I’ve been asking moms I know what they’d like for Mother’s Day. I’m getting answers like “silence” and “sleep” or to “watch old movies all day”. It’s interesting that so much of what we want, bearing in mind that it’s all a big tongue-in-cheek, is, ironically, a break from momming. Not so much appreciation, but an actual break, a day on which the buck does not stop with us, when yard work and homework is done, when we are not getting up to make breakfast or cleaning it up, a day when we can stop thinking about the next thing on the agenda long enough just to be.
It’s not that we don’t’ love our kids or being mothers. It’s just that mothering has become such an all-encompassing thing. It’s especially odd when you stop to consider that not so long it was being a good wife that mattered most. Women of the Mad Men era were expected to channel their aspirations through their husbands not their kids. And the kids? They were free to go outside on their own and to play “spaceman” with dry cleaning bags.
Things seem better, and they are in many ways, but perhaps still not quite right. I recently reviewed A Strange Stirring, Stephanie Coontz’s new book about the Feminine Mystique. The book is well worth a read, though I’m not sure I’d foist Betty Freidan’s now very dated book on anyone today. The point that comes across again in again in reading about women’s lives in that era, was how confusing and disconcerting things were for them. The vast majority of women had internalized the idea that their own aspirations should be channeled into their marriage. They really did want to be wives and housekeepers par excellence so much it caused them to question their own sanity when it wasn’t enough.
Are we doing something similar today? It seems to me that if we could choose – really choose how we wanted to live, we’d try to organize things so that we wouldn’t’ need a break from momming. Surely it should be possible for parenthood and motherhood especially to be a little more relaxing, a little less about to-do lists and a little more about our relationships.