One of my favorite theorists, Bell Hooks, writes: “I came to theory because I was hurting—the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend—to grasp what was happening around me” (“Theory as Liberatory Practice” 1994).
I’ve also sought out theory, turning to feminist theories of motherhood after I had my first child. My new social role as a mother completely floored me. I went from being a “me” to being a “we.” In future posts I’ll write about some of the theories that were helpful, like learning about the huge economic costs of becoming a mother in Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood.
The word “theory” often makes people think of something dry, abstract, or untested. My students often confess that they are afraid of theory. They’re afraid that they might feel stupid if they don’t understand it. Part of my job as a women’s studies professor is to introduce people to the idea that we can turn to theory to help explain the world around us. If you’re interested in how, why, and when societies became the way they are, then you’re interested in theory. If you’re interested in how social change can happen, you’re interested in theory.
Theory can come in many forms, including memoirs, autobiographies, and blog posts. These were the forms of “theory” or related to trying to understand what it means to be a mother that were the most helpful to me. Reading “momoirs” like Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year let me know I wasn’t alone. The magazine Brain Child gave me window into the complexities of women’s experiences in mothering.
Alice Walker’s essay “One Child of One’s Own,” discusses her mother’s struggles as an uneducated African American woman with a large family in the 1940s, and Walker’s own journey to write and be a professional woman and mother her daughter Rebecca.
These have been some of the narratives that have been the most important to me. What about you? What are some of favorite writings of other mothers, either in memoirs or in blogs (like one of my favorites, Lesbian Dad)?
BIO: Jocelyn Fenton Stitt an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at Minnesota State:, and sits on the committee for the upcoming M.O.M. Conferenceand MAMA Expo in NYC. She has co-authored numerous books, including Mothers Who Deliver. You can contact her at Jocelyn.firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional Reading: Alice Walker
‘How To Be Comfortable With The Parent You Are’
It’s easy, as a new parent, or even as an old (or should I say “less new”) parent to be overwhelmed by the parenting rules and lists and guides and chronicles and books and classes all around us. When my first child was nine weeks old, we interviewed a nanny, who asked us what our parenting philosophy was. I ad-libbed for bit, and then finally had to ask her what exactly she meant. My 23 year old nanny candidate then patiently gave me an overview of “Attachment” Parenting versus “Babywise” Parenting, and I had to admit that we were more “by the seat of our pants” parenting. Of course I had opinions about parenting, anyone over the age of seven probably does, and my husband and I had discussed what values we wanted to instill in our children, and how to go about doing so. But I didn’t know that there were defined parenting philosophies, and that I might be expected to have one. And I found this just a little bit intimidating. My son was nine weeks old and I was already behind on my homework.
During his first six months, I read several parenting books touting different philosophies and methods, trying unsuccessfully to find the one that exactly suited our family. I would invariably end up frustrated when I tried to impose one system or another – usually something to do with getting my angel to go to sleep without destroying my eardrums and my sanity. The latest philosophy, system, or set of rules I attempted to follow, which seemed so entirely rational and inoffensive when it was words on a page next to a picture of a peaceful sleeping infant (oh, for that infant to be mine, I would breathe reverently) inevitably failed when actually faced with a real child.
While there is certainly useful information to be found in every parenting book (excellent swaddling tips, how to properly warm a baby bottle, etc…), I failed each time I tried to implement one of the “systems” recommended. They left me feeling beaten down and berated. You’re doing it wrong, they whispered as I flipped through the pages while breastfeeding for the twelfth time in the last four hours. If you don’t do what I say, your child will be emotionally distant, unable to form meaningful relationships, and will never, ever be able to tie his shoes. And to add flavour to my misery, the next book would tell me to do the opposite, unless I wanted to end up with a college student unable to take a nap without his mommy, or eat his dinner without applause. But, but…I appealed to the pages…how do I know which one of you is RIGHT? Being a strict rule follower (the only time I’ve every truly rebelled against my Canadian-lefty-intellectual-hippie-dippy-west-coast-basically-agnostic-but-sometimes-Jewish-all-inclusive family was when I married a Republican from New York – really, what else did they give me to rebel against?) it hurts my head when I can’t apply the rules exactly.
It wasn’t until late into my son’s first year that I realized something stunning. Something that allowed me to take a deep breath and toss all of the offending books out the window (not really, of course we donated them. Or recycled them. or something equally environmentally pleasing). The authors of these books were all, like me, JUST GUESSING. There are, in fact, no rules. Just lots and lots of guesses of varying quality. And ultimately, while it’s great to listen to what people have to say, and educate myself as much as I can, beyond the few basic axioms about child rearing, which pretty much boil down to love them like crazy and do your best, it’s up to me. I can consider the useful suggestions offered by others, but I make the rules. No one else does. Mama is the boss.
BIO: Peryl Manning is a freelance writer and stay-at-home-mother to two small boys. She juggles her home and her boys, her writing and her volunteer work with varying degrees of success, and is convinced of only one certainty: Parenting is really, really challenging. Since being blindsided and overwhelmed, overjoyed and then at times underwhelmed by the whole business of motherhood, she has had a lot to say about it, and says some of it here. ’Parenting ad absurdum’ is now on twitter: @momadabsurdum. Should I be following you? Let me know! And if you would like to be on my highly classified secret double-lockdown mailing list to be advised of new posts, leave a note or send an email to email@example.com. http://blog.seattlepi.com/parentingadabsurdum/
Additional Reading. Wall Street Journal: Tiger Mother – Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
It’s already the end of January, and just 29 days ago we were thinking: I want to start this year off right. This will be the year: I lose weight, start exercising, eat better, reconnect with old friends, get a new job, etc. These are all great goals but often new resolutions become forgotten expectations, and we ignore the fact that perseverance is the most important ingredient when making lasting positive change in our lives. This year, let’s make a promise to ourselves to keep the MOM-mentum going and embrace our resolve as permanent and meaningful. Let’s keep the energy up! This year I will:
1. I will make myself a priority this year- I will learn to say No to others when I feel overwhelmed and stressed. I will say yes to my needs and wants. This year I will learn it’s ok to put myself first and take care of myself. This year I will learn that selfish isn’t always a bad word I realize that if I take care of myself, I will be there for others.
2. I will be grateful for what I have- I will take the time to pause and think about all I have. This isn’t about my material objects. This is about my abundance of love, warmth, comfort, care and empathy I receive on a daily basis. This year I will make room in my life for gratitude checks where I spend a few minutes each day thinking about all I have in this life and just being thankful I have my life.
3. I will pay it forward constantly – I will give more of myself everyday. I will inspire, help and empower others on a daily basis.
4. I will step out of my comfort zone this year – I will take risks, add variety and become more creative. This is the year I won’t be stale or stagnate. The word “Bored” will be removed from my word list this year.
5. This year I will be a great role model. This will make me a better parent, mentor, friend and educator. I will teach others by my actions.
6. This year I will become fully aware of my negative thoughts, comments and actions towards myself and others. I will make a conscious effort to be more positive and respectful of others and myself. I realize positive energy, actions and thoughts are all contagious.
7. This year will be the year of action plans. Not only will I set short and long term goal lists but action plans on how to get there. I will write down each detail of my list and follow each step. I will feel a sense of accomplishment because I have taken action.
8. This year I will live in the present. I will let the past be in the past because the past doesn’t equal the future. I will stop worrying about the future because it doesn’t exist. I will not waste my energy being stressed about something that hasn’t happened yet.
9. I will spend less time this year trying to control others and being perfect. Neither one is possible and even though I have known this for many years, I never listened. This year I vow to let go of my controlling issues and perfectionist traits and learn to enjoy life in it’s messy existence. I will learn to enjoy the unorganized, the messy and not planned life. I will realize at the end of each day – everything works itself out.
10. This year I will say Thank you to everyone I love not just on new years, birthdays and holidays. I will say Sorry when needed, thanks when it’s deserved and I love you just because I do.
11. This year I won’t try so hard to be something/someone I’m not. I will not keep up with the Jones, compare myself to celebrities or wish I was someone else. This year I will learn to spend time alone with myself. I will learn what my likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses, dreams and hobbies are. I will becomes fully aware of who I am. This year is the year of me!
12. This year I will let go of all the expectations of what could be or should be but instead just live my life. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our unrealistic expectations that we forget to just enjoy the life that is here right now. Our present life. Our present situations, environments and family. We forget to be clear and aware of our surroundings. the love, the warmth. The caring…the friendships..the affection…I forget to enjoy those simple things.
BIO: Diane Lang is an educator and Life Coach. Diane has dedicated her career to helping people turn their lives around and is now on a mission to help them develop a sustainable positive attitude that can actually turn one into an optimist, literally. A therapist and educator of Positive Psychology, she has seen that it can provide a strong foundation for finding great happiness and is gratified that it is becoming a mainstream method of treatment. As an expert in her fields of therapy, Diane has been featured in the Daily Record and Cookie Magazine, seen on NJ 12 TV and the national television program “Fox & Friends”. She has also participated in a reality based Internet show, ourprisoner.com, hosted Generation X-tinet and appeared in various educational videos. In addition Lang writes a bi-weekly column “The Balancing Act” at www.thealternativepress.com and sharing her expertise on parenting and living a positive lifestyle on The WTBQ Expat Show.
REFRAMING MOTHERHOOD: As we continue with our MamaBlogger365 we’ll be bringing you the voices of mothers from around the word! Please write us at MamazinaMagazine@gmail.com to participate. We ARE looking for more contributors.MamaBlogger365 initiative posted at M.O.M. here.
I was at the gym yesterday and was surprised by the judgments that I made of a fellow exerciser. The woman standing across from me was the very definition of the stereotypical stay at home mom, poor thing. She and others like her are the very reason that I have always been so resistant to holding that title.
Her clothes were mismatched, and she had clearly neglected removing a spot on her shirt from either a runny nose (presumably her child’s) or breakfast (probably her own). I think my condescension was visible as I looked at her and counted my blessings that I had on a new shirt and had put some thought into what I would wear that day, even to the gym.
Her hair was haphazardly thrown back into a pony -tail with a clearly-purchased-from-the-drugstore elastic headband to hold back her seemingly unkempt bangs. I fear that I felt a little “Holier than though” as I thought “I sure am glad I just had my hair done.”
Hanging out of her bag, I saw the key belonging to her dreadful minivan. “Sucker” I thought. “You’ve really given up all traces of things that you enjoy haven’t you?”
Yes, she was the very example of why I would not let myself become a stereotypical stay at home mom. You know, those women whose conversations cannot seem to leave sleep challenges and picky eaters, or even worse, gush corny sentiments about their oh-so-adorable-daughters first steps.
Not me, man. I am cool. I converse about international politics as though I know what I am talking about, and jam to Dave Matthews Band with my son. I only drive a minivan because it is practical, not because I want to, and I put on clothes,real clothes, every single day. I led a fairly adventurous and exciting life prior to having children and being a mom does not define me. No way.
She and I have nothing in common. She probably thinks being at home all day with out intelligent conversation is “cute”, and is likely even grateful for it. She probably has dinner waiting for her lucky son of a gun husband when he comes home from work, and greets him with a pleasant “Hello Dear, how was your day?”
My feelings of apathy toward this fellow exerciser grew a bit more sympathetic as I watched her struggle to walk a mere few miles on the tread mill. Poor thing.
Then, the strangest thing happened. She started copying me. I mean, as though we were six years old. Every single move I made, she did the same. I pushed the stop button, and so did she. I got off the tread –mill, and so did she. As I walked toward her she did the same. Finally, as I approached “her”, I realized what was coming; I nearly bumped into my own reflection. So I had become her after all. Or, she wasn’t who I thought she was.
Bio: Jennifer Andersen is excited to be involved with a project like M.O.M that will bring some visibility to the realities that mothers face. Then we may be able to start to define it, making it demanding of respect and awe. Jennifer lives outside of Boston, with her two children ages 1 and 3. You can find more of her musings and suggestions for making life easier at www.ponderingjane.com, Honest Musing on Family Living. www.jenniferandersen.com voice over artist.
Note from JR: Perhaps this little tale can remind us to ‘look in the mirror’ before we judge and try to expand our compassion towards all our sista-mothers!