Monday, November 15, 2010

Mother's Little Helpers

Lisa Belkin's parenting blog addresses the topic of that old song by quoting from an upper-middle-class woman with three young children:

That summer, the summer that my baby was turning 1 year old and my older children were 4 and 6, I decided that wasn't good enough. Even though I was "appropriately" stressed, in my opinion, what with three crazy boys and a household to run and summer's unstructured days swirling around my head, I was struggling. I yelled. A lot. Maybe I wasn't unjustified in my yelling, but all the same, it made me miserable. I felt like my shoulders were hung up on a clothes hanger every single day from the moment I woke up until the moment my children were in bed. Once they were there, asleep or at least safe in their beds and crib, not falling down staircases or eating or stuffing Legos up their noses or pummeling each other, I slumped. Visibly, physically, emotionally slumped. I was exhausted, and I was anxious. The anxiety made me a miserable person and a miserable mother.

The medication helped me. It gave me a pause button. I didn't yell as much, but I could still yell if I needed to yell. I didn't cry as much, but I could still cry. I felt like a stronger, more competent mother and wife. I felt like I could survive. I didn't slump at the end of the day. I felt more capable.
Now, anecdotes don't a trend make, and it's quite possible that people, both men and women, experience similar stress in various occupations, not to mention poor mothers working two jobs AND taking care of children.

On the other hand, the way Americans have structured stay-at-home child-raising seems to me to be almost guaranteed to cause mental and emotional stress for the care-giver: She (or, rarely, he) is isolated from other adults all day long. She (or, rarely, he) is solely responsible for very small children who have little understanding of safety. She (or, rarely, he) is often expected to cope with that in the way a superhuman goddess or Virgin Mary would:

Never show anger. Always sound like a psychology textbook. Play Mozart, read Plato, create art with Playdough.

This is not how children have been raised for centuries. That sounds much more like that much-ridiculed "it takes a village" statement by Hillary Clinton. Perhaps not a village but it was extended families, neighborhoods, older siblings and grandparents who also contributed to child-care. The isolated middle-class American nuclear families living in suburbs are very different from that.

I guess my point is that those feelings of anger and frustration are, in fact, not that abnormal though they can obviously be painful and something one wishes to address.

But what are the reasons the anonymous blogger quoted above gives for her desire to address the feelings? She talks about being a better mother, not yelling at her children, even about being a better wife. All those are good reasons, naturally.

Still, they are focused on others. The woman herself has disappeared from the discussion. Perhaps that is the ultimate reason for her anger and frustration?