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mythago

As a mother, I see something else going on here besides the author's awareness that hyperbole sells.

It's not true that mothers are never supposed to pretend that childhood is boring. Moms complain to each other about having to read Green Eggs and Ham for the 9,295,284th time.

BUT--that's not the case if you are in a social class and community where overachieving genius babies are de rigeur, and the mark of a good mother is how fast your kid rips through the milestones. You can't be bored in that milieu, because boredom suggests that your kid is boring, and therefore isn't a superbaby. It's not "boring" when your child learns to read, or appreciates Mozart, or learns to walk early. "Boring" is when your kid does the same, non-super-intellectual thing over and over again. And to admit that is to admit that your child may not be ahead of all the others.

(When The Dragon Queen was a baby, my husband and I joked that we were going to start casually dropping references to her (actually non-existent) Greek lessons--"Oh, yes, you have to start the on the classics early while their brains absorb information so quickly!"--and then seeing how many people rushed out to find Greek tutors for their kids.)

Sydney

Well, my mom for one told me that she had no regrets at all about working 80+ hours per week until I was 5. She said that it was at that point I had really begun to get interesting, and that mostly babies sleep, cry, eat, and s***, and that you spend all yout time with toddlers chasing them around and telling them "no" all the time. Probably she was exaggerating slightly, but still I'm not offended.

Richard

Helen Kirwan-Taylor’s piece was spot on. Like you, Happy, I’m childless by choice, though I’ve thought a great deal on the subject of parenthood, and I’ve been a keen observer of parents, and of how society portrays parenthood.

I see parents who mostly aren’t having a very good time being parents. Sure, they have their moments with the kids, and they will tell you how they wouldn’t change things for the world, and I believe that they believe that. How could their biology let them feel any differently? But I see exhausted parents trying to control their kids in everyday situations. I see parents snapping orders, often disobeyed, and giving them “last time” warnings again and again. I see siblings fighting among themselves, embarrassing their parents for the tenth time in half an hour.

I see parents with more kids than they can reasonably afford. Forget about funding college, they’re just trying to keep them in clothes. I see parents worried that they will not be able to supply their kids with what the Jones’s kids have. I see their kids demanding the latest fad attire and electronic gadgets, all costing hundreds (thousands?) of dollars a year, and parents scared to death they might not be able to fund it all.

I see parents sacrifice their own individuality and interests upon the altar of being “good parents.” This means 24/7 focus on the kids, even while at work, available by cell phone at all times. They have zero time for who they used to be, and now know next to nothing of the world beyond their own homes. Their kids need daily transportation to soccer practice, dental appointments, the math tutor, a friend’s house …

I’m sorry, I’m over your word limit. I hope you’ll forgive me this time. But, yes, I agree that society has indeed “portrayed [parenthood] in our culture as the ultimate in joy and fulfillment.” It's time to reevaluate.

ballgame

Great points on your post, HF. For a while in college, I used to babysit. It was great. (I even got paid the ultimate compliment by one of my charges: I was "better than television!") Kids can be totally charming … in small doses. The idea of being a parent … with its 24/7 … is just incredibly daunting, and while I sometimes look at parents with envy, eventually the phrase "all the time" pops in my head and I'm keenly aware of what a rough road it must often be.

If I may indulge in a little 'pie in the sky', it just strikes me how f***ed up our 'industrial nuclear family' setup often is. I mean, there are tons of folks (who aren't professional caretakers) who would love to have children in their lives on an intermittent basis, and there many over-stressed parents who could use a break, but it seems to be such a hurdle to bring those folks together in a safe and consistent way.

Sandy

I had a hard time mustering much sympathy for this upper-class woman with a nanny. Just how hard can she have it? I kept waiting for her to say there was something she enjoyed doing with her sons. Anything. Just *one* part of parenting that she found enjoyable - and it never got mentioned. I ended up feeling much sorrier for her children, and hoping that they never grew up to read this interview.

I've always been all for ripping away rose-colored maternal glasses (aka "the mommy myth" or "new momism" as Susan Douglas & Meredith William call it), but this article pretty much (almost literally?) throws the baby out with the bathwater. I found myself wondering if some mothers in the UK are even more screwed up than American mothers, especially since I read this article a few weeks back: Let's Celebrate. There's Never Been a Better Time for Mothers - this sentence struck me, especially: "British society, never child-friendly, has become positively hostile."

I think it really depends on what you read if you think that children in are culture are portrayed as the ultimate fulfillment - the last ten years have in fact seen a huge number of "momoirs" (including blogs, books, magazines like Brain, Child magazine, LiteraryMama.com)that if anything, portray parenting (especially traditional motherhood) as exhausting, mind-numbing, exasperating, etc.

Sandy

Uh, I should say that meant that I hope her sons never read the interview, not that I hope they never grew up to read it - that sounds like they'd be better off not growing up.

Ismone

My mom refers to the time when all six of us were young and at home as the "zombie years." Now that my parents are older, and we're pretty much gone, I worry sometimes that my mom hasn't "made enough friends" isn't "challenged enough at work" and should spend more time doing things that she likes to do. Which usually makes me chuckle because I sound like the mom. But really, we trashed our parents' adult social life. For years they didn't spend time with friends except for our friends' parents.

My friend S. had a game he would play with his niece, where he would put sock puppets on his hands and have them talk to her. It was so he could watch TV and keep her occupied at the same time. One of the sock puppets did not talk, which was the one he broke out when he was particularly occupied with what was on the TV.

David Thompson

I don't think much of the false dichotomy being presented here. It's not the parents' job to entertain their children, nor to foist the job off on someone else. When I was a wee'un, my parents generally kept us within eyeshot to make sure we didn't maim ourselves or each other (as soon as we were out of eyeshot, we did exactly that), but they always had their own activities and we were expected to occupy ourselves without bothering them.

Arwen

As a mom of two, I think what's happening for some of us urban parents is that our kids can't go outside and play the way they once did. I just spent a week with my Grandfather in a small town; I barely saw my elder son, because he was outside, and safe there. We got along much better with less contact.

Anyway, I also think different people have different interests re: ages. I actually really like the "roll the ball" years, because language acquisition is SO! COOL! to me, and seeing the completely acid-trip-esque interpretations that little ones come up with to explain the world is my absolute favorite. There are other ages I find more tedious. Any great power struggles, for example. Really: I'm not going to let you use the chef's knife if you scream; you've done this already and it hasn't worked; GIVE IT UP for cryin' out loud. I get tired of kids not being adults and listening to my reasonable explanation and then moving on. *g*

Moi

Of course motherhood can be boring and tedious. So can reading opposing counsels brief. Both motherhood and lawyering have been glorified by the media. Both have also been ripped apart by the media. It's all in what you choose to recall seeing/reading.

My husband is far better at "playing" with my kids than I am. In my opinion, it's a personality issue, not a gender issue.

And, I feel no need to pretend that I find my kids enthralling all the time. Perhaps some of the moms around me are pretending, or maybe they're better at playing than I am.

Finally, I agree with you to an extent about the trend to make moms feel as if they're not good moms if they don't find their kids to be enthralling, but I think that you and the women in the article exaggerate it.

I love my kids and I love to be with them. But, I don't love playing with them 24/7. That's why I had 2. They now play with each other while I blog and read blogs/news, etc. It's a good thing.

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