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)
(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."
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.
I just want to be "good enough" and that has to be good enough. So none of the "if you were perfect..." advice 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
Tags: Today Show, wine,mom,wine+playgroup,Janet Shamlian,Digg, Dugg at Digg, Reddit, mommy olympics, mom wars, Meredith Vieira, momtini