Over at BabyCenter’s MOMformation blog today there is a post by Betsy Shaw, one of its fine contributors. It was about a current poll on BabyCenter that asks, “Do you sometimes worry that you are not cut out to be a mom?” which has resulted in 77% of voters so far admitting that they worry about this. I was speedily reading along, when I suddenly came to this paragraph, which brought me to a halt:
“And sometimes I catch myself thinking ‘this isn’t really how I imagined my life as a mother would be.’ Then I hear, “Well how could it be? It’s not as if you spent a lifetime preparing yourself for the job.” How true. Unlike most professions, that require a regimented course of study, aided by experts in the field, before you are allowed to call yourself a “professional,” motherhood just sort of happens and y0u learn by design.”
This is interesting to me. I’m sure it is the rare mom who doesn’t wonder sometimes (or daily!) if she’s up for the demands of parenting. (And I have no doubt that dads have the same concerns.)
But I stopped and thought for a long while about the concept of motherhood as a “profession” for which we might be unprepared. I mean, I understand what this means, which is that there’s no parenting manual and we’re all out there running around incredibly busy with the tasks associated with it, and it very often does feel like something one might refer to as a “profession”.
But I still wonder how it is that some of us (namely, well-educated women in the middle-class and beyond, I’m guessing) have come to think of motherhood as a profession, something that extends far beyond the more basic premise of motherhood as the experience of being a female adult in a family who is raising children, something that’s been integrated into women’s lives since the beginning of time, and all over the world.
When did we start to look at it that way? I doubt most women in our mothers’ generation had this perspective and wished they had the proper training to “get it right”, worrying that one of the other play group moms was cut out for it better. And I don’t think I’m reading too much into a little online poll, because the 77% results sounds about right, if not low, when compared to what I see and hear around me.
Matt summed this up recently. He asked with some frustration, “When did raising kids become such a Herculean task in our culture?”
Because – is it, really? For parents whose kids don’t require unusual amounts of medical or therapeutic intervention, does it have to be such a task, one that many of us half-jokingly wish we’d gotten professional training for, beyond being surrounded by other mothers our entire lives? Or have our cultural expectations shifted in such a way that we have to give so much of ourselves to raise these children of ours that we’ve got nothing left for anything else at the end of the day?
It seems to me that there are many possible answers to this question. One might be that those of us who were raised in the ’70s and ’80s grew up hearing that we could “have it all”, that the sky was the limit for women. Just do it! Many of us went to college and even went on to receive higher degrees, always striving towards a “professional” life. Whether we left our professional lives to raise children or not, perhaps we’ve brought that mindset to parenting – a need to excel, to keep our noses to the grindstone, and to prove our worth to others as has been expected of us all along the way.
The parenting pendulum has also swung back in favor of a more child-centered focus within our culture. More of us have a family bed, reject sleep “training”, breastfeed our babies, and spend our days playing with them. We are told that the early years are highly critical for development and we pour whatever resources we’ve got (time, money, attention) into those years. One result of this is that we are with our kids a whole lot and they come to expect this of us, and there is no time or energy for much else.
It also occurs to me that perhaps there’s been some backlash for mothers in the fight to gain recognition for the fact that raising children is hard work. Work without pay or benefits, for sure, unless you count the intangible benefits of time spent with young children, which society at large doesn’t pay much attention to. I wonder if, in the fight to be seen as people who do work hard all day long and want to be recognized by society for it, we have also raised the bar on our own expectations of ourselves and each other to an unreasonably high level.
I’ll be interested to hear what others think about this topic. Whatever the reasons for it, it’s concerning to me that so many moms worry that we aren’t “cut out” to be moms, that maybe we haven’t got what it takes to do the job “right”. Wouldn’t it be a relief if more of us could enjoy the early years with our kids, worry less about what we’re doing wrong, and revel in the knowledge that this is one “job” that doesn’t include a nagging boss? We’d have so much more energy left over for ourselves, our partners, our friends, and our communities.
Because the truth is, children all over the world have been raised quite well, even without professional moms. What do you think?