REFRAMING MOTHERHOOD: As we continue with our MamaBlogger365 initiative, we welcome leading Feminist Mom, Dr. Amber Kinser to continue her ‘Thursdays with *Dr Mama* series. Each day of the year in 2011, 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.
One of my favorite reads is featured in New York Times Magazine. Written by Randy Cohen and called “The Ethicist,” this weekly piece is a favorite intellectual exercise that my partner and I share, usually on long trips. He saves the column throughout the year until we hit the road for one reason or another. He’ll read the featured ethical questions asked by Cohen’s readers, and we will volley responses to the question to determine the most ethical course of action for the reader. We’ll then check our responses against those of The Ethicist and discuss whether or not we agree with his conclusions. One of our recent reads was written in the spirit of Yom Kippur, a solemn day of atonement that follows Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. In it, and in keeping with the Jewish tradition for Yom Kippur, he worked to atone for his errors from the previous year, by writing about where he may have made some mistakes in his column or offered guidance that, in retrospect, may have been misguided. In the spirit of this courageous effort, I want to write in this first month of 2011 about some choices of mine that I think may have been mistaken or misguided, in an effort to confess my fallibility as a mother and as a person, and to direct some of my choices this year. This week I write about food.
I was inappropriately invested in food and meals. I don’t mean here that I ate too much or in unhealthy ways, though I did that too, besides I explore that a little bit later in the month. What I mean is that I pretty much demand the right to not be singularly focused on meal preparations for all my family members, and this works well for me by giving myself permission to spend my time and energies in ways that nourish me. Sometimes I am personally and spiritually nourished by cooking and meals and sometimes I’m just bothered by it. My error I think, and something I’m working on this year, is that I want my family members to be disinvested enough in my directing the meals so that when I don’t cook—which can sometimes be a week-long stretch during which we do take-out or drive-thru or everyone fends for themselves in the kitchen—they’re all OK with that and not missing the fusion of affection and home cooking. But when I am focused on food preps, I expect that folks are invested enough that they have not eaten a big or a late lunch, have not made other dinner plans, are in the mood for something ‘traditional’ when I’m cooking that way or for something ‘new and different’ when I’m cooking that. In short, it matters a great deal to me whether they love it and eat a bunch of it. And at one level of course this makes sense, given all the effort to find recipes and plan (which I typically enjoy very much) and to shop and cook (which I have shifting feelings about). So for all the effort, needless to say and reasonably so, I’d like the payback of appreciation. My error I think is to equate being valued as a mother with how heartily my family eats my food and, perhaps more importantly, to measure my own sense of maternal ‘worth’ by the spoonfuls they take of it.
This method of assessing ‘value’ and ‘worth,’ or perhaps any assessment of these in motherhood, is quite tricky for everybody. Obviously it falls into socio-cultural traps of demanding that mothers ‘measure up’ in ways that we do not demand of fathers; it positions my sense of worth in the hands of others rather than in myself; it ensures that I am so focused on pleasing everyone through meal activity that I have time and energy for neither any other kind of activity nor for detaching myself from pleasing everyone. It also assumes that a given night’s lack of enthusiasm about the meal is a statement about me, instead of about a host of other variables in each family members’ day and tastebuds. I am reminded here of one absurd statement that used to be on the evaluation form that college students at my university fill out at the end of the semester when they are asked to evaluate their course and instructor; students would mark ‘strongly agree,’ ‘agree,’ ‘disagree,’ or ‘strongly disagree’ to a list of statements. CONTINUED