Tuesday, November 15, 2011

the truth: there's too much pressure on mothers

baby sabin (and smoochie)
a friend of mine woke up very early one morning late last winter to find herself in labor. it was 4:30 or so and her second child, so she decided a leisurely shower was in order. after the shower, she pampered herself with nice-smelling lotion and dried her long, blonde hair. after it was dry, she commenced to flatten it with her flat iron. as one does, when one is about to depart for the hospital to have a baby. after carefully doing her makeup, her baby brain decided that a bit of fake tan was in order and she proceeded to apply the bronzing lotion. about halfway through, she realized that the contractions were coming with what began to smack of alarming regularity, so she called out to her husband that they needed to get going NOW. they deposited their 2 and a half year old daughter with the neighbors, who they had roused from sleep, and tore off to the hospital, where just a few hours later, they took delivery of their lovely, healthy baby boy. her husband, commemorating it on his iPhone (of course), showed her the first photo and to her horror, her mascara had run and her carefully flattened, silky hair was all a tangle. the various drips and tubes running into her arm had left spots of white in the midst of her lovely tan. and she realized that she was reeking of that smell that even the best fake tanning lotion cannot hide. in all, quite the memorable moment. when she tells it, it's so hilarious that you are falling out of your chair laughing, even tho' you might be in the midst of a rather posh bar at the time.

and while i laughed until i cried, i think it's a symptom of the pressure on mothers today. pressure i don't think was on me ten years ago when sabin was a baby. at that time, the only pressure i recall was heavy encouragement from the danish midwives to give birth without drugs. in the end, i was so ill, that i had an emergency c-section and it's still a bit of a fog to me. but i have never felt for one second badly that i "missed out" on natural childbirth and that's the only thing i recall being given some grief over. i can tell you that after having a temperature of 40°C for a week before delivering sabin, i most definitely did not put on makeup or fix my hair.

it's also true that i made all of sabin's baby food...cooking up organic veggies, whizzing them up in the blender and freezing them in ice cube trays to be doled out in baby-sized portions. but ten years ago, that was looked on as a heroic act, above and beyond the call of duty. today, it's expected and you'll be looked askance upon by your mothers' group and your neighbors if you're not doing it. you'll actually have to apologize for using jars of baby food today. bad mother.

i'm not sure if we placed this pressure on ourselves or if it's the culture at large, but i do think that all of this perfection in the blogosphere i'm swimming against the stream of this week contributes heavily to it. why on earth did it even occur to my friend to flat iron her hair, do full makeup and put on fake tan to go to the hospital to deliver her baby? is it one too many shots of perfect princesses emerging as svelte as before from the hospital just minutes after delivering twins? is it glowing reports of natural, organic home births featuring pictures of glowing, dewy, happy mothers and their swaddled babies? is it the stoicism of the 70s parents of today's young mothers - who were all natural and free of drugs (the legal ones at least) and clad in home-crocheted dresses, baby tied to them in a sling after they popped it out effortlessly (to hear them tell it)?

and not to mention the pressure to enjoy and love every minute with your child that today's mothers endure...if you don't spend every moment lovingly teaching your child to play with precisely the right toys to develop their brain, it's practically child abuse. i think there was a time when mothers' groups could be a support group of sorts, where you could discuss your breastfeeding issues and your sleepless nights, but today, there's so much pressure to report that it's all wonderful, your baby is in the 98th percentile in everything, you don't miss sleep, your nipples are fine and your partner is the perfect father. there's no safe space anymore to be real.

i don't know what it is, but i'm glad my child is ten and that i don't have to compete in today's baby race. i'm pretty sure it would been frowned upon to drag a 2 and a half year old across the atlantic and drop her off during a stopover in chicago with an uncle she hardly knew, to stay for two weeks while i went on to business meetings in seattle (because her father was away on a 3-week exercise in norway). it's quite amazing how things change in only ten years. (ok, i admit people probably frowned at that even then, but not to my face.)

all of this makes me glad that there are bloggers who happen to be mothers who are real. go read c is for capetown. it's the only way we're gonna change this and divert all of this pressure and get back to our normal lives.


Corrine said...

yes, yes, yes. today's mother pressure is much like the 70's. do it all, do it very well, or your child will be a malnourished moron. support groups rather than competition groups need to form and be proud. thanks for addressing this topic, it is one of those that surface constantly and needs a full on discussion. new mother's have so many conflicts with child care, careers, family support/interference. how can this be approached? I think by pressuring advertisers to realistically present life in their written and television commercials. Just thinking out loud.

will said...

Pressure, what pressure? Oh, you mean the self-induced pressures of expectation and interpretations of what is thought to be social demands?

While I don't have data to support my theory, I still suspect there's been undo emotional pressure - the self-induced kind - since end end of World War II. A booming economy and a baby boom set up conditions ripe for parenting excess.

The cravat for that era - young parents had suffered the War and the Great Depression before that. Those people were naturally frugal, very practical and used to simplicity.

That's part of the reasons today's older people often scoff at the excesses of young people ... practicality, making do and sacrifice aren't necessarily part of today's scene.

There's plenty of evidence, even in today's world, if parents allow child to develop naturally and at their own pace, the child will probably succeed better than if forced by over-stimulation to be "smarter" or a better tennis player at age 3.

If parents did relax perhaps the domino effect would be good for the entire society.

c is for cape town said...

To an extent Bill is right, a lot of the pressure is self-induced - this whole parenting gig continually throws one into self-doubt purely because the stakes are so high. These are other (little) people's lives one is gambling with when you make decisions about education, discipline etc etc. And it all comes from a place of wanting to do what's BEST - even when one belongs to the 'let them be and they'll be fine' school, you're choosing that because you think (hope) it's the BEST decision.
All this internal conflict is fraught enough without the massive external pressures which one encounters.
And I'm afraid those pressures do very much exist too Bill. Becoming a parent is to enter one of the biggest 'communities' you'll ever live in, and live in it you do - whether you like it or not. There's a lot of shit gets flung around and some of it will always land on you.
And then you got to decide what to do with it = more pressure :)

Great post, thanks Julie!

Spilling Ink said...

It's complete insanity and I suspect we bring much of it on ourselves.

One of the things plaguing my mind is how mothers who do "it all" and then find that they've end up with a child who has learning difficulties or behavioral problams despite it all. I know how I was treated 10 years ago when it happened to me and I can't imagine that it has got any better.

snippa said...

I just had a small rant on my blog about the posh and perfect world being sold to us in the guise of "craft".

snippa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Loredana said...

I needed this post a year ago, I needed it a few months ago, i needed it a few weeks ago and just yesterday. I needed it when I joined a mothers support group thinking I'd actually get to vent my truths about motherhood, how my child does sleep with me, how I can't think of what else to cook for her, how yes, i fed her out of jars sometimes, how YES I didn't breastfeed and I gave my daughter formula and what do you know she's alive and well today and can formulate almost an entire sentence at 17 months!! I'm going to print this post out and hand it out to the small group of REAL mothers I know and hand it to the soon mothers to be or hope to be so they know exactly how it is or how it will be.

There is too much pressures on mothers today and for a second I fell into that pressure. But this is my child, our child, we make decisions for her that will last a lifetime and I don't want to be that mom that did everything "right" only to forget to have played peek a boo with her or to dance like a maniac around the room with her or to have shared a cheeseburger at McDonald's with her every once in a while.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Donna said...

funny I came across this today - after spending time recently with both my adult sons, I was thinking of how glad I am that they're not little anymore! Delighted that we all survived those early years.
There's beauty and pain in every phase of parenting but I've rarely yearned for what was!