Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Mothers

I've had a line of thought jostling through my head for the last few days and I want to test it out on "paper."  Want to come along?  Okay, good, here goes.

So as most of you know I've been doing some serious thinking about where to send Amy for school next year.  Up one side of the discussion and back down the other, if you know what I mean.  All very useful of course, in making a good and informed decision, but when I read a friend's facebook status on a completely different subject, I realized exactly what I was doing:  Obsessing.  What a luxury of a modern mom, to have so many options available, and time and resources to research and ponder each one, that we each can obsess over whatever part of child rearing we are concerned about at any given moment.

Now here's where this idea got bigger the more I thought about it:

Toward the end of college I completed a course entitled "Senior Thesis in History".  I loved this class - the research, the resources, the historiography, the chance to delve into a tiny slice of American life that particularly interested me.  I don't remember precisely what my thesis was; most of what I remember was typing it up at the eleventh hour before it was due.  But the jist of it was: Changes in Housekeeping and Homemaking at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century.  So much of history classes always seemed focused on how women "progressed" outside the home, feminist revolutions and the like.  I was interested on the role of women in the home.  No one else ever seemed interested in studying that.    

Anyway, the take away soundbite from all my research was very simply this:  At a time when modern conveniences were popping up left and right (washing machines, vacuums, etc), they were marketed as time-savers for the housewife - devices to free women for other pursuits.  However, this didn't really happen - instead the only thing that changed was that standards of cleanliness increased and the amount of time spent on housekeeping remained about the same as it ever was.

Skipping ahead to more or less present time, moms can freely choose full-time work, part-time work, working from home, staying at home, or any imaginable combination of family and employment.  We have every modern convenience and time-saving device at our fingertips.  It should be easy now.  But now we have even more choices - we are thoroughly saturated with information on our children's education, their diet, and on the environment.  I can't stop thinking about these little fudge-striped cookies my kids love.  The kind that has a rather long ingredient list for a rather small cookie.  The kind that come packaged in crinkly wrappers in 100-calorie portions.  Six packages per box, ten teeny tiny cookies per package.  My kids are absolutely crazy about them.

So why am I, as a twenty-first century mother, required to feel guilty about giving them these cookies?  The packaging waste?  The scant hydrogenated-something ingredient?  Too much sugar?  Why do I feel just a little guilty about the thought of sending my daughter to public school?  Do I get mommy-points off because I used disposable diapers on two kids for a 2.5 years each?  Buying organic eggs is great, but really, it would be better if I personally knew the chickens, right? 

My point in all this (and God bless you if you're still with me), is not to poo-poo homeschooling, cloth diapering, organic food, local farming, or any of the rest - on the contrary I am a big fan of all those ideas and hope to take part in many of them as we journey along here.  My point is rather that we women, and mothers in particular, simply do not know how to give ourselves a break.  The washing machines didn't mean less time washing, it just meant cleaner laundry.  Freedom from the "drudgery" of housework just sent us out to find drudgery in an office somewhere.  What is it about mothers that makes us not simply enjoy conveniences, but rather question them, move beyond them, find other ways to make life challenging?

As my favorite Mom often says "In a hundred years, it's not going to matter".  I think we are all collectively caught in an over-achieving mom culture, and I'm not really sure why.  We are all outwardly supportive of each other's choices - there is no nasty, imposed guilt anywhere that I see.  But since there are simply so many choices out there, and we have such exposure to them through blogs and other media, we can't help but compare ourselves.

I realized, with regards to the homeschooling conversation, that I needed to make the decision for Amy - not for myself, not based on how I'd feel if I were doing kindergarten again, not based on what other moms are choosing for their own children, and most definitely not out of any sense of trying to earn perceived supermom points.  I know throughout history moms have always wanted the best for their kids, but I am beginning to think that these days we are obsessing over it, when really, we could probably use to just grab a package of cookies from the box and kick back a little.

Or maybe it's just me :-D

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