Published April 08, 2011
It took me two reads of the recent Psychology Today article “Motherhood: The Invisible Profession” by Mindy Greenstein, Ph.D to figure out why it was so much more engaging than almost anything I’ve read about motherhood lately.
And then it hit me: Not once does it use the words “mom” or “mommy” in making its points.
Some time ago, and I don’t know why or exactly when, the folksy term “mom” started replacing the correct term “mother” in our language, such as in the expressions “my mom” or “I’m going to be a mom.” Actually, the two are not interchangeable. It’s “my mother” when referring to the woman who gave birth to you, and if you are expecting, you are going to be a mother. “Mom” is what your child will eventually call you.
I don’t mean to reduce Greenstein’s commentary to this semantic tidbit, but I think it speaks somewhat to her larger point about motherhood being an invisible profession. For example, the term “mommy blogger” evokes cutesy and sounds like it is directed toward the child whereas “motherhood” sounds like the adult profession -- to use Greenstein’s term -- it very much is. There’s some measure of visibility in that alone.
Surely some will dismiss this as trivial parsing, but ‘goo-goo ga-ga’ terminology used in what is meant to be thoughtful discourse infantilizes and makes it easy to glaze over the serious value of what it means to raise a child. This is not to discount the role of fathers, by any means, but Greenstein’s piece was specific to motherhood because of the part feminism has played in today’s women making decisions about the parenting aspect of their lives.
And, one could argue, who cares what I think, really, since I am childless by choice? A conversation I had with a co-worker a few years ago went something like this:
Her: What do you mean you don’t want kids?
Me: Uh, I think that’s pretty clear.
Her: I can’t imagine my life without kids.
Me: I don’t recall asking you to.
This topic, I find, often makes people incredulous. That was captured beautifully in the movie Sex and the City 2 when a fan of Carrie Bradshaw’s asked her and her husband, “You mean it’s just going to be you two?”
With procreating at the center of so many discussions happening around us, not just in our language, but in pop culture, politics and in our communities, I feel like this wholly unpopular life decision puts me in a nice, objective place to assess some of the swirl. Especially since it seems the folks most critical of people’s parenting are in fact parents themselves (I know it’s unscientific, but I’ve yet to hear one person who isn’t a parent offer an opinion on Jon and Kate). Plus, I happen to think it takes courage and a special kind of desire to embark on the challenge of nurturing other human beings into adulthood fulltime for at least 18 years.
“It is, in fact, the most invisible, undervalued job that I have ever had,” Greenstein writes of motherhood. For the record, she is also a psycho-oncologist and consultant at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
I hear statements like this so often from mothers that I find myself astounded when a new mother says, “No one ever tells you how hard it is.” Huh? Are you sure it’s just that you weren’t listening? Isn’t the fact that it’s hard an integral part of what makes it so rewarding? Further, why bring such an all-encompassing job down to the level of baby talk? There are enough challenges to being taken seriously, right?
The societal scrutiny alone is mind-boggling. This week the Web site PopEater.com featured a photo of a pregnant Kate Hudson drinking what appeared to be red wine. The online judgment heaped on her ranged from cruel to borderline slanderous. If even a fraction of the people looking out for the “unborn” invested some of the time they spend in others’ business actually doing something constructive to help children who are already here, we’d be richer for it.
When first lady Michelle Obama promotes healthier food options in our schools, many citizens question why it isn’t left up to parents (read: mothers), the assumption being that everyone is informed about nutrition and has equal access to fresh food. With all we know about parents being prone to second-guessing themselves time and again, I’m thinking maybe some could use a little help in this one vital area that could alter and even prolong their children’s lives.
Every day, decisions. Every day, opinions.
A recent story about a frustrated tennis player (David Ferrer) lobbing a ball near a crying baby in the stands of the Sony Ericsson Open became a debate about whether a parent should have a baby at a tennis match in the first place. (The answer, by the way, is no. If you score tickets to a tennis match, golf event or Broadway play and you can’t find a babysitter for your infant, the right thing to do is relinquish those tickets. No one attending the event -- let alone those competing or performing -- should have to have less of an experience because of a crying baby.) But I digress.
To Greenstein’s point, mothering – and in some ways, fathering -- is thankless and brings unparalleled satisfaction all at once.
I was intrigued when, on April Fools' Day last week, ABCNews.com ran a series of seemingly implausible story summaries and asked readers which one was actually true. I don’t know if wishful thinking played a part, but the No.1 choice was an article stating that airline Ryanair would be offering child-free flights. That option received 27% of the votes, while the next closest (20%) was IKEA introducing doggie high chairs. (Neither of those was true, by the way.)
Most reasonable people get that air travel is a very tricky thing for parents of little ones to negotiate and yet it was, “yeeha, sign me up for that quiet flight” when it came time to cast a vote. It’s precarious, isn’t it? It takes a village, I suppose, just so long as the villagers aren’t residing on a jet going from JFK to LAX and in want of a cocktail and a nap.
“And yet, we also know a secret, the secret of tomorrow,” Greenstein writes. “We know that these amazing creatures who at first seem little more than eating, sleeping and excreting machines, will one day be our surgeons, inventors, therapists, biologists, and leaders. And the people who will raise our grandchildren.”
Perhaps eventually taking on motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood in all their messy, thankless glory.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.