I am a raging perfectionist, so before my daughter, Lucia, was born I read all the books and articles, decided what “school” of parenting I would follow and then tried to do everything right. (Did I mention that I’m a recovering academic?) I told myself I would
- have a natural childbirth
- exclusively breastfeed
- only by organic food and clothing
- make my own baby food
- wear my baby
- never yell
The natural childbirth was the first thing to go when Lucia decided to flip herself into a breech position two weeks before her due date and there wasn’t enough amniotic fluid to turn her. Then she started losing too much weight during her first few days of life and the freaked out nurses insisted on supplementing with formula. I threw it all out when we got home and my milk came in, but I felt guilty for giving in while still in the hospital. At the time, it seemed perfectly rational to hold myself responsible for a decision I made while sleep deprived, taking narcotic painkillers, and being told by nurses and doctors that my baby was starving. See, totally my fault.
Once I was past the first three month period when all you do is nurse, change diapers, and try desperately to sleep and shower at least every other day, I began focusing on the other items on my list. Our town has a Whole Foods, so the organic food part wasn’t too hard as long as we stopped paying the mortgage and shifted all our money to the grocery budget. The organic clothing part, however, was an impossibility unless my children were going to wear unbleached cotton onsies for the rest of their lives.
Making my own baby food? That lasted for one week when I realized there is absolutely no difference between the vacuum-packed pureed organic carrots from the store and the ones I was currently washing off the kitchen ceiling due to a blender mishap. And besides, we had already sold the car for extra grocery money.
Co-sleeping only works if your baby actually sleeps instead of waking up every time you move your arm three inches, and I had already spent my chiropractor money on groceries, so baby wearing was out too.
Never yelling? Come on. If you thought I would live up to that one, you either have no kids, are a saint, or are on heavy doses of valium.
Finally, after crying and beating myself up for the umpteenth time after failing at something on my list, I got angry and threw out all the books and magazines. That What to Expect book was the first to go, quickly followed by Mothering and its parade of sanctimonious, white, middle-class, Pinterest-craft-making mothers. During my anger stage of motherhood I saw everyone as the enemy. No one understood. Everyone expected me to be perfect, to do it all. And everyone could just fuck off.
I slowly realized that the problem wasn’t everyone. My friends and family were on my side, but I was too far inside my own head to see that. But if they weren’t putting this pressure on me, then where was I getting all these crazy ideas?
The Mommy Industrial Complex
Remember all those books and magazines I threw out? Yup. They’re the root of it. The same marketing industry that convinces women they are inadequate as they are so they will buy beauty products is working hard to convince those of us who are mothers that we aren’t doing it right and need help. Yes, even the natural parenting movement that prides itself on telling women that birthing, breast feeding, and mothering are “natural” innate abilities that all women possess, and therefore you should not listen to experts but follow your instincts, yes even they are complicit. Why else would I spend $150 on a baby carrier? And heaven forbid you are unable to breast feed or need drugs to make it through twelve hours of excruciating back labor because that is a sign you lack a “natural” female ability and are, thus, less of a woman. But I digress.
The point is this: throwing out all those books and magazines wasn’t enough. I had to change my own head. I had internalized all that messaging and so had many of the women in my social networks. I couldn’t look at my Facebook newsfeed or go to a social gathering without hearing about how some uber-mommy was homeschooling while growing all her own food, raising chickens, while still finding time to journal, meditate, and go to yoga. And these stories made me crazy precisely because they were full of things I would love to be able to do too, but instead I was struggling to just make sure everyone in my house had clean underwear and still make it to work on time. I pride myself on being a pretty smart gal, and yet it took me way too long to realize these stories were B.S. These women were just as desperate as I was to look like they had it all figured out because the media tells us that we should be able to do it all. No one expects us to vacuum in high heels and pearls today because no one is supposed to see us vacuum. All the work of raising kids should magically happen without any visible effort. This, as Brené Brown tells us, is what makes today’s standards for women so insidious—we must be perfect and look like we aren’t even trying because if you need to work at it you must be inferior (remember, motherhood is a natural process!). Well, allow me to redirect my anger: the mommy industrial complex and all its double-binds can fuck off.
All mothers, whether we are stay-at-home or working outside the home are barely holding it together most of the time. We will never get it right because there is no one right way. We need to support one another by telling our messy tales and by learning to find joy and laughter among the piles of toys and laundry.
Life is messy because nothing grows without a little bit of dirt.