Thursday, June 21, 2012

deep breath

tonight in my (all female) book club we're reading the conflict: how modern motherhood undermines the status of women by elisabeth badinter.

i'm taking a deep breath.

reading this book was extremely trying.

sometimes i felt affirmed because badinter makes a good point:  the expectations placed on bourgeois mothers can seem (needlessly) herculean (asking us to go well beyond our biological imperative of procreating and surviving), and when the outcomes of your efforts don't match the (herculean) efforts you put forth, you're left wondering


i breastfed!

i used cloth diapers!

i didn't put my kid in childcare!

i hated every minute of doing puzzles on the floor/pushing them on the swings, but i did it anyway.

& now that i have raised a couple of kids, i wonder how much anything i ever did mattered anyway.

was i right to forego a full career?  was that to their benefit or detriment?  would they have benefitted more from seeing me happier and more empowered?

would i have been happier/more empowered with a full time career?

& how about some of the incredibly demeaning experiences i had trying to work and breastfeed, or trying to work in (many!!!) workplaces where bosses and co-workers thought i would be uncommitted/flaky because i had (too many!!!!) children.

oh the tales i could tell.  maybe i will when i'm not feeling so bruised.

(and also guilty for feeling bruised--after all, i have a lot less to complain about than most mothers who have ever walked the earth.)

so, i'm really interested to hear what my peers have to say about this book.  they're all mothers, and several of them have high-powered careers while others have done beautiful full-time work creating homes and being great parents.

(i've done part-time, semi-crappy work both at home and in the work-place.)

and one of them is french, so she can give insight about badinter's assertions that french women have a legacy of separating maternity from motherhood that makes them less prone to be oppressed by cultural expectations of motherhood (as evidenced, in large part, by their low breastfeeding rates in spite of the large presence of la leche league ((those "ayatollahs of breastfeeding", as badinter calls them)) in france.)

so i'm interested.  i really am.

but i'm also a little scared, a little reluctant, and a little nauseated, frankly, by the lacuna--the void--the realization that there seems to be no answer, no solution, at all.


  1. There was a book called Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart that I read when Z was a baby that affected me in the same way. Please pass along what people say. I remember you telling me you invested a lot of time/energy in making sure your kids reached their full potential. I really, really could have used a mother like you. As for breastfeeding, I'm kind of convinced that the reason my kids' teeth are so straight--perfectly straight--is due to the fact I breastfed for so long. Neither I nor A have teeth as good as our kids.

  2. As for the career thing, it's interesting because at the time, all I wanted to do was take care of my kids. I took this work very seriously. I'm still not sure it was the best decision for me now as I try and transition into full time work at middle age, but I don't regret all those years with them. On the other hand, there are many jobs that allow for the flexibility required in child rearing, like being teaching in higher ed, which maybe I should have done. It's so hard to really know.

    1. From the 1999 review of The Mask of Motherhood: "After endless talk of "juggling" work and family, and "having it all," the first generation of born-and-bred feminists are actually becoming mommies -- and they are learning firsthand about the great divide that separates the childless from parents. That smile frozen on their faces (Maushart's "mask of motherhood") is the pose they have adopted to disguise the mix of rage, elation, and confusion they feel about being so misled, so misinformed, so downright unprepared for motherhood. Nothing currently in print adequately prepares new mothers for the joy and the pain of motherhood. Why, Maushart asks, when we are so up-front about everything from orgasms to liposuction, do we maintain such a conspiracy of silence about motherhood: about the impossibility of creating a "balanced" life and about the effect on marriages, friendships, relationships with our own parents, sex, self-esteem, and world view? The current generation of young mothers has been exposed to the most fervent rhetoric about women's lives and the least firsthand experience of motherhood of any women in history."

  3. Ok, so what did you think? I have never wanted a career, but I am grateful that after I had to work I could chose to work, but only with a part-time flexible schedule. I still think that breast feeding is the most natural and best thing and it's free, however, I had to supplement at times. Don't feel guilty. You are an amazing mom! Stop worrying about the what ifs. As Tony Horton says, "do your best and forget the rest."

  4. thanks, janell! well, i think i'm in a weird place right now getting used to having adult children--not sure how to be a mother to grown-ups yet! i loved hearing everyone's stories last night, and came away thinking how different each mother is in her experiences, desires, and expectations & how i need to do a better job acknowledging and supporting that and not projecting my very subjective feelings on to anyone else. what did you think?