my ‘mommy problem’ problem

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You probably saw it in one of your social media feeds in the last week– a New York Times opinion piece by Heather Havrilesky called Our ‘Mommy’ Problem. Most of the piece was stuff I head-bobbingly agree with. One of the things I most feared prior to motherhood, and one of the things that most annoys me about it now that I actually have children, is the way women with children are reduced to “mommies” and mommies alone, not allowed or not able to have an identity outside of their relationship to their children.

I also kind of always hated the word “mommy” in general. It sounded infantilizing to me. I was determined that my children would always call me “mama” or “mom,” never “mommy.” But the entire world refers to me to and in front of my children as “mommy,” and so they have started calling me “mommy,” too. Sometimes I’m “mama.” Sometimes I’m “mommy.” Sometimes lately, I’m “Sawah,” as they’ve noticed that their dad and I call each other names other than “mama” and “daddy” and they’re trying to figure out how we can be people with names and also their parents. (One day, when they’re grown ups, they’ll realize we’re people, full stop.) And in my children’s sweet, small voices, just about anything they call me sounds sweet and lovely, at least the first 5 times in a row that they say it. This, I loved:

Why does this word irritate me when the wrong person says it? When my kids call me “Mommy,” I feel a surge of pride and happiness. “Mommy” is also my mother’s name, thanks to the fact that my older sister shamed me when I tried to switch to “Mom” in my teens. But the “Mommy” I say to my mother or hear from my children is a private word, a word that defines the relationship between me and my mother, or me and my kids. It’s like the word “sweetheart” or “lover,” but arguably even more intimate.

But the essay lost me when it started blaming social media, our filtered window into each other’s home lives, for making mothers into something they don’t want to be:

We are besieged by Facebook images of sun-kissed children canning homegrown peaches and building tiny replicas of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks and being home-schooled on organic dairy farms in Wisconsin. We know far too much about other people’s lives these days, and the more we know, the clearer it becomes that we are doomed to lag behind the pack in this increasingly high-stakes game.

I know I’ve been one to defend the filtered world of Instagram, but I immediately thought of a quote widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Image via Etsy, click to go buy this seller’s lovely print.

I mean, what do the homeschooling dairy farmers really have to do with you, you know?

I have lofty aspirations of being a Crafty Mom. But I have 2.5 year olds, two of them, actually, and I have realized that doing crafts with them is just not worth it, to me, at this time, most of the time. Because it takes me an hour of internet surfing to get the idea, and then I have to gather supplies, and then the actual project requires me to first get them occupied with something else for 20 minutes while I set it up, and then they spend 5 minutes on it and make a massive mess, and then I have to bathe them and then occupy them so I can clean up the mess, and then I need a nap. Maybe we’ll do crafts one day when it’s easier. Maybe I’ll just get over my urge to be That Kind of Mom. But in the meantime, it’s not like the moms out there with toddlers, crafting, are actively crafting to make me, way over here in Arkansas, feel bad. They’re just dancing to the beat of their own drummer. (And I mean, maybe they are trying to make me feel inferior, in which case, they’re assholes, and who cares what assholes think about anything?)

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I get that Slacker Mom is a really popular internet genre. There are like, two kinds of moms online and they are either the ones writing super detailed Pinterest tutorials or the ones writing hilarious f-bomb laden tell-offs to the Pinterest moms:

My sister-in-law told me about a mom at her kid’s elementary school who took the basic school T-shirt that everyone got and painstakingly created a beaded fringe at the bottom, replete with cinched waist and perfectly cuffed sleeves. All of the other little girls gathered around, screeching variations of “I want the same thing!” Incredibly enough, instead of laughing in their unrealistic faces the way our parents might have, all the adults started mumbling, “Yes, O.K., we can do that, sure, I’ll learn a challenging new craft, no problem. Tonight, of course. We’ll do it tonight.” This made my sister-in-law, who was already late for work, want to teach a few people the artisanal craft of rearranging someone’s face using only your bare hands. We are outclassed at every turn. We are outspent and out-helicoptered and outnumbered. It used to be good enough just to keep your house from being coated in a thin layer of dog hair and human feces. No longer.

I mean, for sure, no one can make you bedazzle a tee shirt without your consent. You seriously, really, for real do not have to do it. Sure, on some vulnerable day, you may see some lovely Anthropologie-model of a mom post a picture of her doing some insanely enriching and hippie-tastic nature-related gross-motor-skill-developing spiritually-affirming whatever in her backyard, all with perfect hair and kids who have on like, matching clothes, and you may like, actively hate her for all the ways she’s making you feel. And on those days, maybe close Instagram and walk away and have a cookie and hug your kid and watch some cartoons and tell both of you that things are all gonna be OK.

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Just being my best impersonation of one of those Anthropologie moms being all educational-nature-tastic while also basking in the ray of sunshine that follows me wherever I go. You can’t see my kids, but they are impeccably dressed, wherever they are, off camera, I assure you.

But on a good day? On a good day there is just no reason for you to take that shit personally. Because she’s not backyard Montessori fine motor skill meditating TO YOU. She’s just doing her thing. You see your dance space? It’s over there, and it’s got nothing to do with hers, so just go on with your bad self over to your dance space and you do you. And maybe unfollow people who bring you down. And maybe talk nicely to yourself and let yourself know that you are the mother your children need, and they don’t need you to be anyone else but you.

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And then maybe if we can stop constantly seeing other mothers as the problem, we’ll all have some energy left over to pursue our own self-care and interests and hobbies and careers and righteously tell off the strangers in public who insist on calling us “Mommy” instead of…oh…anything else.

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9 thoughts on “my ‘mommy problem’ problem

  1. I love this. I really enjoyed that article but had similar issues. In some ways, the author was doing the very thing she isn’t a fan of herself– pointing to other parents who do it differently and blaming them for some of her feelings. Maybe some moms like to bedazzle shirts. For some, it might be worth it to do a harmless craft rather than hear their elementary school kid whine all evening long. Who knows. Either way, we can all do this dance our own way and shake what we’ve got. :)

    Also, AMEN regarding crafts with 2.5 year olds. I have yet to find one that my son is interested in for more that 5 minutes so usually it ends up with him whining and me insisting that craft time “isn’t over yet!” Almost always ends in tears.

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    • Totally with the projecting. I have realized that SO MUCH of the judgement I perceive from others is in fact just me, puppeting my own insecurities through them. Most people are just so busy doing their thing, they are really not judging me constantly. And I need to stop judging myself so harshly. We’re all doing fine.

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  2. I’m not even a parent and I loathe the word “mommy” for most of the reasons you laid out.

    What I find interesting is that this kind of mindset prevalent in many of the online subcultures I do follow and participate in, like in the fitness and food communities. People can take things so personally when someone doesn’t agree with them, because it’s almost as if fundamental pieces of their personalities are being called into question, or at least fundamental pieces of their belief systems. It’s all too easy to fall in with whatever subgroup you identify with–especially when you feel you’re part of a minority/rebellious faction–and be like the snarky slacker moms ragging on the perfect Pinterest moms you mention above. I’m trying to limit my judgment to people who proclaim themselves as experts because they deserve extra side eye, while everyone else gets more of a pass.

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    • Totally with you on the “experts.” I’m loathe to give anyone advice about things like marriage or parenting– I can tell ya what works for us, but I’m not even an expert at the relationships I’m in. I can’t even begin to address the ones I’m not even a part of. It chafes me when anyone tries to tell others how to live as if they’ve figured out the only way.

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  4. Yes! My 2 year old craft today: I drew a circle, a triangle, and a square on a piece of paper with a pen (30 sec). We had fun pointing at and naming the shapes (2 min). I gave him the pen and he scribbled all over the shapes (2 min). No pinterest here!

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