Quote of the Day: “Revolution begins in the self, of the self.” Toni Cade Bambara
I’m trying not to be a “mommy blogger.” I don’t know what I am. I don’t even know if I want to identify as a “blogger.” I’m a woman who is writing about her experiences, and more and more, I’m finding that there aren’t a lot of women out there who see the world as I do. That’s not a terrible thing, though it is an intimidating one. It is a lonely internet world out there. So on Wednesday, I caught up on some of the reading from my other friendly blogs. My first stop was Faking Picture Perfect, an amazing blog that you absolutely should be reading. She wrote a beautiful article about patience and presence, something that every mom thinks about at some point in time. I appreciated her reflection (as always) and wish I could emulate that in my own parenting and writing. She was inspired by a blog called the Hands Free Mama. I didn’t have time to read the lengthy post about yelling, but I did read the blog’s blurb on the side of the post. I frowned. There was a lot in that little blurb, and while I wanted to agree with it, there was something about it that rubbed me the wrong way.
So I went to her about page and I figured it out. There was a self-righteousness about what she was saying that left me sour. My objection isn’t necessarily with the woman who is writing the blog, nor the decisions that she has made for her life and the way that she has chosen to raise her daughters. My objection is the idea of her decisions as a “revolution” of thinking. That there is “revolution” in fully surrendering all of yourself for the sake of raising your children. There is something that is actually very old in the notion of fully surrendering the self in order to raise children. While she is certainly garnering a lot of attention, and writes beautifully written, albeit a bit long, super reflective posts about very conveniently profound “every day” conversations that she has with her daughters, I felt myself frowning as I read. Her profound reflections and statements ended up feeling superficial to me. And yes, I’m wondering out loud if she’s more trying to write a book than she is about being a better mom and making other moms better, too.
These ideas about rethinking the way we parent, about starting with a profound life-changing reversal of our thinking and behavior, these “journeys” that some of us have been undergoing and bring others along on, all wrap up into what we think “motherhood” is. Is motherhood a lifestyle? Is motherhood an identity? Is motherhood exclusive to all other identities? Are there degrees to this identity shift or is dichotomous: You either are or you aren’t? Have we, as a society, given too much power to the idea of “motherhood” or have we, perhaps, given too much power to a certain kind of motherhood? (or maybe a certain subset of mothers?) This website makes it seem as though being at home, dedicating a daily 24-hours to your children, yet retaining some of your earlier goals, aspirations, passions and connections is not good enough. We must, somehow, release even those things. Give up the e-mails and the committees, the playdates and the lessons, the social connections to community that enrich both parent and children. That these things are “distractions” in the course of childhood and motherhood. “Less is more”, is being preached. Listen more, drive less. E-mail less, sing and dance more. In other words, surrender. Surrender all that you are for the sake of a profoundly happy child.
I question this idea. I’m mortified by the idea. While I do believe that motherhood, especially full time motherhood, comes with a set of frustrations that can be handled in right ways and wrong ways, and that we have become an over-booked suburban society in some cases, I don’t think that being connected to this computer or taking on leadership roles in my community somehow diminishes my time with my sons. Indeed, I worry about what I am teaching my sons by being so fully engaged in every waking moment of their day. I don’t want them to simply see me (and by extension, women) as only available for their immediate comforts and well-being. I don’t want my little boys to turn into young men who think that “woman” equates to “cooking, cleaning, and sex.” There are a lot of young men who think that way in the world. I don’t think that stay at home mothers to little boys are the reason why young men are sometimes pigs. I’m saying that I do not want to raise my boys to think that way. I can’t let the guilt that I sometimes feel after I’ve said “no” for the umpteenth time to get in the way of the larger picture: I’m trying to raise intellectual, reflective, compassionate, independent, curious and happy young gentlemen of color. That’s the mission, that’s the goal, that’s what gets me up in the morning. There are many paths to get to this goal, but the one that I’ve chosen at the moment, I think, is the right one for us.
I had an evolving and complex identity before I became a mother. Even before studying to be a teacher, I had a passion for integrated communities and the relationships between race, class and gender. I wanted to create programs designed to bring students in segregated communities into integrated spaces and dialogues. I studied the history of our country, the thinking of feminists, the consequences and intersections of poverty, race, class, gender, and politics. I learned to teach and someone was fool enough to let me teach early American history to a classroom full of impressionable 8th graders for 4 years. I made connections with people who are doing so many profound things in the fields that I’m interested in, and I keep in touch with them and converse with them on the landscape of education in our country. That’s just part of my identity. Nevermind the writing that I’m pursuing, my passion for faith, my passion for community building, for government and politics. The fact that I look at a new recipe every day and I’m becoming more of a baker with each passing day (I’m about to go from home cook to amateur chef up in here. You betta watch out!). I was a dynamic human being before I became a “mother.” Scratch that. I had many intersecting and profoundly built identities before I added “motherhood” to the mix. Indeed, my “motherhood” identity has enhanced some aspects of my personhood while diminishing (positively and negatively) some of the others. I am a dynamic human being.
And I should be a dynamic human being as a mother. I think that some women who choose to sit down and write about motherhood forsake the other aspects of their personhood in their blogging. It is incredibly unhelpful to the greater narrative and dialogue about motherhood, womanhood, and women’s place in American society when there are women out there who write about motherhood as if it is the only identity left after you procreate. It does feel that way from time to time, as it is a part of life that is certainly consuming, but it is not our only definition. It cannot be our only definition. If we choose to make motherhood the largest, most profound and indeed, the only identity of adult women who decide to include children in their lives, then we choose to degrade the importance and larger life contexts of the before and after in a woman’s life. A woman is a significant and profound person before she chooses (or doesn’t choose, but that’s a different discussion) to become a mother. A woman is a significant and profound person after children leave her home.
Because, as much as we want to deny it, motherhood ends.
No, you never stop being a mother. But children grow. Their needs change. They become independent and they leave. That really is the point of all of our efforts. The literal fruit of our many labors. Eventually, children leave. And if a woman chooses to wholly lay down her life, her identity, her passions and aspirations for the fullness of childhood in order to give their child the most profound experience possible, she is going to wake up after so many years and feel really lost.
My boys know that I love them. They know when I’m frustrated just as much as they know when I’m cuddling with them. They know when I’m looking at my cellphone just as much as when they see me preparing their dinner. They know it when I’m scrubbing the bathroom and can’t play just as much as when I’ve got them both in my lap and I’m reading them a book. They know it when I choose to write an e-mail to a friend just as much as when we take a special field trip to the Public Garden. I cannot and refuse to feel guilty for being a woman and being a mother. I know that my sons have a rich life, filled with every love and need that they may have. Along the way, they are getting a lot of wants, too. They don’t live in want of a more devoted mother. When my sons are in their 20s or 30s, I know that they may look back and say “sometimes, mom was distracted by her computer.” I hope that they will then remember the trips to the park, of the favorite book that I read just right, or dancing in the rain, or getting muddy on a rainy day. I can do that and still be hands-on and plugged in.
I get it: This time goes quickly. These seconds with our children are precious. I understand that more than most. I understand that being home with my children is a privilege. That’s why I’m spending less time worrying about saying the right thing or not yelling too much or all of the other things that we all think “scars” our children. I don’t have time to worry about that because I don’t know when this amazing ride is going to end. If you want to aspire to something, some ideal goal, may I suggest a thought? I try every day to aspire to be the best model of womanhood I can be for my sons. How can I make sure that I embody the best of what represents womanhood every day? I will admit to my mistakes when I make them. I’ll be goofy and funny and happy whenever I can. I’ll show my emotions when it is necessary, and let a tear fall when the situation calls. I’ll be alluring and yet fearsome. I’ll be productive and profound. I’ll be intelligent and inquisitive. I’ll be warm and combative. I’ll be human.
Because I’m more than the sum of my parts, or what my parts brought into the world.
and I’m better when I’m hands on and plugged in.
And my revolution will not be televised, because my revolution has to start within me and of me.
Articles referenced (links) :
Faking Picture Perfect (such a great blog!)
Hands Free Mama (the blog that I’m critiquing)