A "Good Enough" MotherLife in the Pressure Cooker

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Friday, April 13, 2012

A "Good Enough" Mother

Life in the Pressure Cooker

It's been impossible this past week to escape the media furor about motherhood. It's nothing new, of course: every few weeks or months, a new controversy crops up about being a mom, from the "Tiger Mom" issue to the latest catty exchanges between Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Hilary Rosen, a Democratic consultant. The issue? Once again, we are immersed in finger-pointing, criticism, and judgment about whether raising children qualifies as "work"--or at least, whether it's enough work to merit respect.

Really? I thought we were past this particular conversation, but apparently I was wrong. Oh, all the right words have been mouthed: yes, motherhood is hard work. Yes, each woman's choices should be respected. Yes, it's possible to balance parenthood with a career outside the home. But the simple fact that we're still having this conversation at all tells us that we're still conflicted as a nation about the role and value of women, and that women still are judged in ways that men simply are not. 

For the record, I believe that raising children competently is a tough job, one that far too many parents don't take seriously enough. The research on early childhood development is clear: children need a secure attachment with parents to become healthy human beings. Building that attachment takes focused time, patience, and commitment. Having a solid, loving relationship with your children while providing effective discipline requires parenting skills, which is why people like me wander around offering parent education and coaching. And yes, you can work outside the home and be a good parent--but it certainly isn't easy.

There has been a great deal of research done on what is sometimes called "work/family balance" and its impact on children. You may remember reading about the so-called "second shift", the research that showed that even women who had demanding jobs outside the home found themselves responsible for approximately 13 hours of additional domestic duties each week--parenting, laundry, meal planning, house cleaning, and so on. Those cultural expectations are hard to change. More than once, a man sitting in my office has told me that he has to "babysit" over the weekend. "Oh," I ask him, "are you watching your neighbor's kids?" "No," he says, puzzled, "I'm staying home with my own kids." "In that case," I tell him, "it's not babysitting. It's called parenting." 

Some mothers don't have a choice about whether or not to go out and get a job. I was a single mother for almost nine years, so for me, the choice was pretty clear: if we wanted to eat and have a place to live, I had to work. And it certainly created challenges in using my time wisely. I learned pretty quickly that when my son's behavior deteriorated, the first thing to do was to check my calendar--and almost always, I'd been too busy to spend time just being with him.

I think what perturbs me about this issue is the easy judgment and criticism that seeps into everyone's comments. Deciding whether to stay home with a child or to work elsewhere is tough: there are many factors to balance. If you're going to have children, you owe them time and energy. Period. But there is no question that money helps, too. The best suggestion i can make is that before you point the finger at someone else's choices, you take a close look at your own. 

Being a mom is tough. Mothers have been blamed for all sorts of things throughout history, from homosexuality to autism to schizophrenia. Moms feel guilty for working and having their children in child care, and guilty for not working and not helping to support the family. So what do children need? Children simply need a "good enough" mother, one who is loving, kind and firm, and present, who can build a relationship of connection and respect with her child. Children need safety and shelter, but they do not need iPhones, iPads, or satellite television.

Perhaps this ongoing debate is an invitation to sit down and think carefully about your own priorities, about what you need to be healthy--and about what your children really need. Then make the best decision you can. And if possible, have some faith that the other mothers out there have done the same. 

| Posted by cheryl | Friday, April 13, 2012|


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