Tag Archives: mother blame

Doesn’t everyone have house elves??

I’m getting really fed up with the crummy mother-shaming exhortations to “slow down” or “simplify” or whatever, and today I read one that included a couple lines just perfectly encapsulates why I loathe them so, that went something like “slow down mommy, those dirty dishes can wait / slow down mommy, let’s bake a cake”. Because, uh, HELLO, I CAN’T BAKE A CAKE IN A KITCHEN WITH A SINK/COUNTER THAT’S COVERED IN SHIT THAT NEEDS TO BE WASHED AND ALSO NOT IF ALL THE SHIT WE NEED TO BAKE A CAKE IS, Y’KNOW, FUCKING DIRTY BECAUSE YOU JUST TOLD ME NOT TO WASH IT ALL.

Who the hell do the authors of these things think is gonna make sure kids have a clean plate to eat off and oh by the way also something to eat (maybe even something that isn’t going to spin them into hypoglycemic crash and turn them into asshole devil children)? In what magic fairy land does messy play not require a significant amount of prep and/or clean up which apparently we’re not supposed to do because gods forbid we spend two seconds doing anything other than staring at our cherubs in absolute rapture? Where the hell do the clean warm clothes come from for kicking in the leaf piles and how the fuck are we supposed to spontaneously hop outside to jump in them if we can’t find anybody’s %$#@ boots because no one spent the time to make sure they were put where they belong? What the FUCK are we teaching our children if we never let them see us engage in the daily activities of life, including cleaning up after ourselves and yes washing the fucking dirty dishes NOW, not after Freespirit doTerra Moonbeam goes to bed?

But no, fuck all that, once again allllllllll the damn work that mothers do is made invisible1, dismissed as unimportant, and we are told, again, that we are doing. it. wrong.

I get that I’m not the intended audience, but I still get caught in the shotgun spray. Because these things almost never say “hey, if you haven’t played with your kid this month because you’re still polishing the silver, maybe you could consider letting that go for a day”. They don’t often say “you’re doing the best you can under an impossible and unbearable set of demands, so yay you! When was the last time you cut yourself a break and took a moment to just breathe in your kids?” No, they say “you, Mother, I know all I need to know about you because you’re a woman with children and there is nothing beyond you than that, and so I know you’re doing it wrong, and let me tell you how in guilt tripping and/or infantalizing ways”. And that’s fucking awful.

Now someone clean my damn kitchen. I want cake.2

  1. Also invisible: any parents who are not mothers! Because they do not have Sooper Speshul Relashunnship With FdT Moonbeam because, um, vagina! Or something! Also, they wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes in the first place cuz that’s wimmin’s work, ammirite?
  2. “WHAT THE HELL ARWYN WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?” Umm… hi! A…round? Mostly trying to earn munnehs and do good work and shiz? And, y’know, cleaning and parenting and sometimes even baking cakes? Y’know! Stuff! Um. Sorry? Hi! …bye! *runs away*

Childrearing v. Parenting

There are two ways of talking about the work of caring for a child. One is childrearing: the daily acts of keeping the child alive, keeping them and their environment relatively clean and whole, getting them to bed and school or the fields or what-have-you. The individual tasks of childrearing can, for the most part, be done by anyone willing (or perhaps anyone the child is willing to allow). This is the work that is discussed, and disparaged, as unworthy of an educated woman’s time, and really, it doesn’t take a lot to know how to wipe up yet another cup of spilled water-broccoli-and-half-chewed-food-bits.

And then there is parenting. Parenting is the work of doing childrearing without killing the child, yourself, or random judgmental strangers (or not so random judgmental relatives). Parenting is the internal, invisible work it takes to show up to the overtired screaming baby, the trying-to-kill-hirself cruiser, the tantruming toddler, the never-stops-chattering preschooler. Parenting is handing a self-centric, swiss-cheese-brained, immature primate every single one of your triggers, most of which you’ve managed to not realize you even have, and then trying, trying, to deactivate the ones the monkey is stomping all over — before they grow just a little more and find a whole new set. Parenting is the work that is never discussed except in hyperbolic terms — effusive praise for those of us who do it, horror at the thought of it, demonization of those whose failures are made public. Parenting also can and is done by anyone willing, but is a commitment of years, not moments; it is built of moments over years, and once commenced, is only interchangeable from one set to another with wrenching consequence.

Childrearing can be tedious, or easy, or challenging — usually each or all in turns. But the kicker is, the key and secret that those who denigrate childrearing never acknowledge, is that what children most need, more than organized playrooms or clean tables or even getting to schools, is to have adults who love them so deeply and broadly and fiercely that we’ll do the reflexive work of parenting. They need us not merely to be centered, but to center ourselves: they need to see how we wobble and return and be broken and yet thrive and be triggered and move on. They need us, us, whole and human and damaged and glorious, they need us bodies and breasts and arms and laps and minds and souls and they will eat us down and leave us drained and that is what they are supposed to do. It is what we did, what I did, what you did, and we can see this as a horror, or we can see it as a gift, or we can see it, we can know it, as life. Life. Just life.

Choose it, or decline it, make it your vocation, or something you do on the side. But don’t ever, ever deride it. Not around me.

Dear Erica Jong

Dear Erica Jong,

I am about to enter my 30s. I cosleep. I babywear. I breastfeed (for years). I am monogamous. And I have fucking fabulous sex.

I’ve had fabulous sex in bed next to my sleeping child.

I’ve had fabulous sex with my child sleeping in his bed three feet away.

I’ve had fabulous sex while breastfeeding my child.

I’ve had fabulous sex while pregnant.

I’ve had fabulous sex while pregnant with my second child.

I’ve had fabulous sex in my kitchen.

I’ve had fabulous sex in my living room.

I’ve had fabulous sex in the shower.

I’ve had fabulous sex in public.

I’ve had fabulous sex in other people’s houses. (When we were spending the night anyway, for those concerned.)

I’ve had fabulous sex on the phone.

I’ve had fabulous sex on the “sterile” internet.

I’ve had fabulous sex that required an hour of washing up afterward — and not just of us.

I’ve had fabulous sex by myself. Lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of it.

I have a drawer full of accessories that I sometimes like to use while having fabulous sex, and a wish list as tall as I am of more that I’ll buy just as soon as we have the spare thousands.

I’ve had fabulous sex with a man — one man! one person! ever! in my life! how puritanical! how old-fashioned! — who wears our baby, who never was so ignorant as to think my breasts were “his” or “for him” to start with, who has seen me (was there for me, helped support me, caught for me) push a baby out of my cunt (in our bedroom, in which we had had, and later proceeded to have more, fabulous sex), who has snuggled next to our child nearly every night for the last almost 4.5 years, who helped me conceive our second child with still more fabulous sex (lots and lots and lots of it, given how long it took us).

I don’t know what issues you have with your daughter, or why you think extrapolating from (your understanding of) her to every other woman in her generation is such a brilliant idea, but when you say things like:

Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?

I truly wonder what universe you’re living in, or why you think you understand my life and my motivations so well, when you are so very wrong.

And I wonder what form of feminism you’re practicing when you blame women — mothers, women with children, women who already have placed on us additional burdens and double binds galore — for this “backlash against sex” you hypothesize, and never investigate what societal pressures might exist that create the situation (you think you see), give only the briefest, un-nouned mentions of forces other than (your daughter’s) choices of which you disapprove.

Because us modern-day mothers? The “freedom” you supposedly bequeathed to us hardly exists. We are still called sluts if we say yes. We are still called frigid if we say no. We are still threatened with the removal of our children if we have sex, if we admit we like sex, if we admit we don’t like sex, if we dare to write about sex. (Heavens forbid we be non-white, non-cis, non-middle class, non-straight, non-able and attempt those things, but then, you don’t seem to care much about those of us who fall in those categories anyway.) We are exhorted to be available, always, cautioned still that even if not in the mood (when, say, pregnant and exhausted — because we couldn’t possibly be pregnant and want sex) we should “be creative” and find ways of “meeting our partner’s needs”. We are told — by the generations before us, who really ought to know better — that we’re not doing sex right because we’re not doing it like they did, like they wanted us to.

When our sexualities are still not our own, when (middle class straight white) America is still obsessed with a very particular sort of (matriphobic) sex performance, when the “sexual revolution” still hasn’t allowed us to have children and sex only when and how we want, when the burden for fixing all this is still placed on our (be-slinged) shoulders, is it any wonder that some of us say “enough!”, would wash our hands of the whole messy topic?

I’m not sure I agree with you that there is a backlash against sex (a war against women and a backlash to what little autonomy we’d achieved, no question), but to whatever extent there is, I object to your definition of its parameters (we are only liberated in “open marriages”?), to you building your argument on our backs, to the idea that it is because we “[want] to give it up”.

Monogamous partnering and parenting — even the attachment parenting you so loathe and deride — have not limited my passion for sex, for orgasm, for physical connection with my lover and life partner (which are, please note, three different, though oft related, things). But if I were constantly held up in measurement against your visions of sex, your ideas of passion, your standards for sexuality, I might declare surrender and pretend disinterest as well.

Women, and women with children especially, do not need yet another person (and one who claims the title “feminist”, claims to be on our side, at that) telling us what and how we’re doing “wrong”, especially in regards to sex. But if you ever want to come ask what my life is like, why I chose the life and parenting I do, what constraints I live under, and how you could help me work toward liberation, well, I’ll be over here.

Just be sure to knock first. Because I might be otherwise occupied.

More on mother guilt

In a previous post on the MIRCI conference, I wrote:

Guilt sucks. At least half of the talks mentioned the devastating effects of mother guilt — not only is it a tool of control of the kyriarchy (or “the dominant cultural discourse”) by keeping the focus on “what’s wrong with me” not “the prescription of the ‘good mother’ is wrong”, it makes us worse parents. We overcompensate out of guilt, we lose our autonomy and authenticity because of guilt, and we snap from the stress of feeling guilty. Drop the guilt.

And so, of course, as soon as I got back home, the universe decided to test me on the topic. I’m not going to go into the details right now, not least because everything is still very much in flux, but the Boychick has been having difficulties in preschool that came to a peak on his first session back after my return. And oh, did the guilt come on in force.

I had left him.

I let his sleep disregulate.

I exposed him to “adult language”.

I failed to regulate my moods around him.

I broke my child, and he would never “succeed” at school, and it would be all my fault, forever and ever and ever amen.

What good did this guilt do me? Did it help me identify areas to change? Did it grant me the courage to make the changes I needed? Did it help me accept the situation as it was so I was free to move on?

No. It made me want to grab my child and climb in a dark hole where no one could get at us, and sob in his sweet soft curls, his long limbs curled in my lap, my eyes squeezed closed and streaming salty tears. It froze me. And I had to let it go before I could move, before I could talk, before I could plan for any action but that, that impossible urge to run and flee and hide and burrow and board off the world.

Even now it threatens to overwhelm — your selfishness is responsible for all his problems, it whispers, seeking to slip in wherever it can, my culture’s beliefs borrowing my brain’s voice to torment and tie me down — and must be ignored, set aside, even — radical notion! — forgiven if I’m to help my walking heart as he deserves.

It’s this strange game we play: we are blamed, so we blame ourselves, carry this guilt, wield it before us — “See, I’m doing my job, I know it’s my fault, don’t blame me more, I’m not a Bad Mom, I know I’ve done bad, but I’ll try harder, do better, beat myself for it, don’t hurt me more!” — so as to stop it being wielded against us. It doesn’t work, of course, but in many ways it is worse when we dare to declare “No, I won’t take this on, I did not mold my child, he is who he is and I’ll help him as I can but I am not his creator or his owner or his personal omnipotent god and there is only so much I can do.” Then, we are told, we don’t care, our blasé ‘tude proof of our culpability, our unfulfilled responsibility, our negligence and negative influence. And to try that as a mother with a mood disorder? Then, the voice smirks, the culture accuses, I must be delusional. Obviously I have damaged him. Obviously I am bad, wrong, unworthy, unable to parent without causing pain.

And maybe some small part of that is true. Maybe some of how he is is because of how I am. Maybe his life is harder because mine isn’t easy. But guilt? Doesn’t ease either of our burdens, doesn’t help us move, doesn’t help us grow. Guilt would have us hide away, deny us the sun and air and freedom we need, both of us, to thrive in our own unique ways.

I have my difficulties. So, as much as it breaks my heart to know but as has always been inevitable, does my child. And we are both beautiful and perfectly imperfect exactly as we are.

Guilt? Would only get in our way. And we’ve got too much to do to let it.

This is kyriarchy in action: the New York Times on “Mommy bloggers”

Type A Mom and Mom101 have done brilliant jobs explaining why the NYT piece Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand is disgustingly discriminatory — and just another example of a larger mainstream media bias against blogs, and “mommy bloggers” in particular. Without quite naming it, they describe how this is typical misogyny.

But — stop me if you’re surprised — I think it’s deeper than that.

What we have here is a number of highly paid mostly-white women (and mostly-white women hoping to be highly paid) coming up in the world and trying to get a piece of the pie so long hoarded by rich white men (like the owners and editors of the New York Times), and getting pissed about the misogyny used against them when it becomes apparent that they’re succeeding.

Which is completely understandable — there’s every reason and right to be righteously angry, and to mobilize against the mainstream media for their continued marginalization of moms-who-blog. This is certainly not an indictment of the women who have “made it” in blogging, nor those who are trying to get there, who are so rightfully angered by the contempt displayed toward them by the New York Times.

But let’s talk about who’s getting belittled here — and who’s getting ignored entirely.

The “mommy blogger” as described in the NYT is solidly middle class (with debt, perhaps, but also minivans and lattes and money to burn on an “expensive hobby”). She is understood to be straight, by way of being married. She is assumed to be white, by being both middle class and married. (And look at the pictures on the NYT article, and the graphic which originally accompanied the post in large, found at the bottom of Mom101′s post — which is a whole ‘nother blob of misogynistic turditry.)

And to be fair, the women-with-children-who-blog (especially about parenting) who get attention and marketing sponsorships and book deals and offers of swag and all-expenses-paid trips are overwhelmingly white and married and middle class.

But in addition to portraying that group offensively, as vapid and concerned more with appearance than parenting, more with parenting-as-competition than politics and cultural change, this leaves out vast numbers of bloggers who are women with children. It leaves out those of us who are not white. It leaves out those of us who are more concerned with getting food on the table than getting it all organically grown. It leaves out those of us who are not straight, not married, not male partnered, not partnered all all, or partnered with more than one other. And it leaves out those of us who are trying to build a revolution instead of, or along with (as though that were such a sin?), a brand.

It is a problem that the work of successful women — who have learned to play the SEO game, who have stood up and demanded fair pay from major companies and PR firms, who have worked long days and late nights to build a business powerful enough even the likes of Nestle have to pay attention — is dismissed as so much vanity indulgence, that new thing that those silly mommies are doing.

But it is no less of a problem that who is successful, who is getting smeared, is a very specific, privileged sort of woman. Those of us who are in this gig to tell our long-suppressed stories (which don’t show up in the papers, not even in the “Fashion” and “Living” section where newspaper editors deign to give privileged women a nod on occasion), to save our sanity in a society that damages us daily, to join together and oppose the multitude of oppressions we and our children face unceasingly — as well as, as Mom101 pointed out, to share our knowledge in the field of our passion or our profession, to influence politics and government proceedings, to contribute to the human conversation, to do the 100s of other things women-with-children who blog do — why, they don’t even bother smearing us, because we’re not even worthy of acknowledgment.

Whether she is out to make a living, or eschews monitization in favor of revolution, or tries to balance both, the “mommy blogger” who is not white and straight and living that suburban life does not even have the dubious “honor” of being derided by the old guard media — to them, she does not exist at all.

Now that’s a story worth investigating.