Can you even call that a choice?
If you want to make yourself crazy, read Judith Warner’s book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. Judith crystallizes the world as I saw it when I became a mother when she wrote,70
As the 1980s turned to the 1990s the word “guilt” was everywhere in the magazine stories on motherhood, and it wasn’t about “not feeling guilty” anymore. It was guilt about working, guilt about not being there for the children. Working mothers were no longer heroines, symbols of the new and healthy freedoms won by Mothers’ Lib. They were villains, selfish, and “unnatural.”
The ideal mother and the attendant guilt are the final “nail in the coffin” of the careers of so many women. And once they go home, what’s an ambitious woman to do?
Say hello to the Uber Mommy.
She’s the one who has taken the notion of “perfect” parenting to a fever pitch and has become the standard bearer of modern motherhood. We’ve convinced ourselves babies need homemade organic food, cloth diapers, constant engagement to help build their IQs, Mommy and Me classes, entrance to the right preschool, which requires the right networking, and so on and so on. Then they get older and they need us to “help” with homework, manage the tutors, carpool to after-school activities, get them on the elite sports team that will ensure they get a scholarship to the best college, ghostwrite their college applications, send them off to college, before doing it all again for their little brother or sister.
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Judith Warner details how the rising demands on parents and the birth of the Uber Mother has made mothering a competitive sport. She wrote,71
We have taken it upon ourselves as super mothers to be everything to our children that society refuses to be: not just loving nurturers but educators, entertainers, guardians of environmental purity, protectors of a stable and prosperous future. This ultimately impotent control-freakishness is the form of learned helplessness acquired by a generation of women confronted by a world in which finding real solutions to improve family life seems impossible.
The truth is mothering hasn’t just become who we are; it has become what we do our new fulltime job. The narrative that told us an ideal mother was all-in, all-of-the-time with their children and the concomitant guilt women faced when they weren’t was alive and well when my children were young, and is alive and well today.
We want women to commit to their careers by “leaning in” so we can have more women in leadership, but we haven’t changed our ideas about what it means to be a good mother. What’s going to happen when all of today’s amazing, well-educated women are faced with having to “choose” between an unrelenting workplace and ensuring their children’s well-being?
I think you know the answer.
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