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The Mixed Messages of Culture and Motherhood

By marylweimer |

Woodland pathI remember the moment so well when an older woman saw in me who she was once herself.

Three years ago I was struggling to adapt to life as a mother of three. I recognize now that I was most likely depressed but at the time, all I recognized was that I was a mess.

An exhausted, unshowered, stressed-out disaster.

After several days indoors, I forced myself to take my children on a short walk around our neighborhood. I coaxed my 6-year-old away from the millionth episode of whichever unsavory Cartoon Network program he was watching.

I found my toddler’s shoes, wiped his nose, and managed to get the stroller from the garage. Even though I was overwhelmed by the effort it took to accomplish these tasks, I strapped my newborn to my chest and we were off.

Pushing my 2-year-old in the stroller, we started across the street to the public path along our little creek. Before we made it to the other side, there were rumblings and grumblings, whines and protests.

The 6-year-old insisted we go back home to retrieve a toy.

The toddler was hot and wanted a drink.

And, as though she were expressing her opinion on the matter, the newborn — predictably — pooped.

I persisted. We were going on a walk whether we wanted to or not. I had something to prove to myself. I was going to get a grip, and a walk was the symbolic first step.

An older woman approached us, temporarily slowing down from a speed walker’s pace. She innocently commented the way older women tend to do when they see a young mom struggling. Enjoy every second. Before you know it they’re grown.

I managed a fake smile but walked away seething. She wants me to enjoy every second of this?

This encounter, and others like them, only served to drive home the message my irrational, sleep-deprived brain was already telling me loud and clear.

I was failing. A failure. An F-Minus Mom.

There is an unspoken tension in the current parenting culture, one that’s reflected in everything from mommy blogs to Hallmark commercials. On one side, we’re told to soak it all in. Motherhood is precious. Time flies by.

On the other, we’re told we’re not doing enough by a culture that doesn’t give us the support systems we need. Twelve weeks of maternity leave- that is, if you’re lucky. A culture that tells women that motherhood isn’t real work.

We saw it last week with a video gone viral: a baby growing up in under 3 minutes. Her sweet cherub cheeks thinning, her baby face elongating into one of a gorgeous preteen girl right before our eyes. It punctuated the rally cries of the “Enjoy every second” camp; here was photographic evidence that time doesn’t stand still.

At the same time there’s the pressure to be the parent who does it all:

Bento box preschool lunches (organic, of course)? Check.

President of the PTA? Check.

Sews homemade costumes for the school play? Check.

Takes a photograph of her child every day until she’s twelve? Let the record show that by these standards I’m still an F Minus Mom.

I have to agree with Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams, who reminded us recently that “It isn’t always easy or pretty, or set to nice music. And it does not go by so fast at all.”

As parents we constantly have to weigh the pressure of expectation against the reality of our lives.We have to examine where the onslaught of these expectations are coming from in the first place and determine if they’re worthy of our attention.

In the end, we have to do what is best in our individual circumstances. For me, it’s a balancing act.

It’s a daily shuffling of what’s important.

It’s seeing an earlier version of yourself along the path of motherhood, and whispering a bittersweet word of advice.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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About marylweimer

marylweimer

marylweimer

Mary Lauren Weimer is a freelance writer and blogger. Her work has appeared in such places as Spirituality & Health and The Huffington Post, and she’s known for her thoughtful and introspective writing about all aspects of motherhood and the parent-child relationship.

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10 thoughts on “The Mixed Messages of Culture and Motherhood

  1. Leslie says:

    The days may drag but the years do fly, I find. And lots of times it seems easier and nicer when you look back. Frankly, I cannot even REMEMBER the year that I had a four-year-old, a one-year-old, and a newborn. I was too stressed to even lay down memories! You really nailed that overwhelmed feeling here.

  2. Melanie @ Inward Facing Girl says:

    I remember when my son was about 5 days old and we were taking him to the pediatrician for his first well-child visit. A woman in the parking lot with a child that was between 1 and 2 years old looked at my husband and me, both haggard with sleep deprivation, and said, “Aww…I miss that time so much!” We thought she had to be insane.

    There’s so much pressure, everywhere. In the end you just have to live up to the expectations that YOU set for yourself based on the things that YOU value, and even then learn how to be flexible and easier on yourself at least sometimes.

  3. January says:

    F minus Mother right here too…when it comes to what I ‘think’ others expect out of me. I wonder if it’s just all in our own minds. Probably. I know that I do the best I can do and sometimes the best isn’t the best I ever pictured…sometimes I crack. Sometimes I yell. Those moments I wish to take back so badly but we’re human and we have to remind ourselves of that. Everyone has those wish-we-could-take-back moments. Everyone. And everyone has those times where they surprise even themselves – in the best way. It’s a constant push-pull-up-down force to be reckoned with. And I still think the days drag by farrrr too long sometimes.

  4. marylweimer says:

    It sounds like I’m in good company : ) Thank you all for weighing in here with your perspectives. I appreciate it so much.

  5. A says:

    I remember once I got a comment from an older woman who had seen me frantically chasing down my toddler before he got to the street, while shouting at my daughter to stay put. We were in a busy business-y area, with lots of traffic but few children, and I felt like a hysterical mess at that moment. “You are doing a good job,” she said, “your boy reminds me of my son, who just turned thirty.” And then she thanked me for helping her remember, because those days were so wonderful.
    Her comment had the same message–enjoy this time–but it was a compliment rather than a guilt trip, and I think her son is very lucky to have a mom like that.

  6. Rachael @ nondomesticmama says:

    I was talking to a friend recently about how my son used to sing my daughter to sleep when she was a baby and he was only 2. I wondered why I hadn’t gotten that on video. Then I realized it was probably because the minute she was out of my arms and I could hear the sound of his voice and know he was safe, I would have been collapsed in a chair near comatose from exhaustion. Yes, the time flies by. Mainly because we are in too much of a stupor to do anything but get through it in one piece. And while we are dragging through, it doesn’t go nearly fast enough!

  7. Lisa says:

    Such a wonderful article, Mary Lauren! I don’t have any children of my own, but I’ve been taking care of a 15 month old since last August and tend to put so much pressure on myself to do it “right”. I often wonder what it would be like as a mother. Having grown up in Germany, I’m used to mothers receiving one year of PAID maternity leave (and 3 years of job security, if they decide to stay home longer with their children), whereas here I’m still in awe of the fact that mothers go back to work just weeks after they’ve given birth. As a matter of fact, I find it cruel. In Germany we also start maternity leave a few weeks before the due date, which makes so much sense (I know of a social worker here, who was doing community work, when her water broke). It’s a different system and culture for sure, and I’m surprised it’s so widely accepted.

  8. Molly@ Little Stories Everywhere says:

    I find myself so frustrated by blogs and articles that show motherhood so negatively. To me, it’s a gift from the Lord. It is tough, but oh so amazing. Thank you for writing reality, with a positive spin.

  9. Julie says:

    I have two little ones ages 3.5 years and 4.5 months and I totally get what you are saying. At the same time, I do feel that it all goes too fast and even though it is exhausting stressful etc etc and the days sometimes drag, the years fly! nothing made me consider my own mortality and the finite number of moments we have in life until I had children. They make each moment worth the effort – not that it is a successful effort or even a remembered effort! – of making it a good one even when it’s really hard!!!

    Lisa, I have been living in Germany (am American) with my German husband for 5 years. Both my babes were born here. I LOVE the prenatal and postnatal care here, and the elternzeit is wonderful. However, you make it seem more idyllic than it is. I know plenty of moms who are more or less demoted after their maternity leave or pushed out due to unforeseen and unfavorable circumstances after their leave (due to their leave). Also, it is paid leave but capped quite low so you make much less money. Much less. Furthermore, the glass ceiling for professional women in Germany is much, much lower than what I have seen and experienced in the u.s. and in Asia ( I lived and worked in hong long for seven years) which I feel reflects a much more old fashioned sexist attitude in germany. finally, on a more personal note, I am a little annoyed that you take the opportunity to comment on a blog unrelated to German/u.s. systems of maternity leave to do a compare contrast exercise and assert German superiority. If I had a nickel for every time a German does that, I would be a rich woman. Moving on, please!

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