I am no longer just a woman anymore. I am a mother. And that will be my defining descriptor from now on. I am a mom before I am anything else. And as much as I honor this new identity, I am also disillusioned by how modern society has defined and condensed my role. I know what you are thinking. "Here we go again. Another mom complaining about being a mom while telling me what kind of mom I should be." But that is exactly what I hate. How mothering has been reduced to formulas, anecdotes, and sound bites, and any viewpoint that comes from a woman's mouth is immediately construed as bitching.
The pressures on women when it comes to mothering are tremendous. She has her biological clock to contend with, whether or not she will have a natural birth, will she choose to breastfeed, and if yes, will she subject the public to glimpses of the top of her areola in the process? Will she work and therefore neglect her baby to pursue her own selfish aspirations? Or will she become a stay-at-home mom who smothers her kids with excessive love and permissiveness? Will she feed her child organic cookies made from bark and local cacao crumbles, and with what percentage of cacao? Will she "lean in", or will she be a Tiger Mom who knows enough French not to pick up her baby every time it cries? Most importantly, will she understand that everything she does is wrong no matter what her decisions because there will always be the next book/article/blog that contradicts the last?
Mothering is an intense undertaking, but women have been doing it for tens of thousands of years, so one would think that we would have gotten the hang of it by now. But it seems as if we have never doubted ourselves more. And perhaps that is because of our globalized existence. There is a new comprehension of the variety of approaches when it comes to parenting. As an American mom I read books about how mothers raise their kids in the Sub-Saharan African desert as if their strategies should apply to my life. In the past women did what their mothers did because culture was more homogeneous and we had less exposure to different methods. We are now free to choose among a variety of parenting styles. I myself have even considered for my daughter the classic formula "raised by pack of wolves."
I am part of a new generation of moms that has access to endless and often contradictory advice about mothering, and that feeds a compulsion to pursue every angle in a desperate search for the one that brings the greatest sense of having done the right thing. And of course we are hungry for information. It is common to feel isolated and alone in this process, so we seek the criteria of "experts" and assume following their strategy will guarantee success. We crave conversation to deal with our insecurity and doubt, but the consequence is inevitably comparison. "Oh, she is the kind of Mom who whispers in her baby's ear so it poops golden pellets into her hand -- I must be doing everything wrong because my 7-week-old is still in diapers." Or you read on your Facebook feed how a Mongolian mother breastfed her daughter until she was 9 and wonder if you are "mom enough."
We look for guidance on how to parent because we care about our kids and there is no recipe for raising them. Yet no matter how many books we read or strategies we try, we will forever feel the existential angst of "am I making the best choices for my child?"
And the answer to that question is... no. Not all the time. Because no matter how hard you try, your kid is going to have problems, and some of those problems will be because of how you raised them.
We need to admit this to ourselves and accept it. Think of your own parents -- do you love them? Probably. Do you blame them for parts of your personality you don't like? I bet you do. It is impossible to anticipate what your kids are going to resent you for. You could give them everything, and they could feel like they had too many allowances and therefore can't appreciate anything. Or you can be strict and have many rules to prepare them for a life with boundaries, and they could feel like you deprived them. The ways you think you screw up the most might be exactly what makes your kids feel the strongest, and the aspects you try the hardest at might be where they feel most weak. There is no guarantee and you can't predict the future outcomes of your efforts.
I don't think we need more handbooks on how to mother. I think we need to start acknowledging that the whole process of parenting is a philosophical journey that you and your child embark on together. Raising another human is an immense responsibility, but rather than focusing on how to be the perfect mother, our attention needs to be directed towards our own self-reflection and teaching our children those same skills -- to think critically about behavior and analyze their upbringing so they can identify their conditioning and not feel victimized by it.
As my daughter grows from a child into an adult, I have to be ready for her to tell me how I may have hurt her. I need to be open enough to learn about who I am through her eyes. As she matures I must as well. Just as I demand her respect, I also need to show it. And part of that is taking her understanding of me seriously. To be flexible enough to face the truth of my impact on her, and realize that maybe at times I need to reexamine my mothering. But not because I feel insecure about some trend in parenting I think I should be implementing -- but because of real life moments. I know there are flaws in my mothering, of course there are, but I can't fear or deny them. I don't have the ridiculous expectation of doing everything right. My only goal is to raise a person I want to be friends with for the rest of my life, and who feels the same about me.