Wednesday, December 13, 2006

THE WAY OF THE MOTHER PART 2

To answer my own question posed in the previous post – e. Not always all at once. But whatever allows us time to move away and find an island somewhere that we can get back to calm. And if a packet of Smarties are involved, all the better. We love a bit of sugar laden high after a meltdown.

There’s a few things which have disturbed me in blogland recently about the way we mother. Perhaps I’m being oversensitive to things, or just reading in the wrong places, but there’s a growing number of comments (in comments sections, just to be clear) on very wonderful blogs written by wonderful mothers suggesting either a conformity to a set of stereotypical principles of “right” mothering, or non-conformity to those principles based on simple everyday decisions and actions which are in theory highly personal.

I take great exception to people assuming your right to being a mother – or more simply your degree of ‘good mothering’ because of something you show on your blog, or a decision you’ve made, or more importantly, because you tell of the reality of mothering that is your experience. There is one blog I have been reading recently written by a lovely, articulate and funny lady who has just had a baby. She’s had a rough go so far – but nothing unusual in anything that’s happened – it’s the real experience of, I suspect, a great majority of mothers. She’s put herself out there to express the way she feels about some things and involved her readers in some painful decisions she’s been making. And she’s dared to suggest that, you know what, some of this really isn’t fun, and actually I really don’t like some aspects of this. I give her 100% credit and respect for standing up and saying this, particularly at the point she is with her baby, and a lot of her readers are following her every word because they too are going through the same thing, or about to.

Does this make her a lesser mother for writing all that she does? Does it make her a worse mother than the one who finds sheer delight in every moment of their child’s life and doesn't outwardly acknowledge the time when it’s rough? Does it make her child less loved? Absolutely not. She loves her child. She enjoys her child. All of that is clear, and transcends the rougher moments of her days. Yet, someone thinks she ‘lacks a maternal gene’, and suggests she should never have become a mother (yes, they suggested she should never have become a mother). Now this really irks me. Where in any baby book does it say we must all be in raptures at our children every single moment of every single day? Where does it say ‘thou shalt not mention the rough bits’?? Where does it say there is no choice but the righteous choice no matter how much physical and emotional pain you’re in? Because somewhere along the line, once we have given birth, we aren’t supposed to talk about the rough bits for a period of time up to, but not limited to, the age of 18 months, and to do so means we really haven’t got the hang of being a mother, or are somehow not entitled to the name. Must we all be martyrs?

I read comments on blogs, and for those posts on blogs which I feel an affinity to, I take great personal strength from the comments as well as the writer. That’s why we all read blogs we like and feel close to. To see and understand another person’s experiences which are similar to your own, and to draw strength from unity and justification of choices is confidence building, even for me who has already had one child. I find great joy in the positives of parenting and the love and hope a child brings to people's lives, but I also know it's not like that all the time, for anyone, and it's good to see that. It somehow makes the joy even more exceptional:: there is nothing so beautiful as a smile after an afternoon of crying in pain. However at the moment I feel like I, as a normal, relaxed mother with strong ideals, am doing a really atrocious job, or that somehow you’ve all got the wrong idea in the other extreme because of the fragments I choose to show. I’m really grappling with strength of conviction – should I be stronger, should I be more rigid in my thinking, will it make a better outcome and if so for who – me or the child? If I do this what will people think, if I do that what will people think? Does it matter if 100 people agree with me and 1 person doesn’t?

I’m a real mother. I may do nice craft work and sew well and knit well and I do a lot of it out of sheer love for my children and the joy of giving something back to them made with love and my time. But the house often goes uncleaned for the week. We often don’t have fresh fruit in the fridge. I loose my patience with Max some days. And some mealtimes he goes without food because he’s not hungry and I’m tired. Given the choice of a 3 year old and a pooey bottom, and a crying baby, the pooey bottom wins. Yes. Sometimes I must let Pia cry because I have to make value judgements as to whose needs are more important for that 60 second period of time. Does this make me a bad mother? According to some people, Yes. It does make me a very bad mother. In some people’s eyes, I should never have gone down this path and I should never have taken the right to be a mother that some people will never have a chance of knowing. And that just breaks my heart to even think that someone could form that judgement about me, or anyone else. If I rewrote those sentences and said we make an effort to go somewhere interesting every day he’s not in daycare, he eats as much fresh fruit as we can give him and that he wants (which is a lot and that’s why we sometimes don’t have it in the fridge), he has access to craft materials and paper constantly and he involves us in his imaginative play, and we spend a great deal of time encouraging and promoting his use of the toilet and he now has the confidence to wipe his own bottom, does that make me a better mother in your eyes? All of that is true – just depends how I present it as to what value judgement is give on my mothering qualities.

I’m speaking in overzealous generalizations here and I know that has the potential to be taken the wrong way and cause offence, but I think the concept remains – assuming the right to being a good mother has to be earnt by some stringent adherence to some set of ‘rules’ about what you should or should not do or say is really hard for those people who do struggle, who do find it hard and who look for compassion and encouragement and familiarity of situation amongst fellow bloggers, friends, and family. I always remember the moment a very good mother friend turned to me just before our children turned two, and said she was so grateful for me saying we had rough days, because she thought she was the only one and that she felt much better knowing she really wasn’t alone and that it took a huge amount of pressure off her. I am forever grateful for her turning to me and telling me she had rough days as well.

I will end by saying that thankfully the majority – the overwhelming majority – of people are compassionate, and without the support of many of you I would have found many of the things I have gone through much harder and I love every one of you because of that. I’ve never personally been on the receiving end of any of this, I make my rant based on what I’ve seen on other blogs, and I just feel saddened that a new mother has to go through such a blind learning curve.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Ash said...

I have issues with my younger son and tantrums. He's been known to go on for *hours* screaming and throwing himself on the floor, and when one need is responded to, the next one just takes it's place.

You'd be amazed at how many people have stopped me (while I am in mid-bribe, mid-scoop-up-over-the-shoulder, mid-lie-down-on-the-floor-myself-and-howl, etc etc) to tell me that I really should watch Supernanny and put some of those ideas into practice.

I've perfected the tight lipped smile now, but it really is a bit much when people just assume whatever about one and one's family life. There are so many people who want to tell you what to do, and no-one tells you that it doesn't stop after the 'baby' years either!

11:44 pm  
Anonymous Ali said...

Yes, yes yes! Thank you for saying that.

The self-styled 'good mummies' who never have a negative word to say about parenting or their offspring are plain spooky. I have come to the conslusion that they are just masters of spin and a lot better at keeping silent than I am!

I owe my new-mother sanity to a dear neighbour who stopped by my house every weekday evening at the witching hour of 5pm when my eldest would settle into his daily screamfest. The most comforting words she ever said to me " It's s**t isn't it?". And it was, and having her acknowledge that made me feel so much less of a freak.

I still find her the best company, because she's not afraid to say it like it is. Yes, there are great moments to celebrate, but without the low bits, the highs wouldn't be nearly so special.

11:53 pm  
Blogger Love Squalor said...

i too have been recently annoyed with unsolicted advice and comments from other parents and strangers - was just writing about that over at my blog - and i totally agree with you. parenting is very personal and individual to each parent and child - as it should be.

i also agree that being a mother has just as many lows as it does highs and no one should ever be criticized for admitting that and wanting to talk about the hard days. on the other hand, i don't think it is terribly strange that some mothers never have a negative word to say about parenting. maybe they are just masters of spin, but i tend to think that documenting the positive is probably their way of keeping sane, just as many mothers need to share the hard parts in order to maintain their balance. i know in my blog reading, i enjoy blogging mothers who share the hard parts, the crazy days, the tears; i enjoy the mothers who approach the hard stuff with sarcasm and humor as well; but i also really love those blogging mothers who focus on the beauty and the good days and when i am having a bad day it is generally the more positive blogs that i find myself at looking for a little sun through the clouds, something to hope for when it's three in the morning and esme has woken up agian for the third night in the row and is screaming uncontrollably and i am too tired to really want to comfort her.

so i understand what you are saying and i mostly agree, but i guess i feel like i am often one of these pollyana-type mommy bloggers you refer to as masters-of-spin, and maybe you are right, maybe i would find it helpful to share more of the hard days - i know it is helpful to read about the hard days sometimes. but for me, writing down what is good, what works, all the best moments, and the happy feelings keeps me sane, gives me a reason to do it all again tomorrow.

3:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the thing that always makes me feel a bit better about when someone writes a not-so-nice comment or one that is super judgmental is that the commenter almost always ends up looking like an idiot. we all genuinely care about the people whose blogs we read on a regular basis. those negative words look like ignorant gobbledeegook compared to the honesty and bravery of the words of the blogger, who is a friend that we are loyal to. some people just don't get it.

5:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The belief that having babies and raising children is all sunshine and light is a large contributor to Post Partum Mood Disorder/Depression, especially when combined with isolation.

I love it when people are open about what happens in their lives. I have a wonderful group of friends who all have children about the same age as my daughter. I feel like I would have been so lost without them these last three years. If someone doesn't have that support and chooses to blog about the good and the bad or one or the other, I am sure that it helps that person stay sane. We are none of us truly alone in our endeavor to rear children in the best possible way, whether that means that I haven't mopped my kitchen floor for a few months (true) or my daughter only wants to eat organic vegetables instead of candy(not true).

Before I had my child I would have been more judgemental, but not to the extreme that you mention.

Now I believe that whatever it takes to have a healthy happy mom and a healthy happy baby is the right thing to do. Maybe it is formula, maybe it is being a stay at home dad, maybe it is having the child in daycare. If the mom is happy, the chance for bonding is much greater.

8:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

now - remember my girls are big - they walk, talk, are no longer in nappies, feed themselves etc...all of the things that new Mums have worries about,(and talking to your 18 yr old about sex is not quite the milestone you look forward to...) but I do remember those intense preschool years.

99% of kids have tantrums and can be utterly horrid no matter how"good" the Mummy is.
I had 2 "perfect" children, and one who defied reason, the middle child who had the same upbringing as the others but was so different. She was a delight until 2.5 yrs, but from then on we walked a tightrope, luckily for me she behaved beautifully for daycare, school and friends, so i was able to manage with help. We all have different situations, support, resources, incomes - I could be a perfect Mummy if I didn't have to work, had a cleaner and childcare, but what about the Mum who is trying to decide between rent and food this week, whose husband has walked out, who has to catch 2 buses to get her kids to daycare so that she can work, who never wanted it to be like this. Most of us live somewhere in the middle, and we should all support one another - judge as you would be judged and some other cliches I can't think of right now!
I remember Charlotte having a breakdown in the supermarket, and all of the tut-tutting.. I just ignored it and kept shopping (no, never out of sight), with no audience it didn't take long for her to stop - but just before she did, a darling old lady said to me "your doing the right thing" and hugged me - I can't remember how many people had said negative things to me during the years of Charlotte's tantrums, but I always remember the positives. I too used anything that worked depending on the situation. It turns out my child has a very mild form of autism, an intolerance to too much stimulation, we decided to basically ignore the diagnosis because she functioned well in society, I was her "safe place" where she could vent all of the stress that built up from all of the input she couldn't handle, and she has been taught many coping techniques which have had excellent results. Would a "perfect" mummy have just given in and chosen drugs to maintain the facade?

All I can say is that when you see a negative comment, be sure to leave a positive one, and support those people who are honest (I must add a disclaimer - I don't post every sh*tty little thing that happens, but boy if I was up all night with a puking child - everyone would know I was spending the day in my jammies, and we would be having takeout for dinner!)

10:43 am  
Blogger sooz said...

Judgements are hard and generally unnecessary and particularly painful for the vulnerable (like new mothers and those under stress). It's distressing to see critical comments you know someone will take to heart, especially when you know from experience that it can be hard to lay yourself open to that criticism by being honest.

I have a number of other mums who I treasure precisely because we share the same view and anger and humour and shame and frustration about the job. We can talk about the difficulty and the joy in equal measure, and can step in when one of us isn't doing so well, knowing that while it might be you in meltdown today, it may well be me in meltdown tomorrow.

I really like Love squalor's point that each one of us, bloggers, mothers, crafters, use our blogs to help us through as best we can. For some the need to be positive (whether in posts about mothering, or in comments to other people's posts) drives their participation and helps to keep their heads above water, for others the need to tell it like it is as a mother can also motivate them to voice their opinions about how mothering should be done in response to other people's comments. I'll try to keep that in mind when someone pisses me off, because what do I know about what pressure they are under?

In stronger moments I like the robust debate of how to be the best mother I can. Sometimes I like to be challenged about the things I do without thinking, about the bad ruts and patterns I have fallen into and can't see my own way out of. There are days where I need to feel like I can get better at this to feel like it's worthwhile. There have been times when advice or a pointed comment has shaken up my perception of what I'm doing in a really positive way.

Other days I want a medal for simply keeping her alive one more day and if anyone dares to offer advice on improvement I may well rip their head off with my bare hands or jump out the window screaming. There are times when I simply can't listen because it is taking every ounce of my being to keep going without melting into a puddle on the ground. And at these times I recognise that I feel so out of my depth that a sideways look from someone in the supermarket queue could reduce me to tears.

So I guess I will also try to keep in mind that as well as not knowing what situation the other person is in that's making them judge me, I'm not always to clear about why I'm choosing to let something get under my skin. Why something I might have rolled my eyes over and forgotten about yesterday makes me boil today, or why I might laugh today and cry tomorrow.

I want to remember these things because there will always be some arsehole out there, and too often I let them turn me into an arsehole too because, you know, they started it. But I hate that. I don't want to get sucked into other people's bad days or bad manners or thoughtless criticisms and wasting my energy. That's what I want, even if I don't generally manage it.

12:38 pm  
Blogger VictoriaE said...

Seriously, any mother who is thoughful enough to read and/or write about mothering is probably a really good mother even if doesn't feel like it or finds it mostly a boring hard task. I know what "bad mothers" look like, they look like the mothers of the different foster kids I've looked after, and those mums arn't reflecting on their experience of motherhood on a blog. And even those mum's (much as they make me angry) are just repeating their own experiences of life.
How a person could read the honest reflections of a mother and write a negative comment I don't know, you feel so vulnerable as a mum and putting it out their requires such courage and helps and encourages so many other readers. I hope I don't feel compelled to comment on every post on this blog (and look like some sort of stalker) but it's awesome.

8:42 pm  
Anonymous Ali said...

I feel bad that I may have unintentionally offended people with the 'masters of spin' comment above. I didn't make it clear that I meant that comment in the context of real life, not of blogging.

Hell, I'm the mistress of blogging spin - those carefully cropped photos that edit out the heap of unfolded laundry or the dirty kitchen floor. Blogs to me are meant to be edited hi-lights of life and, like many, it's generally the good bits I like to remember, not every little piece of reality.

So you mummy bloggers who share the beauty - I'm cheering all the way. I just like the mummies I encounter in real life to show a touch of solidarity when I am clearly having a less than perfect parenting experience.

9:07 pm  
Anonymous tiel s-k said...

some of my best friends do the strangest things in their role as a mother. They are so overly fussy about this or that or they won't allow their child to do certain things, or on the other hand they let spoil their children rotten.

But I don't judge them for it..never will. So long as a child is in a loving home with a loving family and they are providing and doing the best they can, then no one should judge.

1:18 pm  

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