Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ayelet Waldman on Mothering

I love Ayelet Waldman (most famously known as "the wife of Michael Chabon (who loves him more than she loves their children she stays home to take care of)", but also a great writer in her on right (see her Mommy Track Mysteries for some fun reading that also validates how hard parenting actually is)

She's got a great opinion piece in the New Yorker about why we love to hate Brittany Spears (she makes us feel better about ourselves as mothers).

When I polled an unscientific sampling of my friends and family on the topic, they had no trouble defining what it meant to be a Good Father. A Good Father shows up. In the delivery room, at dinnertime (when he can), to school recitals and ball games (whenever it’s reasonably possible). He’s a good provider who is not above changing a diaper or wearing a BabyBj√∂rn. This definition seems to accommodate, without contradiction, both an older, sentimentalized Father Knows Best version of a dad and our post–Free to Be You and Me assumptions.

A good mother, on the other hand:

“She remembers to serve fruit at breakfast, is always cheerful and never yells, manages not to project her own neuroses onto her children, volunteers in the community, remembers to make playdates, her children’s clothes fit, and she does art projects with them and enjoys their games. And she is never too tired for sex.”

or more accurately:
“She’s everything that I’m not.”

Her polling sample was composed of women of approximately the same age (mid-thirties to early forties) and the same level of education (which can be described, succinctly, as “more than they use”).

We respond to this impossibly high standard of mothers by villifying bad mothers, or embracing badness ourselves (I'm a "slacker mom" or "bad mom.") Waldman asks:

Is there really no other way to be a mother in contemporary American society than to be locked into the cultural zero-sum game of I’m Okay, You Suck? We possess, after all, a perfectly adequate model, one that operates smoothly, almost imperceptibly, without engendering vitriol or causing much pain: the Good Father. There are no “daddy wars,” and while Alec Baldwin and Michael Jackson have both served their time in the Bad Father stocks, it is rare for a father to feel that his own identity is implicated in or validated by their offenses. Self-flagellation is not the crux of the paternal experience.


jlafferty said...

Nice article. I enjoy reading Ayelet Waldman's perspectives as well. It's all so true...we women are way too hard on each other. :)

mamacita said...

I always liked what she had to say about Valentine's Day. Why is it a(nother) occasion for bringing cupcakes up to the kids' school? It should be a holiday to celebrate romantic love (i.e. sex).