Sunday, September 29, 2013

"The Conflict: How Overzealous Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women" by Elisabeth Badinter

This book may be the new Feminine Mystique. It certainly has the potential to be as controversial. Badinter occasionally gives in to the temptation to make blanket statements that actually made me mad. However, I think if you eliminate the (intentionally?) polemical tone, and look at the content, the woman's got a real point. Over-parenting may ultimately be almost as bad for the kids as neglect. It certainly is bad for the parents, especially mothers.

My mother never worked for wages. Most of the mothers of my childhood friends worked at home, as well. I knew few women who were employed. Virtually all of the women who worked for wages had no children: some were childless and others were older ladies whose children were grown. One of my school chums was the child of a single mom (I don't recall if her parents were divorced or if her dad had died). Her mother was a nurse. She was the only working mom among all my friends. I never met her because she was not involved at the school like the other mothers. She was too busy keeping food on the table and the light bill paid.

When I had my daughter, I quit working for wages for four years. Among my group of friends, a few worked full time, a few were at-home moms and most worked part-time. The women who worked full-time had more money, and typically had help with both housework and childcare. We at-home moms lived a very similar existence to our mothers, and we shared childcare among ourselves to give one another a break from time to time. When my daughter was four, I went to work part-time in order to pay for a nursery school for her, because she needed to be around other children. 

In my first job after I returned to gainful employment, I worked with three women: a woman who had never married and who was the caregiver for her elderly mother who suffered from dementia; a woman who worked full-time and had five children from three to early teens (the older three all played some kind of sport); and, a single mother of one preteen girl who also worked full time. All three of those women were exhausted virtually all the time.

In various subsequent part-time and, now, full-time jobs, I've seen that scenario play out over and over. Mothers are expected to work full time, take care of their homes and be involved in every aspect of their children's lives. Some husbands step up and help with child-rearing and housework. Most do not. The women all take up the slack. Virtually every woman I know with children at home is trying to do all the mothering that at-home moms used to do (and more) while working full-time. It's no wonder they are stressed-out and exhausted.

Part of that is because I think on-the-job expectations of productivity have increased with the use of technology. In the past, a day in which I read and responded to twenty or thirty letters or memos would have been an extremely busy day. Now, I get more than 100 emails a day, and virtually every one of them is time sensitive. At the end of the day, I'm mentally drained. But, that's okay because I come home to an empty house. I can make dinner if I feel like it, or eat cheese and crackers for supper. My house doesn't get messy because I clean as I go, and I'm the only one here. That gives me the time in the evenings and weekends to relax and rest.

My colleague, on the other hand, who has the same workload, goes home every night and cooks for her family. She helps her two kids with homework. She does all of the housework. She is exhausted, stressed, and worried all the time. I worry for both her physical and mental health.

The few women with kids who worked in the 1960's were not expected to be involved in their after-school activities or sports. Actually, a lot of the kids of working (usually single) moms did not participate in after school activities or sports because there was no one to provide transportation, and, often, not enough money. The at-home moms were involved in school activities because they had the time, but even the at-home moms did not spend every minute of every day serving their children's every need or wish.  Parents did not "entertain" their children. Kids were expected to keep themselves occupied and stay out of the way as much as possible. 

Until recently, nobody was expected to parent with the intensity that young people are doing today.

Today, women are expected to bring home the bacon, cook it, clean up, take their kids to sports practice and/or make sure they are being entertained with "enriching" experiences.  After that, they do the laundry and/or help the kids with (mostly stupid, busywork) homework assignments.

The constant pressure to over-parent endangers the parents' health and, potentially, their relationships. Badinter's point is that it is very bad for women in every area of their lives. Modern mothers are supposed to be virtually slaves to their children.

That's bad for the parents, but I fear even that what it's doing to the kids may be worse.  They are growing up believing that they are each the center of the universe and all their desires must be fulfilled immediately and abundantly.

They are in for such a rude awakening! 

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