better parent, honestly, so I kind of believe that he deserves any praise he may get.

Still, it goes back to expectation. Have you read The Price of Motherhood? I remember a quote from it: "Men get a standing ovation if they miss a meeting because of parenting; women miss whole careers." As a culture, we expect men to make money and provide sperm, and we expect women to be both perfect Madonnas and filthy whores. Is it religious? Is it because men are still pretty much in charge and they are scared to death of women? I don't know. I mean, if women are so effing cruel to each other, how can we expect gender parity? Are we really going to do any better if we (women) start running things? I know the argument exists that women are cruel precisely because they are competing for such a small quantity of crumbs. So the assumption would be that once our cake gets bigger, so will our hearts. I think we are capable of so much better and I've seen us be, but then all the disapproval and judgment (even my own) comes along again to make me question my optimism.

I have no answers. Could you tell?

Julie Pippert said...

Well Gwen, you may not have the answers but you've got awfully good questions and points!

One thing I've been pondering is this general idea of mommy wars and cruelty between moms.

Where are the wars?

Are they real? Or media-induced hysteria?

Do moms really care if other moms drink a glass of wine at a playgroup? Do they judge that?

If so (as you ask) why?

While my real-world experience tends to be more full of supportive and accepting mom-friends, I have certainly seen/experienced some harsh criticism of parenting. I will say MOST of those have been on the Internet, although I've had my share.

What I wonder is whether this is against MOMS (in my case, all the comments were clearly directed at both me and my husband) or STYLES.

There is a lot of assumptive logic in play, careless judgments, that, if questioned, the judger would probably quickly abandon.

For example, the biggest one I continue to run across is "moms who elect to not use No lack discipline for their kids."

Of course not. I try to redirect rather than say No. No is, IMO, unconstructive criticism.

Pers kicks the dog. Time out. "Pers, kicking the dog hurts the dog. Feet are for walking, not kicking." Didn't use the word no once. But got the same concept across, with a constructive solution.

Still, as you and I agree, there does seem to be a different expectation. And what's more (worse) it seems to expect moms to Get It All Right All the Time.

It's what I call the Idealogue Frenzy, and is why I am ideally fatigued.

For me to tackle all the "shoulds" and "oughts" handed out to me (for myself, as a wife, as mother, as a person, as a worker, etc.) I'd need 62 hour days (that also takes into account the "you should get 8 straight" nice work if you can get it!).

Each "suggestion" comes with a nice little threat: or increase your risk or...cause damage to...etc.

You know, obsession with perfection, especially with regard to personal appearance is one key commonality of each civilization just before it crumbles. Just sayin' LOL ;)

Mad Hatter said...

This isn't a comprehensive comment b/c there is sooo much going on in your post to offer a comprehensive comment but I do want to say this:

Part of the problem is that contemporary culture views parenting as a science. You practice the Sears science or the whatever the hell else science BUT you MUST have a thought-through rationale for parenting. All of which is BOLLOCKS. My mother raised 6 kids solo and never read a book on the subject. Parenting is about love and compromise and setting examples and oh so many more things. But too many people think that it is about right and wrong answers and then they feel free to dispense advice. And of course, gender politics being what they are (persistently and despite several decades of feminism) so much of the crap comes down on the mother's head.

My response to anyone who gives me advice: unless you love my child with a ferocity that would let you do my job in my stead, stuff a sock in it.

Now I am curious, though: what post was picked up?

Christina said...

I couldn't agree more. When we become moms, our lives are public domain. What's worse is the automatic expectation that we are incapable of parenting our children, and that we must always be watched for signs of bad parenting.

Just because there are bad moms out there doesn't mean we all are. Most of us are quite capable of caring for our kids, without all of the unwanted "advice" and criticism thrown at us daily. It does make me envy my husband sometimes, since he never has to deal with any of this.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

Julie,
I just stopped by to thank you for your advice on my post. Even if you are a little longwinded, (Which I don't think you are....you just have a lot to say) what you say is insightful and very helpful! I really appreciated it. You can be sure I will be back here....OFTEN! Thanks again!

Mad Hatter said...

Julie: Just a heads up. I posted some reflections that started brewing after our exchange over at Jen's today. The post was written with a great deal of respect and admiration for both you and Jen but if it annoys you at all, please let me know and I will do something about it.

le35 said...

Julie:

I loved this post. It's exactly how I feel about mothering. If someone has a system that works for them, and their kids are healthy and well cared for, people should think, "What great kids," and be on their way. I hadn't read your blog before today, but I honestly love it.