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A Thought for Today on Garden Variety Mommy Guilt ;-)

October 23, 2010

Yesterday, while driving home, I was fantasizing about the kind of homeschooling mom I want to be. We have a DVD player, cable T.V. and XBox live, but they are rarely turned on because there is so much excitement about hands-on learning in the air. I’m preparing an Indian meal with local, sustainably grown organic vegetables — we know this because we been on field trips to most of the farms. While I’m waiting for the potatoes to boil, I gather a few Indian folktales, drag out several colorful Saris we made, and whip up a Powerpoint presentation on Indian language and culture. My well-read, erudite children are hanging out happily together. The house is clean. I’m not yelling at my 6-year-old because she won’t stop talking. I’m certainly not wondering whether my 12-year-old has bothered to take a shower or change his clothes since the seasons changed, or speculating that they’ll never pass their SATs.

Um. Yeah.

The thing about maternal inadequacy, in all its myriad forms, is that its a culturally sanctioned neurosis. I mean, isn’t it?

So here’s a quote for my fellow mommies:

Being a Good Father is a reasonable, attainable goal; you need only be present and supportive. Being a Good Mother, as defined by mothers themselves, is impossible. When asked for an example of a Good Mother, as defined by mothers themselves, the women I polled came up with June Cleaver and Marmee, from Little Women. Both of whom are by necessity, not coincidence, fictional characters. The good Mother does not exist, she never existed, not even in those halcyon bygone days to which the arbiters of maternal conduct never tire of harking back. If the producers of Leave it to Beaver had really wanted to give us an accurate depiction of late 1950s and early-1960s motherhood, June would have had a lipstick-stained cigarette clamped between her teeth, a gin and tonic in her hand, and a copy of Peyton Place on her nightstand. But still, this creature of fantasy is whom the mothers in my sample measured themselves against, and their failure to live up to her made her feel like Bad Mothers.

It’s as if the swimmer Tracy Caulkins, winner of three Olympic gold medals, setter of five world records, were to beat herself up for being slower than the Little Mermaid.

Ayelet Waldman in Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace (p. 11)


9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2010 8:22 pm

    June Cleaver doesn’t exist? :-O

    Isn’t it funny how fictional moms tend to either be perfect, or else they aren’t present at all? There isn’t a whole lot of inbetween.

    This is why I model my mothering style after Morticia Addams. Loving mom and wife, but not afraid to throw a few knives around or keep piranhas as pets. 🙂

    Peace and Laughter!

  2. October 23, 2010 11:48 pm

    I read Ayelet Waldman’s books and thought it was wonderful. She is so open and honest about her own mothering insecurities and makes some good points about how awful us mothers can be to each other and ourselves.

    It is also worth reading her husband’s book, Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon, which has some wonderful thoughts from the dad’s point of view.

    • October 24, 2010 12:19 am

      I agree. And I’m planning to read Manhood for Amateurs next. The title alone has me hooked. 😉

  3. October 24, 2010 12:49 pm

    No moms are perfect. My kids will tell you I am a terrible cook and a sloppy housekeeper. I chose to spend a lot of time with my children as did my mother because relationship is the glue that can get you through almost anything. I never felt insecure about Pamela because I realized nobody knew what to do with her and, since I had a clue, I was one step ahead of everyone else. Just one! LOL

    David, my typical son, ramped up my insecurity. He was never a compliant, obedient kid. I had to read all sorts of books like “You Can’t Make Me” to figure him out! He seemed bright but did not have the follow-through of other kids in a Charlotte Mason homeschool and he struggled to get through Year 8 of Ambleside Online (which I now know is quite ambitious). In 2009, he really through me a loop and wanted to go to public school.

    After he made it through the first semester as an honor roll student, my insecurities vanished for several reasons. His strong will has made it easier to resist peer pressure. Mason’s ideas on formation of character helped me build that very necessary ingredient to make it through some of the tough issues in a public high school unscathed. I do feel validated about our unorthodox approach to education. His first standardized test was the high school exit exam. He past the math the first time and the language arts the second time. There are seniors in that school that have attempted to pass twice a year and failed every time. He has been on the honor roll every time and is ranked 8 out of 200. His teachers love him (even though he wields his wicked sense of humor in class) and he has friends too.

    Some kids do not do as well as we would hope but I think by the time they hit this age, they are who they are. Adam and Eve had a great parent and they strayed. Sometimes, all you can do is what you know to be right at the time and no more.

    • October 24, 2010 2:53 pm

      Thanks, Tammy — I’ve always found you so inspiring. You seem to have a nice balance of a firm foundation — through Charlotte Mason, RDI, and other ingredients — and flexibility, meeting each child where he/she is at. Oh, and I’m not even going there on the cooking and housekeeping thing. 😉

  4. October 24, 2010 9:30 pm

    My fantasy version of myself has time for everything – time to whip up a macrobiotic, super nutritious meal, grow my own vegetables and herbs, remember how to do Algebra II so I can tutor my son, never ever raise my voice or lose my cool, and have quality & quantity of time.

    Instead I often scrape together leftovers when I’m too tired to make anything from scratch, I grow a few paltry herbs, and forget about doing anything beyond addition & subtraction. Sometimes quality & quantity are lacking. Sometimes I don’t care about perfection; I just want to be good enough.

  5. givingreadingachance permalink
    October 26, 2010 7:33 am

    Oh well, in my perfect world- i will be done with work early, have cooked something for lunch already… the house is all clean.. no nappy lying around.. and Aarya is blissfully playing while i read a little. LOL!
    How beautiful a vision!
    In truth it is 1:00 pm, i am not done with work, nor have i made lunch, and the house is in a mess as is the usual case and Aarya is as usual creating a ruccous LOL! And I am here reading about perfect moms. 🙂 🙂
    I admire you for having 3 kids and you are still sane 🙂 (j/k)

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