Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mommy can't buy me love

In news footage this evening, I saw again the clip from Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in which she says she comes to us "as a mom," from within a life in which her daughters are the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up in the morning and the last thing at night.  

Such devotion is certain commendable in our society, but that part of the speech always makes me shudder.  Do I really want my daughter to work hard in school, go to a good college (we hope, of course), achieve what she wants professionally, make a contribution to society, and then withdraw and insist upon a version of herself as the most valid one that abnegates her accomplishments other than childbearing and child rearing?  Does Michelle Obama really want that for her daughters, either?

I don't have an answer to that last question, of course.  And I do understand some of the political positioning that led to that statement in that speech.  And led to Nancy Pelosi at the same convention to describe herself in vaguely anti-feminist terms as moving from Kitchen to House or something like that.  No one shall outflank us upon the Political Right.  

Myself, and perhaps I need to inoculate myself and say this is just a personal opinion, but, myself, I feel that work is good for the soul.  I'm glad I have interests other than my children and I'm glad my children have interests other than me.  I don't want us to define each other, although I want us all to be close.  I kinda sorta know that I must be coming across as some sort of evil witch mother, uninterested in her kids, willing to hurl them to the winds, ignore them and their pleas.  But I still feel that the independence I articulated from my parents (with difficulty and over time) has been very important to my sense of self and well-being.  

And I still don't really understand how to fit into the society in which I currently reside, in a high-income area in which most families can afford to have one parent (usually mom) stay home and devote herself to the kids' every need.  Where I live, if you don't nod your head in agreement with this situation, you either feel socially awkward or you worry that your kid will fall behind because you're not sacrificing your entire life upon the alter of your fondest personal dreams or committing momma hari-kari.  And I worry that this personal choice is being waved aloft as a flag of social virtue.  

And, yeah, it's true that as a mother of a disabled kid, I've got a lot more people on my case telling me (or strongly implying) that I'm doing a bad job and ruining the life of at least one of my children.  The PT!  The OT!  The Speech Pathologist!  The Doctor! The Nurse!  The Special Ed Teacher! The various specialists too numerous to explain.  Family members of varying degrees of relativity.  That kind of pressure will lead you to momma hari-kari.  

A friend of mine recently gave me an op-ed she'd torn out of the London Financial Times, which piece of paper seems to have vanished into the vortex of my household.  But it described the typical set piece that seems to appear with regularity in op-eds and so on in many places: high-flying career woman with children reads about a study in which children are asked some kind of emotionally charged question (this time it was English kids being asked how they felt about mummy working and deciding that it made them feel quite bad and neglected, thank you) and realizing how selfish she's been about her professional interests and how she needs to reform her life and be far less selfish or be damned to hell forever.  

OK, I added that last part.  Ruth Marcus, writing in a column for the Washington Post a few months ago, noted that she did not know of anyone (mother) who hadn't "trimmed her sails for motherhood," and also noting that this impulse had an apparent biological basis as her husband did not feel similarly about the whole situation.

I don't suppose Ruth Marcus has a very diverse circle of friends and acquaintances.  And I always wonder why these studies never ask children if they're unhappy or feeling neglected because daddy works.  Much as I love them, kids are kind of narcissistic and probably do wonder why anyone who loves them needs to work.  And I think that the difference between the British and Americans (other than the fact that Brits always require an introduction with a definite article) is that the British are generally dissatisfied with life, but will, if pressed, find something that might possibly be happy about.  The reverse is true of Americans.  

Seriously, though, since the Carter-Regan recession (hey, how's that for bipartisan?), personal income has remained stagnant.  Household income has only increased due to the participation of women in the labor force, two-earner households being the norm (the husband guarantees this factoid is true--I am not inclined to look things up at the moment).  Money can't buy happiness, but it sure can buy a lot of stuff and a college education for the kids.  


Lady Esther said...

Welcome to the listserv for undiagnosed! I saw you when I was posting myself. Welcome! I write poetry too. Meet Bethany. I am also on blogger. Nice to meet you. Bethany was just accepted into the NIH undiagnosed disease program you must have heard of that if you like in Maryland, right? I have 2 self published books Mere Words and Hollywood Hearts. I am not the most sophisticated poet but I write from the heart. I like to ryhme. Toodles, ESther

jeneva said...

Esther, I think the best poetry is written from the heart. Sidney says, "Fool, said my muse to me! Look in thy heart and write."

I am glad to have found the undiagnosed listserv!

I have read about the program at NIH, which, I confess, scares me a bit. We live in Bethesda, maybe a half-mile or so south of the NIH campus. Robert's been through so much, I'm hesitant to even try to apply to the program. It sounds so competitive to get into, and I'm not sure how I'd feel about my undiagnosable child being rejected from a program for people who can't seem to be diagnosed!

I'm going over to your blog now!

Elizabeth said...

I'm with you on all of these thoughts. Your comments about the children questioned in the study made me think of how my son reminds me after one of his basketball PRACTICES that I didn't watch him enough. I refuse to let him tyrannize me. You're an excellent mother -- at least the bit of you that I "know." To tell you the truth, the whole debate bores me and I remain convinced that whatever works, works. And we're all screwed in the end, anyway, since those little ones up and leave us.