Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mind Control for Mothers

by Anne Zelenka
I had the happy experience this morning of seeing that my EconoMom blog had been referenced by Cynical Mom in a discussion of her decision to switch from full-time to part-time work. She described how she was annoyed by people congratulating her on the decision, implying that she was making the change for the good of 1.3 children (she is pregnant with her second). She did not make the decision for the good of her children, she said; she made it for herself. She wanted more time with her son and she didn't want to make him stay up late or take her own time away or eliminate time with her husband.

Are we allowed as mothers to make decisions just because they benefit us? Or do we always have to put ourselves second? Are we allowed to be honest about how we make our choices and how they make us feel? Or do we have to candy everything into an Everlasting Gobstopper of motherly sweetness?

I know the annoyance that Cynical Mom feels. I get annoyed when people congratulate me for staying home with my kids. That only happens when they don't know I have full-time live-in care for my three children. I have noted before that the reason I don't work is not to benefit my kids. I don't work because I'm relatively lazy and I don't like corporate politics. Yes, it means my kids see more of me. That's great, but that's not why I'm at home. So don't pretend you understand my life just because you can slap the letters SAHM on me.

Sadly, Cynical Mom decided to take her post down, probably because of the unhelpful comments she received. One slammed her for being negative. Being analytical and serious and thoughtful does not always equal negative! And we are allowed to express our reservations at how society at large controls us through its motherhood rhetoric. The second comment was more sensitive but told her she was just plain wrong about her own motivations and about whether it is better for her son if she works part-time.

Are we allowed as mothers to have our own minds, our own beliefs, our own ways of meeting the world? Sometimes I think we're not.


Blogger Howard said...

I think that is great for you..WHy don't you just join a bridge club and leave everything to your paid help!!!

4:36 PM  
Blogger Cynical Mom said...

I didn't take it down permanently, just wanted to rethink it. I think I may post it again without the specific references to the comments people made, as I don't want them to think I don't appreciate the intent behind the comments, so I'll probably make it more generic, along the lines of "People told me foo when I said I was going part time." I will repost it when I have time later this week.

Regardless, however, I do appreciate your supportive post! It certainly feels nice to be agreed with, for once =) I will definitely link back to this post when I do repost as you add some interesting thoughts.

And boy do I know what you mean about mothers and decision making! We'll never win. Now how do we go about raising our kids to improve upon this? :-)

4:38 PM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

I can appreciate your annoyance at the comments but I'm sure they mean well. I suppose there is an implicit judgment in the statement that its better for the kids and/or the moms and that would grate if you don't agree with it. They are just assuming you do agree with it.

I guess I'd be irked, too. But I wanted to be home to be with my kids and because I didn't want to fry myself with all the extra work of a paying job. To me (and, luckily, to my husband) no amount of money is worth it and I'm willing to roll the dice on having a 7-year resume gap (now lengthening with our decision to homeschool). Plus, my job didn't 'light my fire,' maybe if it had I would've found the choice more difficult.

I'm also of the thought that what is best for mom is best for the kids, we all know the sad story of Andrea Yates. I know its an extreme example, but a miserable mom is not doing anything positive for her kids.

Its another case of 'to each his own.' How can we judge others when we don't know their lives? I honestly believe we are all doing the best we can.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Sara said...

I've often seen it happen that women who are making decisions will paint them in terms of why it's good for their kids. Its as if it is *safer* to say you're doing something for the kids than to say that you're doing it for you.

At the same time, I know, reading between teh lines, that a lot of SAHMs are staying home not just for the kids, but because *they* want to....

I switched to part time work when my first was born. Quite frankly, he probably didn't entirely know the difference for a long time; he was an afternoon napper until he was nearly four and so I worked in the mornings while he was awake and playing at a very nice sitter, and then picked him up and brought him home, where he napped for 2-3 hours a day. I could have easily spent those hours at work - he would not have known the difference. But what I did during those hours (and the subsequent 2-4 hours before my husband came home) was all the household management stuff that would otherwise have had to be done later or on weekends. Me working part time allows me to focus my nights and weekends on things *I* want to do or things that DH and I can do together. I think the kids probably benefit greatly from this... but in the end it is *me* who gains the extra time to be *me* and not the mommy/housekeeper/cook.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Anne Zelenka said...

I worried that this was too much of a rant for C&PB, but apparently ranting is good for "business."

Howard, good idea, I'll check out bridge clubs. I've never played but my dad really likes it and he and I are similar in temperament.

Cynical Mom (KC?) - I've given up on influencing my children. At this point, I hope it's nature wins out over nurture, otherwise my kids are in trouble.

Marjorie - you're right, people mean well when they praise or congratulate me for being a stay-at-home mother and tell me how it's the hardest/most important job on earth. It just irks me that our society doesn't have a more realistic and balanced view of motherhood. It's not that I disagree totally about the difference a mother can make. It's not that I think mothering isn't important--it is. It's just the constant hammering away at the blessedness and necessity of mothering that makes me want to express a contrarian view.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Marjorie said...

I know how irritating it can be to hear people say how great something is when its hard, exhausting work. But some people really do feel its a blessing and it can be hard sometimes to talk about the enjoyable aspects of mothering without seeming deluded or saccharine or out-of-touch with reality.

Mothering is a mix of emotions and experiences, but so is working at a job -- thats why we can't judge others or worry about them judging us, its a personal decision no one can make for anyone else.

I feel guilty that I'm the one at home while my DH goes off to work, he's made it clear he'd switch places with me.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Cynical Mom said...

FYI, I finished thinking about this, and rewrote it a bit and posted it again.

This entire experience just emphasizes to me how you are so right - mothers (perhaps women in general too but there's definitely an undercurrent directed at mothers) are expected to be sweetness and light. Any deviation from that is considered an aberration rather than just human nature. Dennis Miller and Jon Stewart make a living out of bitching about The Establishment and making it funny, yet no one calls them negative.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Cynical Mom said...

P.S. I loved the irony of howard's response being the first comment on this post of yours :-) My goodness, why did he have to take it so negatively?!?! hehe.

10:19 PM  

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