So just today I got involved in an online discussion about a snippet — seriously, just a snippet — of an essay, presumably written by a writer-mom, in which the mom breezily admits that she wishes the singing-and-clapping of a typical mother-child music-and-movement class was done without her participation. She’d rather, she wrote, be sitting in the corner sipping coffee with fellow moms while her child did the clap-and-sing routine with someone else.
Oh, no. It was that “someone else” thing that got some commenters into a twist. Maybe, maybe you can admit (if you make it clear that you’re mostly joking, hahaha) that you don’t much care for singing, clapping, or shaking maracas. Maybe, maybe you can say that Gymboree gives you the heebies. But you cannot say that you’d rather someone else took care of that aspect of parenting (and I’m just leaving to one side the whole notion that singing and clapping and maracas of any kind should be considered an aspect of parenting at all).
Because if you admit you’re happy for someone else to do something with or for your child that you should be doing (and hopefully enjoying, but at the very least grinning through the pain), you are a terrible mother. Which few people actually say, but many people — sometimes innocently, sometimes with complete self-consciousness (if not self-righteousness) — firmly believe.
Why is doing the stuff you truly don’t enjoy, the stuff you’re actually crappy at, more virtuous than not doing it? And why is admitting that not only do you not like these certain somethings, but going on to say that you’d be much happier if you could let your child do that thing with someone else, so much worse?
It ends up not being a terribly large leap from someone sniffing at your parenting skills if you admit you hate Mommy & Me, and turning the eye of judgment on you for working, not because you have to (that’s okay), but because you also want to (inviting “why did you have children?” insinuations).
I freely (and frequently) point out that I am not a crafty person. I pretty much suck at that stuff, to be honest (and I prefer to be honest). I can’t tell you how happy I was to get all those scrapbook pages and poster-paint handprints and frames with glued-on shells while my boys were in daycare. Because I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it. Nor was I going to apologize for not wanting to do it. Any more than I apologize for the daycare I relied on when starting my freelance career (wouldn’t it have been more virtuous, more good-mommy of me, to juggle madly with my baby and toddler at home with me?).
Nor should my neighbor, a woman who drops her toddler off at a daycare center for a good chunk of every day, apologize or justify her reasoning, even though — as another neighbor (in shock!) pointed out — she doesn’t work outside her home. Well, I said to this other neighbor when she tried to enlist me in her “how could she?!” outrage, not every mother can stay home with her kids all day long. OK, it came out harsher than I intended, but I meant it.
There’s no virtue, none, for any mother, in pretending she can be and do the things she perceives she must, lest she be judged. It’s very, very easy to judge, and it quickly becomes a vicious circle, an evil feedback loop, hence my too-strident reply to my neighbor. It’s easy for all of us to perch a chip on our already overburdened shoulders and go forth, justifying on the one hand, and judging on the other.
I’m tired of it. As a friend pointed out today, there are way worse things some parents do to their kids than the so-called horror of admitting they’d prefer a cappuccino in the corner (complete with ironic commentary on the bubbly enthusiasm of the mommy & me goings-on) over actually diving in and doing the Chicken Dance with their little ones. And way worse things (abuse and neglect come to mind) than admitting that you’d rather hand over the silly-shaking duties to someone else, like that nice lady in the library.
Not only is my lack of participation in such activities not a measure of my love for my sons (or my suitability for being their parent), I believe my honesty about not enjoying this or that aspect of parenting is a better barometer of my love for them. Because it’s real. I’m showing them me. This is the mom you get, the mom who doesn’t do Play-Doh, the mom who brings the New Yorker to soccer practice, the mom who hides the good snacks until her kids go to bed.
And anyway, aren’t we all just doing the best we can?