Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mothering Ain't What It Used To Be, But We Still Love You

I dedicate this blog post to – who else – Mom!

Happy Mother's Day! Today in the United States we celebrate all that is right and good about yo momma. Yes, on this glorious day of spring we step aside from the usual family squabbles and aim our loving glances at dear old mom, that all-too-human being with the second X chromosome who suckled us at her teat, rushed to our sides and kissed our boo-boos, worried about us when we were late getting home, and took care of uncountable loads of diapers, dishes, and laundry just to keep us happy, healthy, and wearing clean underwear. Who else but Mom would simultaneously pat down our hair with her own saliva while at the same time scolding us for poking at our siblings?

Mothering isn't the same job it used to be, for better or worse. While modern conveniences like dishwashers, microwave ovens, and washing machines have made the job of being mom a little easier than when she was a baby and Grandma did the job, modern living has also brought with it new and imposing worries about what her kids will face "out there," like drugs, school shootings, and Britney Spears. Let us not forget, too, that rising costs and changes in expectations from the feminist movements have led to Mom working outside the house. This brings independence and better pay, but it also has increased Mom's stress level and work load, particularly if Dad doesn't help out around the house as much as he should (A very interesting recent study found the amount of work that men do actually equals the amount of work that women do, on average, if you add up time working both in the home and outside the home for both sexes, at least in countries that aren't economically depressed).

But I think Mothering has also become more stressful because of a less tangible change in society. It seems to me that when Mom was being raised by Grandma, Grandma only had opinionated family members and nosey neighbors to tell her how to raise her baby. Since the time my generation was born, in the late 60's and early 70's, parenting has increasingly become the topic of concern for politicians, academics, and socialites, blaming every evil of society on bad parenting techniques. Do we have the hippies to blame for it?

Now, oddly, it's the grown-up hippies who have chimed in to the issue. Oh my God, what are you doing letting your kid watch Looney Tunes alone while eating Ding-Dongs while you're off in the kitchen doing dishes? Don't you know Looney Tunes is violent? Billy is sure to grow up to be a mass-murderer after watching Wile E. Coyote get clobbered for the thousandth time with his own Acme-brand anvil. Eating Ding-Dongs and not exercising are sure to make your kid morbidly obese. And why aren't you sitting there next to him? God only knows what he may be seeing or thinking without you there to guide him. Why, this poster boy is certain to grow up to prove the politicians right! Naughty mommy! That's it, we're blaming all of society's problems on you unless you feed him soy oat clusters, clothe him in American-made organic cotton, help him answer all of his math questions, and take him on rigorous bicycling trips to cultural-appreciation courses! And you'd better do it with a smile, too, Mum! If he sees you looking stressed, it's sure to send him straight to lifelong therapy.

An international conference on childrearing in the age of ‘intensive parenting’ will be held at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research later this month:

As stated in the report: "Dr Ellie Lee, the conference organiser, explained that her own research about women’s experience of feeding their babies had led her to want to organise the event. ‘The research showed that a basic, everyday aspect of being a mother has become moralised and politicised,’ she said. ‘The choices women make in this area seem to have become bound up for many with identity, with demoralising consequences.'"

So I'm not alone in my perceptions, despite the fact that I'm your typical clueless, overweight, butt-scratching American dad. But let me play devil's advocate a moment and say that, while modern life has brought many evils, today's children are safer than ever because of "interference" from politicians and academics. As studies emerge, and policies change, parents are better informed, and so are their kids. It's because of this that we have mandated car seats, for instance, child labor laws, child abuse laws, recall notices for toys, and those little ratings for TV that pop up in the corner of your screen for you to ignore. My mother raised me the best she knew how and has always loved me with all her heart, but I would like to think I am raising my kids in a more emotionally and physically healthy manner simply because society has provided better outlets and more updated information. Only time will tell.

But Mom, Grandma, and all you other mothers out there, you ARE appreciated for making us eat our veggies, clean our rooms, and sit up straight all these years. We children are better off for it (but I'm still not eating my Brussel sprouts - so there!).

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