February 17, 2005

It's Called Xanax. Perhaps We Should Introduce it Into the Water Supply.

Oh, goody. Looks like as my generation approaches the 40 mark it's our turn to kvetch, complain, hyper-analyze and hand-wring about The Trauma of Being A Woman. Let me take a moment to feel the pain of my sisters...wait. I feel no pain. None. Nada. Zilch. Because I have a hard time getting on the pity train with a bunch of educated, middle-class women in their mid-thirties who are just now figuring out that life is not the freaking Brady Bunch. That maybe there's more to life than getting your kid into a preschool--PRESCHOOL--with tougher admissions requirements than Dartmouth. That the world will not come to a screeching halt if you feed your kid chicken nuggets more than once a week. That dust mites are not the same as E Coli in terms of health hazards. And that your toddler does not give shit one about the color-coordination factor of the art supplies at his Enrichment Program.

Ladies? The fact that you are stressed out and "feeling unfulfilled" has nothing whatever to do with a lack of support by society at large. It has everything to do with the fact that you are so obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses that you are incapable of being your own person. So what if Muffy McDuff of the Mercedes SUV dresses her darling child in Pulitzer and Prada and looks askance at your Subaru wagon filled with bulk buys from BJs? Do you like your kid? Do you like yourself? Do you take the time to just lie on your somewhat dusty floor and wrestle with a giggling toddler? Does your kid laugh a lot, or does he have that pinched, drawn look that you see when you look in the mirror? Kids are pretty easy to deal with. Kick them outside and let them run. Feed them a few times a day. Keep them clean and read them bedtime stories. Tell them you love them. And when they screw up, be honest about what they did, then tell them you love them again. It's not about Quality Time Quotas, Brain Enrichment, or all that other crap. It's called Getting On With It. My grandmother, she of the sixth-grade education and the 14 hour days in the cotton mill and mother of three happy middle-class kids, would laugh in your face for complaining and tell you that these things are NOT HARD. Of course, if you're a status-conscious twit who can't unclench enough to understand that dashing off to K-Mart in your sweatpants is not a sign of abject failure in motherhood, then I imagine things get a lot harder for you.

But don't blame me for your inability to deal with reality. And don't blame society. And for the love of all things holy, spare me your cheap auto-therapy. Because I have no time for you. I'm too busy getting on with it.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at February 17, 2005 10:16 AM

I got to scan that weepy polemic yesterday (while getting on with it, as you say, buying a birthday card for a friend in the minutes between work and Wednesday night supper). It was a pitiful piece of dreck - oh, woe, we can't be supermom, I'm tired, my husband doesn't help out, blahblahblah. This is NEWS?? Good grief. I was embarrassed to think that some educated woman/women wrote this and got it published. Cheers!

Posted by: Sheryl at February 17, 2005 10:44 AM

Easy for BAW to say; she has the perfect spouse.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at February 17, 2005 12:48 PM

BAW, ya gotta read Lileks this morning, is all I can say.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak Thomson at February 17, 2005 12:53 PM

Being somewhat slower than Sheryl, it took me at least 20 minutes to closely read the entire book exerpt before I too judged it self-serving dreck. The trick of these books - and it is a good one - is to flatter middle class women that they are being martyrs to the concept of "supermomdom" - as they tearfully dash from two hours of pre-dawn quality parenting to the boardroom and back home to serve organic tofu on toast. Persuading your readers that their problem is some sort of quest for perfection - rather than a completely moronic notion of raising a happy child while keeping a career spinning along properly - is a superb way to sell books to the discontented self-obsessed boomers. (Darling, your only fault is that you're trying too hard!!) But it's useless as advice. And I do have some better advice: chuck these books in the bin and pick three working mothers you know and like as friends. Make a (private) list of the qualities you most admire/can't stand about how they function and do the same (privately) about their kids. And see if this teaches you anything.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at February 17, 2005 01:09 PM

Yeah, don't miss Lileks.

My husband and I have always worked outside the home. I remember days when my kid would say, "I don't feel like going to school [daycare] today". Not that she was sick, that just wasn't what she wanted to do right then. I would respond, "That's OK, I don't feel like going to work either, so we're even. Get your shoes on." I mean, adults don't expect to have the world revolve around them all the time so why should kids? I think we do them a disservice if we let them think it should.

One thing I was always anxious to be able to provide for my daughter was serenity in her home and unscheduled down time. If we were eating supper at the table like civilized people instead of wolfing it down in the car on the way to Activity X and snapping at each other because we were stressed and tired, and if she had to have her art supplies replenished from time to time because of all the neat pictures and stuff she produced because she wanted to, I figured we were doing OK. I'm putting this in the past tense because we're on the home stretch of the senior year of high school and she'll be gone from us in a few months. She literally does thank me every now and then for being a great mom so whatever I did must have been all right.

Posted by: Laura at February 17, 2005 01:55 PM

Ok, after just accidently erasing a long winded comment regarding my complete and utter agreement with your thoughts, I'll just say AMEN SISTER!

Posted by: Laurel at February 17, 2005 02:44 PM

The article was indeed a load of crap. This is the classic "working" woman's lament that "I want it all and to still feel fulfilled in my 'profession' while cramming in some 'marvelous' baby and me time." Everything's a trade-off. I waited to have kids and can stay home and "nurture" them to their hearts' content, but the downside is you're not spending the day engrossed in a lot of deep thought while running errands and arranging playdates. But it's a compromise: that's life. IMHO the "working" moms con themselves into believing that adult type activities (reading, stylish clothing, exotic foodstuffs) are what their little darlings need when they'd probably just like to play "dogpile" on mom and dad when they get home from work. BAW is right: kids are low maintenance items. It's when the dealer starts loading them up with inane optional items that the driver has trouble with their up-keep. (An awkward analogy but I'm typing this between PBS programs.)

Posted by: podwall at February 17, 2005 06:22 PM

Bravo. And why my son has zero afterschool activities, and my daughter has one (Girl Scouts). They get to do this novel thing each afternoon called PLAY. Between the creek and the bikes and the twigs-as-swords swashbuckling and the running like banshees with the neighborhood kids, they're well-rounded enough. Funny, how missing out on the Saturday 8am soccer crusades doesn't seem to have caused them to dry rot.

Posted by: Sally at February 17, 2005 08:48 PM

For some reason pro-news journals feel the need to kick one of these Sobsister Mom stories out every few months or so. I'm not sure why; I think it's because they get a certain number of eyeballs to look at the things, and this fulfills some sort of ratings quota. It's an automatic thing, like a lizard molting skin.

Or maybe it's because the subject matter is such an archetype. The character of the Sacrificial Mother is as old as the hills. Modern times just gave her more things to cry over; remember Stella Dallas and the many, many parts played by Joan Crawford?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at February 17, 2005 10:11 PM

"The character of the Sacrificial Mother is as old as the hills."

That's it.

Posted by: Laura at February 17, 2005 10:29 PM

And maybe that's why I even feel a little out-of-step with some mothers who work outside the home. I'd have liked to have had the option of staying at home; whether I'd have liked the actual staying I don't know. But given that I had to work, I never felt the necessity of wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Posted by: Laura at February 17, 2005 10:37 PM

1. As much as I hate using this old saw, the women need to hear it, 'cos they need PERSPECTIVE:

try raising a kid in Iraq. Or try raising a girl in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Or try being a mom during WWII Europe.

THAT'S tough. Worrying about whether not buying designer clothes for your kids will scar then for life - that's SILLY.

2. I grew up in the 70s. Lived in a fairly affluent community where there were the beginnings of this whole craziness. My mom rolled her eyes and reacted with a healthy contempt towards the moms who fretted over "fulfillment" and whether they were making a "horrible mistake" by not scheduling ballet AND piano AND violin, or by not taking the child the Bermuda every winter.

My mom let us bring home tadpoles, and turtles, and assorted bugs. There was always some kind of living material in a jar on a shelf somewhere. She didn't worry overmuch about the cleanliness-state of the house - she was happier seeing my brother and me sitting on the floor playing with Lego bricks than she was seeing that floor absolutely pristine (or so she tells me). There was always an "art project" of my brother's or mine drying somewhere. If something came up, and dinner wasn't going to work out, or if she'd not had a chance to get to the store, we ate fruit salad and peanut butter sandwiches.

And you know what? I have a Ph.D. I'm a tenured college professor. My brother is happily married and working towards becoming a minister. Neither of us has ever seen the need to seek therapy. Neither of us has ever been in trouble with the law.

These alpha moms need to chill out and realize that what kids need is love and attention, not perfection. I remember growing up in a house where things were sometimes disorganized and messy, and feeling happy and free and loved by my parents. I don't think I would have had that same comfortable feeling if my dad was always after me with the flash cards, and my mom was always following me with a dustpan and broom and bottle of Bactine.

Posted by: ricki at February 18, 2005 09:05 AM

I liked it better when my mom started working outside the home: she had an outlet for her energy that didn't involve us, so I got to spend more time reading.

Posted by: Michael at February 18, 2005 10:33 AM

"if you're a status-conscious twit who can't unclench enough to understand that dashing off to K-Mart in your sweatpants is not a sign of abject failure"...and it seems to me that a big part of this problem, and many other problems, is the obsession with status. It seems like in the last decade, many Americans have become absolutely obsessed by matter of class and status...the stereotypical '50s focus on getting split level and a Cadillac and keeping up with the Joneses seems positively innocent by comparison.

Are others perceiving this trend as well? Any thoughts as to why?

Posted by: david foster at February 18, 2005 11:25 AM

Actually, I think it's only a small subset of Americans who are status-conscious. It's been the same subset for a while too: they work primarily in the media and in academia, and in those areas of government most concerned with those two facets of American life. That's why you get a feeling of cognitive dissonance when you put down the latest issue of Worried About Everything magazine and look around at your actual life. No one I know cares jack about "status."

Posted by: Andrea Harris at February 18, 2005 06:54 PM

"Worried About Everything Magazine"...Andrea, I love it! Have you trademarked the name yet? Want a partner? Sounds like it could be really big....

Posted by: David Foster at February 18, 2005 07:11 PM

David, I think that "Worried About Everything Magazine" has been going under the pseudonym "Atlantic Monthly" for quite some time now.

Or is that "We're All Going to Die Horribly Magazine?"

I tend to get those two mixed up.

Posted by: BAW at February 18, 2005 10:03 PM

Oh, no, BAW, Harper's is "We're All Going To Die Horribly Magazine." (Well, to be precise, it's "We're All Going To Die Horribly, And It's Our Own Goddamn Fault Magazine," but close enough.)

Posted by: Michelle Dulak Thomson at February 18, 2005 10:32 PM


Actually, I think it's only a small subset of Americans who are status-conscious.

Well, whose bright idea was it to stuff most of them into Marin County, CA, then? Really, that article was just the perfect portrait of the Marin Mom, and I wonder whether it was just serendipity or some sort of dark collusion between ostensibly rival magazines that launched the Newsweek piece more or less simultaneously with the Time cover story about "The Parents Teachers Hate." I have a feeling I've met half these parents personally. (No, I'm not a teacher, but my husband is, and let's just say that there are stories to which Hamlet's father's ghost's untellable tale of Purgatory would seem tame.)

Posted by: Michelle Dulak Thomson at February 18, 2005 10:41 PM

I tend to think of Harpers more as the "Life is just a Meaningless Cosmic Joke which is why I am so filled with Irony and Ennui" magazine.

Posted by: David Foster at February 18, 2005 11:19 PM


Um, not lately; not post-Iraq-invasion, anyway. Whole 'nother vibe. Though the "front matter" is as cutesy-ironic as ever, and I confess that I sometimes do pick up a copy solely for that bit, carefully averting my eyes from the Lapham editorial. (OK, OK I do eventually read the Lapham editorial, but I save it for last. Kind of a reverse dessert.)

Posted by: Michelle Dulak Thomson at February 19, 2005 12:07 AM

For the love of God people...my grandmother starved in order to feed her dying husband and 8 children the one pound of pinto beans and cornmeal left over one winter. My father remembers gathering creasies in the middle of winter in order to eat. He was 4 years old. The 5 children that survived that winter, went on to graduate from high school (ok-it wasn't accredited) but then they went on to happy and well-fed lives. To this day they do not complain about things the way my generation does.
We are complete wusses.

Posted by: Marie at February 20, 2005 10:06 PM

Hey BAW,

The Independent Women's Forum blog, Inkwell, has linked to this post.


Posted by: Julia Smith at February 27, 2005 11:11 AM