photo by dozeneggs.com
My friend @megdonohue just tweeted, “‘Nonworking mother’ is an oxymoron. Show me a mother, and I’ll show you a woman working her ass off.”
I wish my first thought had been: “Ha! I agree, great one Meg!” But, I’ll admit it, instead it was: “How did she have time to be funny AND write it down before 8 a.m.!”
And I was a little bit jealous.
I find myself a little bit jealous of other women a lot of the time. When they are a little more together, a little more successful — in their jobs, in wrangling their children, in their wrap dress — than I am.
That’s not a good way to feel, and I know it gets me nowhere. But if Mad Men has taught me anything (other than red lipstick looks good on everyone), it is that though we may look and feel a lot different as women than we did sixty years ago, the wonder-if-I’m-going-to-make-it-ness of motherhood hasn’t gone away just because we’ve made it in the workplace.
I want to do it all. I want to take my kids to the park with the appropriate snacks in little eco-friendly glass Tupperware. I want to do it in four-inch heels while my smartphone collects important, career-advancing emails in my inbox. I want to push the swing while my 3-year-old cackles and my 17-month-old builds sandcastles with the three best friends who one day be her babysitters club. I want to get high-fives at work. I want my husband to want me. I want my family to have home cooked, healthy meals I make from scratch by 6 p.m.. I want to turn off the TV.
And it’s not just the surface things I want. I want to make my son belly laugh and I want to feel the world melt away when my daughter falls asleep. I want to not crumble when little monsters steal their innocence; I want to avoid getting too devastated when they do the wrong thing. I want to do the right thing more.
But one thing I know is that trying to do it all is an exercise in futility. My days look less like the above and more like me trying to tie my son’s shoe at the park while the swing hits me in the back of the head. Like getting little disapproving looks from very organized mothers when I peel a half-eaten granola bar out of my bag unwrapped and hand it to my toddler. Or eating it myself on the train to work. It looks like me checking my phone once I am at work every twenty minutes to be sure our nanny isn’t telling me my slightly flu-like daughter is now very flu-like and I need to turn around and come home to take her to the doctor. And it looks like me taking a work call in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office because I can’t cancel so late, and every other mother glaring at me, because this means I am choosing my job over my sick daughter.
But even that recounting is wrong. Because in that, I am blaming all of these other people for something that might actually be my own issue. And I think as modern mothers that might be our worst enemy: judging each other. I’m fiercely guilty of it. How do I know that the mothers at the park disapprove of my naked granola bar? Why do I think my 11 a.m. phone call wouldn’t understand that my baby is sick? Why does it bother me so much that other people don’t let their “under 2′s” watch TV, but I do? All of these people are just people. They are mothers, women, feeling the same fears, joys and guilt as I am, and I am judging them for supposedly judging me.
One of my favorite, if overused, ideas is that it takes a village to raise a child. I am fortunate to have a close-knit, outrageously helpful family, great friends and an exceptional nanny, all who love our children. Of that I’m sure. And I am sure that spending time and energy on thinking about how other mothers see me, how other women see me, is not only a waste of time, but a wasted opportunity. The truth is, they can help me. I can help them. And I need to concentrate on that if I am going to be “good” at any of it. I need to tell my friends what wonderful mothers they are. What beautiful women they are. I need to thank my mother more. I need to bring our nanny flowers because her job is harder than mine. I need to smile at another spent toddler mom, offer to help carry a stroller down the subway stairs. I need to re-tweet Meg.
Because at the end of the day, even with all of the help, motherhood can feel totally enormous. Like we are the nets under the tightrope of these mini-souls, and the death-defying feat called every day is something for which we are totally responsible. It seems like adding judgment to that scenario can only make it scarier.
first published on The Huffington Post, January 2013