Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mother's Day, Everyday

Mother's Day found me in a lot of lovely places: out at a busy, family cafe for breakfast; picking up beans for this weeks coffee at Peets (which is a lovely place if you want good decaf beans that don't taste like an ashtray); finding a beautiful wok at Kitchen Kaboodle-- thanks Joe, and you have many a tasty meal coming up; and less consumer-oriented, the library, where I picked up a book on the relationships between mothers and nannies.

Having been a nanny for years, I have my own experiences and opinions, most of them beyond the banal "Nanny Diaries" sensationalism. I found that book very disturbing for several reasons, but a key one was the depiction of mothers who have nannies as self-indulgent and emotionally self-focused women. Largely disinterested in providing a more realistic picture of mothers who employ outside help, "The Nanny Diaries" presents a terribly skewed caricature of a popular judgement: that women who rely on outside help are somehow failing as mothers and escaping the obligations of parenting her children through entering into the professional world.

I don't hold these views. Many women who work outside the home do so with the hopes of making their families lives better in some way. Many mothers find themselves shouldering the financial burden of the family. There are a myriad of reasons mothers return to work soon after their child is born: to retain benefits provided by their employer; to keep their toes in the job pool, which in this current economy, will be more difficult to reenter after a long absence; some because they need to have the intellectual stimulation of their work; some because they love their work and their child and know they will be happiest having a life that includes both. I applaud the women who know themselves well enough to make the decision that they need to have some work in their lives, and who have love in their hearts to want a family as well. Because, despite what some may say, these mothers do love their kids very much, and their children are just as desired as the babies of a work-in-home mom.

While I work at home, domestically and professionally, I understand these women. I am happiest when I have a chance to write, even if my son is tearing up the office, as he is right now. Being a childcare provider by trade, I know that my days are probably easier and more interesting for me than they would be for another mother. And there are days when I am bored stiff with the repetition of favorite activities. I love my son, but please, let's not read that board book again until this afternoon. This isn't even to speak of the mindnumbing dullness one can feel when lunch goes on and on and on, or he's teething and turns into Velcro Boy (theme song, "Never Gonna Let You Go"). Like many work-in-home mothers, I don't have a care situation for my son and I'm looking forward to the future when we can find another family to trade care with, even if just for 2 or 3 hours a week. Ultimately, however, I do find being with him during the day more satisfying than leaving the house, and recognize that this is my choice, and that I'm fortunate to have a choice in the matter. Many women don't.

Both these groups of mothers, those who employ childcare and those who don't, all have moments of feeling judged by a person who ascribes a higher moral value to the other side of the fence. Mothers who stay home with their kids feel an internal sense of pressure to make a financial contribution to their family in some way, or feel guilty that the world has all had it's cup of coffee and gone into the office and they are still in their pajamas, playing blocks on the floor with their little ones. Mothers who work outside the home often feel accused of having no maternal instinct and can experience guilty thoughts of not spending enough time with their baby. Sadly and too easily, some people jump to oft-unfounded conclusions about both groups; columnists and public personalities (often male or extreme) rail at one or the other, turning mothers into a public punching bag. These opinions are formed more by emotional experience and projection than actual fact. Children thrive with loving caregivers, whether at home or in care, period. Studies have shown this repeatedly. A child's degree of future success is more likely to be positively affected by the amount of education the parents have had, as opposed to who changed their diaper. Truly satisfied mothers are more likely to have happy children, regardless of where they work.

Say what you will about either group, all moms need to support each other. We have enough to juggle as women, and may want to ask some bigger questions about societal assumptions. For example, why aren't men called onto the carpet in these matters and held equally accountable? Why aren't fathers expected to feel guilty for working out of the house all day? Why does our society place so little expectation of the parenting responsibility on fathers at all, even in terms of a pregnancy and birth, the father's insurance isn't held responsible unless there is the "proof" of his fatherhood through marriage, which is downright insulting, if you think about it?) These questions are worth considering before we ladies get busy pointing our fingers at each other.

I think a little empathy is in order here, because no matter who spends the day with your kiddo, we mothers are often held solely responsible for our child's safety and happiness. If you don't believe me, just look at the slew of pop-psychology books purporting how your mother might have ruined your life. Let's not make each other's lives harder than they already are. Let's make everyday mother's day by being understanding and supportive, by giving ourselves and each other a little slack. We all parent differently, we all live different lives.We can have no idea of another woman's experience until we are willing to lay down our preconceptions and listen with open ears and open hearts. And we all want a little respect for doing the hardest job in the world. Is that too much to ask?

1 comment:

Miki said...

"For example, why aren't men called onto the carpet in these matters and held equally accountable? Why aren't fathers expected to feel guilty for working out of the house all day? Why does our society place so little expectation of the parenting responsibility on fathers at all..."

Enter stage right, Christopher Ross: Ebay store owner, husband, stay at home father. While I, on the other hand, work two jobs.