Jewish World Review April 26, 2004 / 5 Iyar, 5764
Caught between a myth and quality time
When Time magazine recently ran a cover story reporting that more and more young moms continue to leave full-time paid work to be home with their kids, the reader might have pictured the opposite of "quality time" working moms. That was the notion, popular a few years ago, that kids didn't need a lot of time with Mom, but what time there was needed to be, well, "quality."
In contrast, one might think of the growing number of stay-at-home moms as spending hours of "floor time" with their little ones, going to the park, playing "Shoots and Ladders," reading to them all the time and working in educational day trips on a regular basis.
This is the picture of home life that makes Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels want to throw up.
These moms recently wrote "The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.). Unfortunately, these mothers don't come across as liking children much. Their book is snide and rife with errors (spending on the Women, Infant and Children program WIC more than doubled under the Reagan administration, it was not cut). They gag at the profiles of celebrity moms and their cutesy baby nurseries, but in a particularly strange chapter, come across as vaguely sympathetic to Susan Smith, a mom who drowned her kids.
I say "unfortunate" because in the midst of this feminist rant, they do touch on a kernel of truth. There is an idealization of family life today, but it's not an idealization of motherhood as much as it is an idealization, and an idolization, of children.
I recently talked to a neighbor who mentioned that sometimes she just has to tell her kids, "I'm busy," but she kind of feels bad about it. I told her, "Hey, I've told my kids at times to just 'go away,' and they seem OK." She replied, a little shocked, "Gee, I've never said that!"
We have turned what are really rather resilient little darlings, our children, into precious hothouse flowers who can't withstand the slightest "slight" to their all important self-esteem, who must be coddled and sheltered at all times, and who must ALWAYS have the rapt attention of Mom, and Dad, too, whenever possible.
It seems we have created a myth. In previous generations, mothers worked. In the home, yes, but they worked.
They just didn't have time for one game of Candy Land after another.
When I was a kid, it wouldn't have occurred to me to involve my mother in my games. I don't remember her once taking me to the park, because I went with my little friends, or siblings.
I cannot remember my father attending a single one of my birthday parties. He was pretty busy trying to feed and clothe five kids. It never occurred to me to be disappointed about it. (But when it snowed, I do remember him tying the toboggan to the back of the car, having us all pile on while he went down the side roads of our suburban Chicago neighborhood. Reckless endangerment of children, true, but fun. Needless to say, it wouldn't happen today.)
Anyway, so often I see an effort, particularly on the part of young moms, to be their child's everything, to fill his days with structured creative activities under Mom's always watchful, adoring and protective gaze, and to feel guilty when it doesn't turn out that way.
Well, what happened to letting the kids bump around the house and make their own fun while Mom does what she needs, or wants, to do?
Look, I like taking my preschoolers to the park as much as anyone, but the truth is, I'm the mom sitting on the park bench reading the paper and figuring they can make their own friends, which they do, and that they'll probably be OK, which they are.
Most of our days are filled with errands, and trying to find four different kinds of white crew socks so the kids don't get them mixed up, and telling them they have to play nicely together while I write "AND I'D BETTER NOT HEAR ANY YELLING" and yes, sometimes leaving them with Dad or a sitter so I can do something important like get a facial, and stand back even letting them watch some TV. ("The Wiggles" is my own personal favorite.)
I think somewhere between the idea of "quality time" and "The Mommy Myth" lies the truth that it's a good idea for moms to be on the scene.
But, not a good idea for moms to BE the scene.
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