I just finished a great read: Bye, Bye Black Sheep by Ayelet Waldman (2006, Berkeley Publishing Group). She writes “Mommy Track” murder mysteries where the main character solves mysteries in between diaper changes and carpool rides. Somehow I identify.
Read it, because it’s great. But I’m going to use it as a springboard to talk about something else: parental craziness. Here’s a little excerpt.
“Juliet, now you’re talking like one of those neurotic, crazy mothers. Like that one who wanted to LoJack her kid. That’s not you.”
“But it is. It is me. I’m just like that LoJack nut. I am a LoJack nut! I’m just as worried that something terrible will happen to one of them as she is. I’m just as worried that Isaac will drink bleach, or get hit by a car, or that Ruby will get leukemia, or that they’ll become retarded from mercury poisoning because they eat canned tuna. I’m terrified that Sadie will fall off her changing table for the rest of her life. I’m just as crazy as the rest of the moms — the only difference is that I do a better job of faking it.” (p. 113)
Freaking out over everyday dangers – that is me and every single other mom I know.
Why does it happen? Maybe because everybody is telling us things like, “You LEFT your child in the CAR when you went into the gas station? Don’t you know what MIGHT HAPPEN if you leave your child IN THE CAR????” If we’re crazy it’s because the world is telling us to be. But wait, there’s more. This is the part that I love.
(Although the plot deals with women from many walks of life, here she’s talking specifically about women trained for professional careers who have left those careers for kids – something else I really identify with.)
“Add to these factors educated and competent mothers trained for professions they no longer practice, who have turned aside from the futures they once expected for themselves to focus their attention and ambition solely on their children. These children are valuable beyond measure, because we’ve sacrificed ourselves for them and to them. We now understand that we are as able and skilled as men, that we can do the work of the marketplace as well as they can, but we have left that work to raise these children, not because we have to–most of us–but because we want to. These children must be worth our sacrifice, they must be extraordinary, and they must be safe. We cannot risk the possibility of anything happening to the precious focus of our lives.
“For those mothers who have not willingly paid the professional price, guilt provides the same motivating force. It ratchets up the value of their children so that harm to them is intolerable, and all too easily imagined.” (pp 189-190)
I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but that’s it exactly.
Of course I don’t love my kids any more because I left a career to care for them. But I get what she’s saying about the price thing. My self-worth, sense of confidence, when most of my work is either childcare or some other unpaid pursuit, in a culture that expects success in the marketplace, is, well, complicated.
To put it another way, we went to school for twelve or sixteen or twenty years and worked our butts off to be good at some pursuit. We were told to give it one hundred percent and then we went in to jobs and were asked to work overtime. And then we left the workforce and are expected to raise kids. (Or didn’t leave the workplace but are expected to do the same things for their kids.) What are we going to do? Give it one hundred percent, work overtime.
And worry overtime.
Not only about our children’s safety, but about their physical, mental, and emotional health, their intellectual growth, their academics, and so on.
So the next time you see a parent with unrealistic expectations for their child or concerns that seem blown way out of proportion, try not to be too judgmental. We’re that way for a reason.