The Motherhood Post I’ve Been Promising

I spent most of the first year of my older son’s life in a haze, trying to navigate between his overwhelming need, my overwhelming desire to be a good mom, postpartum depression, doctoral coursework, sleep deprivation, and social isolation. This form of life was so new to me, and at times so desolate, that it took a long time to notice that aspects of it were deeply, deeply familiar.

Not my altered mother body that looked like it belonged to someone else; nor the way I was now smilingly by firmly shut out of mix-gender grown-up conversation, to be addressed only later, as an afterthought, with “And how is the baby doing?”; nor the intrusive sing-song-voice questions from strangers. Those were bizarre, unexpected and disorienting.

What felt familiar, though – as I eventually realized — was the combination of vast privilege, intense and anxious self-scrutiny, and utter lack of self-regard that I found now situated my life. Here, specifically, is how it finally dawned on me, one day when my son was out of infancy and I’d just come back from a Weight Watchers meeting. “Oh!” I thought. “Being a good mother is like dieting!”

At the time, I didn’t consider that in a “Holy shit, that just goes to show how they’re both ridiculous and futile enterprises!” I thought that I could marshall my discipline from dieting into discipline for good motherhood. But since I started giving up on both fantasies – the fantasy of being an acceptably-good mother and the fantasy of being an acceptably-pretty girl/woman – I’ve though a lot about how far the similarities really extend, and here’s what I’ve got so far:

First, there’s the fact that multiple oppressions help define the scope of an already-oppressively-gendered competition. The dominant culture’s possibilities for “pretty enough woman” and the dominant culture’s possibilities for “good enough mother,” are both fraught with racist, heterosexist, classist, and ableist assumptions. By the time the serious competition starts, many people are already ruled out and told, “You might as well not try.”

But if you are one who’s made it past the audition round – as I am, as a white moneyed able-bodied in-betweenie – then there are the methods, the expert books, the products to get you from “before” to “after”, the results-not-typical testimonies from people for whom a certain program worked, the manufacturing of insecurities so you’ll buy this book or that product.

And, of course, the self-denial made into virtue, where you get more applause and affirmation the more you sacrifice. Which is not to say the self-sacrifice should ever – EVER – make you truly unhappy. You can gripe a bit, sure, but when pressed you may only say how fulfilled and happy you feel at all the virtuous sacrifices you are making for what’s best.

There’s also an assumption that “responsible” eating/parenting requires retention of vast stores of information about every little situation, every bite, every nutrient, every variable that puts your body or your child closer to what’s best. What, you DIDN’T know that mustard has X points / that blueberries are a super food / that that toy was recalled last month / that Montessori education has the following positive outcomes / that the latest IOM or BMJ study says such-and-such / that it’s bad to be too hovering / that it’s bad to be too inattentive / that carbs are good now? / that carbs are still bad? What are you, selfish? Or just stupid and benighted, one of those sheeple who just parents/eats unthinkingly with no connoisseurship, health-consciousness, or taste?

Moreover, all those little details have to coalesce into a Special Way of Doing Things. An eating program, a “healthy lifestyle,” a parenting philosophy. Nothing can work in practice if it doesn’t work in theory, because it’s the theory that distinguishes you from those poor slobs who just do whatever they want. You certainly can’t just eat on the fly, enjoying what tastes good and what makes you feel good. You have to have a special way you eat that you tell people about with a convert’s zeal. And you certainly can’t just parent on the fly. You have to have even the smallest decision be part of a consistent parenting ethic more substantial than “It was what happened to work right then, for me. For you it might be different.”

And oh God, the way we talk to each other when we’re trying to achieve the ideal. All the “I was bads” and “I did X even though I know I’m supposed to do Y” and “Help me keep my female relatives from sabotaging my plan!” and “My problem is that I just…”

And finally – and I’ve done this, and I hope we can help each other avoid doing this in the comments – there’s the fact that strangers will snicker into their sleeves at how trivial such concerns are. Look at these silly women, working themselves into a dither about calorie counts and organic sleepers. Of course, it’s also those judging strangers who are all too happy to blame you for your selfish eating/parenting, at times when your mere presence — whether as a mother of a child they find insufficiently silent and adorable; or as the possessor of a body they find insufficiently, um, silent and adorable -– gives them an ookie feeling.

Forgive me, I’ve been leading seminars and can’t help but throw out some discussion questions. What do you make of this? Do you see these similarities too, or am I overreaching, pulling a Roiphe, saying “Here’s my master theory for everything based on the experiences of me and my six friends!”? Have I and my mothering cohort been so formed by weight loss that we inevitably bring it to bear upon other areas of embodied life? Or is it the case that dieting, and self-effacing competitive mothering are both instances of some more general artifice that frames a certain sector of privileged women? Is there a way to talk about this that isn’t all WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE POOR MONEYED WHITE GIRLS?!?! What are your perspectives — those who are mothers and those who aren’t, those who get entered in the pageant and those who don’t — on self-effacing hypervigilant motherhood and dieting?

134 thoughts on “The Motherhood Post I’ve Been Promising”

  1. And those of us who opt out of the whole mess, FA or Childless-by-choice, get slammed as being lazy, selfish, unnatural, and WRONG… I think you’re on to something here.

  2. I think you’re right about the similarities, though I only have experience with dieting, not with being a mom. I think that parenting and dieting are both aspects of the impossible and inherently contradictory expectations placed on women. You must do everything perfectly all the time–eat the right foods, have the right job, do the right things for your kids (including when you have them and how many)–while looking fabulous, and taking perfect care of everyone around you the whole time. And while doing all these perfect things, you must take perfect care of yourself by getting enough rest and exercise and fun.

    Which is not to say that guys are exempt from the dieting trap, though I don’t think it hits them as hard. Culturally, they seem to be pretty well exempted from the parenting trap, though. (Lots of people have written about the double standard that if a guy plays catch or changes a diaper, he can be Dad of the Year, while a mom who’s busting her ass is still Doing Something Wrong.)

  3. Here’s what I see in my friends who are parents, and my friends who are dieting (that, um, pretty much encompasses every woman I know, so I’m a expert, right?):

    The trivial day to day concerns are how the patriarchy keeps you where they want you, like a million tiny brad nails tacking you down all over – a few are small enough to ignore, but the steady hammering is almost impossible to break free of.

    The people that have bought into their roles (because they are rewarded for conforming, and/or because they have no other choice, so they’ve convinced themselves they can’t change anything) will try to get you to conform, either out of disapproval or one-upmanship (when you don’t get the reward you seek, you get artifical boosts by appearing more perfect than other women). They believe that they are terrible people who, if only they follow every single instruction to the letter, will magically become the happy contented people societal pressure promised.

    But here’s where they get you – there is no one way, but millions, and everyone will tell you you’re doing it wrong. This induces a constant low-grade anxiety that saps our energy and stops us from ever saying “wait a minute – this is bullshit”.

    And, if we are lucky enough to be able to break free, society will do anything in its power to bring us back into the conformity fold – much like an ex telling us we’ll never be happy without them.

    This applies to all women, just in different ways. Women of Colour labour under the “welfare queen” stigma, where far from being expected to be perfect, they have to work three times as hard to be considered anything but a crappy mother – imagine everyone expecting you to fail! Perfect shining motherhood does deem to be a white moneyed thing.

    It is my hope that we reach a point where we really understand that the diet and motherhood industries depend upon making us feel bad, and that the “perfect” carrot that they dangle so tantalizingly will always be out of our reach, because whatever we do, the goal posts will be moved.

    Rebellion, I say. :)

  4. And maybe that a media diet is a good way to approach either.

    Reading sites like Babble or mainstream media (Time, etc) coverage of parenting makes _me_ feel anxious, stressed, and not good enough, and I’m nulliparous and single.

  5. Oh yes indeed.

    “Follow course of action X, get result Y. What do you mean, you didn’t get result Y? Well, then, you must have done something wrong. Keep at it. Do more X. Wait, what now? You don’t want to get result Y? Or it would be fine if it happened, but you don’t care that much? Why not? Y is the most important thing ever! And what’s that? You just don’t want to do X? You would if you were any sort of responsible adult. You would, because you would want result Y, which you get from doing X.”

    Brought to you by the Council on Motherhood, Food, and Exercise, which would like to remind you that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong.

  6. I try not to worry about what everyone else thinks of me as a person, woman, and mother. It’s very difficult for me to shake this bad habit though. It especially makes me angry at myself when I realize that, when I worry about what I look like, especially how fat I am, and worry about what my neighbors and everyone else thinks of me, I’m giving in to the power of the oppressive patriarchal system. It makes me feel a little better to read that others are going through something similar. Thank you all.

  7. Great post, A Sarah. And yes, I think that aspects of diet culture (although when grouped together maybe we should call it achievement culture? insecurity culture? lifestyle program culture?) creep into other aspects of our lives. I’m writing my dissertation right now and it seems like EVERYONE I know in grad school–be they students or professors–is following some kind of “program.” Whether it’s the “Dissertation in 15-minutes-a-day Program,” or the “Get up at 4:30 and write until breakfast program,” or the “Always have three projects (articles, conference papers) in the works program” or a “This is my five-year plan” program. It is ENDLESS, and alot of people are convinced that this is the Only Way for you to have an Academic Career (TM).

    And conveniently, these programs usually hew to a kind of Puritan work ethic: rise early, work constantly, don’t give into the temptation to relax. If you have free time, you’re doing it wrong. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel some pressure from the gender-front to prove that I’m serious about my career, not one of those lazy wominz who get pregnant and become 70% less likely to earn tenure (sarcasm).

  8. Yes!!! What a perfect analogy! I think that the cult of motherhood and today’s dieting culture are seeking the same result- the complete nullification of women. It’s interesting to me that “success” (as defined by both diet books and parenting manuals) is measured by how little emotional and physical space a woman can occupy. If she diets “correctly”, her body all but disappears. If she parents in the self-sacrificing style demanded by popular culture, she disappears emotionally.
    It’s all part of the same tired plot to keep women’s energies focused on self-immolation. God forbid we should ever shift our eyes from the consumer maelstrom and realize what a crock it all is! Seriously, who would buy the Snackwell’s cookies and Einstein toys? The economy would never recover from the collapse…

  9. Oh A Sarah, that was BEAUTIFUL!!!

    This is so spot on. I feel like a one-note orchestra when I comment on the inappropriateness of criticizing women for putting their children on a diet, but I can’t stop. I think you have explained much better what I’ve tried to get at — that the problem isn’t that women are doing the wrong thing. The problem is that people think it’s okay to get up in women’s business.

    The societal expectations that you will raise your children (or eat) according to a prescribed agenda, and that following this agenda will lead to perfect kids (or figure), and that any failure to achieve perfect kids (or figure) indicates a personal failing because you have obviously not followed the prescribed agenda. Both the dieting and parenting industries thrive on guilt and the fact that there is no actual agenda that will lead to perfect kids or figures because all people are born different, perfect is in the eye of the beholder, and shit happens.

    We need a culture that assumes women are intelligent enough to be treated like adults and offers assistance when those adults seek it but doesn’t shout it from every magazine article, sit-com, and public policy document.

  10. Ashley-you’re onto something about the Puritan work ethic. though I’d use patriarchy rather than insecurity culture, because while it can be be applied to men, there is something very gendered about it-women have to be more and do more and are more likely to be called wrong. Is that an essential part of it? I don’t know

  11. A Sarah, I do see similarities between our society’s hyper-moral judgment of parenting and weight loss practices. You’ve made a brilliant comparison.

    Child rearing and body size are both venues where we have less control than we’d like. They’re also issues on which people are particularly sensitive. Insecure people who enjoy making others feel like shit instinctively go for these topics.

  12. There’s heavy-duty intersection between dieting and motherhood idealism, too.

    It starts in pregnancy, with all the emphasis on avoiding weight gain and eating “correctly” (for which there are several widely divergent definitions). Any and all pregnancy complications are ascribed to your failures in that department. If you miscarried, it’s because you ate deli meats, or your child’s birth defect is because you didn’t take your vitamins, or you have gestational diabetes because you can’t quit snarfing ice cream, or your child is born prematurely because you couldn’t gain enough weight due to nausea… it’s all your fault, and of course none of it would ever have happened if you just ate properly.

    Then, once you’ve given birth, a vital part of being The Good Mommy is getting your pre-baby body back. God forbid your spouse get stuck with a fat wife, just because you gave birth! Of course, you must also breastfeed, because just think how much weight you’ll lose, and it’ll keep your kid from getting fat too (having a fat kid is the ultimate parenting failure). You should make your own baby food — bonus points if you grow it yourself — and never expose your children to HFCS or red dye #3 or froot Loops or trans fats or non-organic anything. Bad enough you’re stuffing your own face with Twinkies. but THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

  13. nor the way I was now smilingly by firmly shut out of mix-gender grown-up conversation, to be addressed only later, as an afterthought, with “And how is the baby doing?”

    Ouch. I see my own behavior in this statement.

    I can offer an explanation, which in no way should be taken to be an excuse: with the vast majority of my friends who have had babies, any attempt to have a conversation about anything other than the baby was firmly steered back on to the topic of said baby. And while yes, I DO want to hear about the baby because they are my friends and their children are beyond important to them so they are important to me, I also want to talk about other things. Even with them.

    Now I’m wondering how many women were desperate to talk about something else but my own experiences got in the way of what could have been a great conversation for both of us.

    And how the pressures of motherhood might be telling them “you can’t talk about anything but the baby because otherwise you’re a terrible mother!” It’s insidious, isn’t it? And I’ll be looking out for advice or suggestions because you know, life is too short to miss out on great conversations for anyone.

  14. kb, I was channeling Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, where he suggests that a capitalist/Christian society functions on continual labor and self-abnegation, where making money through enterprise is viewed as an independent virtue while one is never allowed to sit back and relish the fruits of that labor. There are alot of problems with his model, and he doesn’t really deal with the way in which combining this with a patriarchal culture splits and genders these two seemingly contrary values: men are in charge of making the money, women are in charge of the self-abnegation (i.e. maintenance of morality in a decadent culture).

    That is to say, that I think there is a pervasive notion about the nature of “work” in our culture (work on oneself, work in one’s home, work in one’s job) in which heroic effort in any particular area is a transcendent virtue.

    Ok, I’m doing a shitty job of explaining it, but Paul Campos really gets at the relationship between the Protestant Work Ethic and diet culture in The Obesity Myth.

  15. Well, I agree with you that *society’s* view of what makes an “acceptably-good mother” or “good enough mother” is unrealistically high for many aspects of parenting (though very low in certain other aspects).

    But I hope you’re not suggesting there’s no such thing as unacceptable or not-good-enough parenting?

    Because there is. And sometimes it is not quite so glaringly obvious as, say, being a child molester.

    Personally, I would prefer not to have any such idea as a “not good enough” body shape or body size or anything having to do with my body’s appearance.

    But when it comes to parenting, yeah, some parents are not good enough. Mine weren’t.

    Actually, if you judge them by those standards of “how much work you do, how much you sacrifice, how much you research what’s best and insist on applying it, how careful you are about every concrete detail”–you know, that whole SuperParent schtick that makes so many mothers feel perpetually guilty–then they were better parents than most.

    But those standards don’t work. Because despite how careful and devoted and self-sacrificing my parents were, they were still awful, awful parents. My mother abused me for years while my father pretended she wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was subtle abuse (I won’t go into details) but it was no less devastating.

    Anyhow, I very much agree with you when you say “The dominant culture’s possibilities for “pretty enough woman” and the dominant culture’s possibilities for “good enough mother,” are both fraught with racist, heterosexist, classist, and ableist assumptions.”

  16. @ Laura M – You make a lot of good points, and it reminds me strongly of something I read in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis that I’ve been ruminating on a lot lately.

    “The regime had understood that one person leaving her house while asking herself ‘are my trousers long enough?’ ‘Is my veil in place?’ ‘Can my makeup be seen?’ no longer asks herself ‘Where is my freedom of thought?’ ‘Where is my freedom of speech?’ ‘My life, is it livable?’ ”

    Obviously, the example she’s talking about is exclusive to living in Iran, which is very different from what we’re dealing with in the US. But I think the principle of oppression remains the same. If you’re too busy thinking about how to be the perfect mother/size, then you’re just where they (society? patriarchal leaders?) want you.

    I rebel by choosing a profession that very few people can aspire to or even consider possible, and yet I’m simply going to trade one set of rules for another. One of the things I’ve been thinking on very strongly lately is how I’m going to deal with the opera world and my being fat (especially since the opera world has been spending the last ten years aligning itself with the societal standards of beauty, where it used to resist them) and not compromise what I want to do and be, while also not compromising who I am physically and emotionally. This is reinforced by the several times I’ve had various teachers attempt to sit me down and talk about my weight.

    I can’t really comment on motherhood itself, as I’m CFBC, but I think the comparison to dieting is apt. I know that I’ve been a lot more forgiving of mothers recently, since considering all the implications of feminism and being a woman in modern society, and how difficult it can sometimes be just to be yourself, let alone be a loving mother/sister/spouse, with all those societal expectations bearing down on you constantly. x.x This connects to my recent awakening into FA, and beginning to accept myself. It’s so much easier to be forgiving of others when you’re forgiving yourself.

  17. I’m not a mother, but I am the possessor of a body they find insufficiently, um, silent and adorable and I definitely feel judged for eating too much and not exercising enough. Plus some of the authority figures at work think that intelligence=having a sufficiently adorable body, so my work sometimes gets judged harshly in a way it wouldn’t be if I had that adorable body.

  18. Yeah, I’m not thinking about the poor moneyed white girls at all – for most of this past century, moneyed white girls handed their babies over to the nanny and went out for cocktails with their husbands, because THAT was the primary relationship – husband and society. It’s really only been in the past … well, I’d say thirty years, since an industry sprang up to trouble mothers/preach a solution in North America. I’m not talking about the major worries, about children dying or getting terribly ill – those are real, although currently inflated, fears that have been with us since the dawn of time. I’m talking about the effect of the mother’s behaviour on the child’s potential, about the responsibility of the mother to coax and bully her children to their fullest potential – that’s pretty much new.

    I am lucky in that I have a group of friends who all have quite different approaches to motherhood, so I always have these models before me as I raise my own two girls. I have learned that you really shouldn’t take every parenting course there is, because one of my friends did that and ended up with a child who would take a dead snake into a friend’s car, because the latest parenting course said that if a child knows what they want, you should let them have it . I have also learned that mothers do sometimes scream at both their kids and their partners, because sometimes kids and partners do things that deserve some screaming-over.
    I am a white woman with kids and anxiety about the raising of those kids – I am the stereotype (without the money, because I am also a stay-at-home-mom) and I don’t give a crap about living up to, or down to, that stereotype. I didn’t invent the paradigm, and I’m not particularly interested in fulfilling or destroying it – the template exists, and I exist, but in the end, for me, it’s more about whether I’m enjoying my life – and whether I am carrying out my occupation sustainably. Have I started this schoolyear in a way that I can sustain for the next ten months, without curling up in the easy chair and sobbing my way through April, May, and June? Hmmm – looks good so far. I guess I take kind of an FA stand on motherhood – forget perfection, do what feels right, dress fabulously whenever possible.

  19. @HiddenTohru:

    I was just watching Persepolis the other day, which is probably why it was in the forefront of my mind. :) A culture controls its populace by distracting them – the Roman’s “Bread and Circuses” being one way – and nothing distracts in a capitalist society better than keeping up with the Joneses (metaphorically).

    The diet industry is in the business of profit, not success. Mothering is the accumulation of the latest thing that will help baby grow up to be a genius – look at all the special (and expensive) private tutoring services, including day-care tutoring!

    Disapproval is a chain our peers wind around us, but patricarchy gave them the chains.

  20. 100% responsibility and no control. this is how i described to my mother how i feel about parenthood, and why i dont think it sounds like such a great idea, and why i dont want kids. she said “thats exactly what its like”. you are absolutely accountable for everything bad that happens *to* your kids, or is done *by* your kids. but theres no way you can control any of it. its like getting into a car and taking full responsibility for everything that happens to yourself and your passengers, but the car drives itself and you cant stop it until IT wants to be stopped. sounds horrible to me.

    now that you mention it….i would say that exactly describes womens relationship to their bodies, as well. we are learning more and more about hormones and gut bacteria influencing weight for example. not to mention the fact that we are stressed, have no leisure time, are sleep deprived, make less money than our male counterparts. (you need money and leisure time to work out). oh, and “genetics.” yet we are expected to shoulder the blame when we cant “control” our weight.

    i like making connections, and i think you have made one here. well done.

  21. I think this is right on. Both situations–overwhelming pressure to diet/exercise according to the perfect set of rules and to mother in a similarly militant way–can be addressed transformatively by approaching at a 90-degree angle. If instead of seeking out and flailing ourselves into following all these rules we focus on the process, are attentive (not hyper-disciplined and -vigilant!) to the body’s hunger and desire to move or the kid’s development, we have the chance to both enjoy life as it passes.

    In both situations, if we return our trust and acceptance to the relationship we’re in, whether to our own bodies or our kids, we are actually able to grow without all the panic and self-hatred.

    I am not making this out of whole cloth–I just moved to Berkeley and in my copious amounts of free time (until I make new friends), I’ve been really enjoying a book lately called Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids. (I’m not a mom yet but I hope I will be someday.) In her book, Bonnie Harris tells stories of how she transformed her parenting process by trusting and responding to the needs her children demonstrated. It struck me that this is very similar to what many of us try to do for our own bodies.

    Nice seminar leadership!

  22. One of my coworkers blew my mind today by saying she didn’t trust her husband enough to leave him alone with the baby for more than an hour.

    I have no idea where this fits in, but it blew my mind.

  23. I don’t really have anything to contribute on the specific issues of motherhood or dieting since I don’t participate in either.

    But I’m just grateful for this post today because I have been extremely annoyed to the point of being plain pissed off this week at the non-stop concern trolling I get from coworkers and family about my chronic disability. “Have you tried this?” “I’ve heard that such-and-such herb/medicine does wonders.” “Oh you shouldn’t be doing that – your body can’t handle action X!!” “I read about this new treatment in Japan, you should ask your doctor about it.” etc etc

    Also, if I am not moving my body in the doctor-recommended/prescribed way 100% of the time, nor remaining constantly vigilant, nor taking supplements X, Y, and Z daily, then I only have myself to blame when I experience a flare up of my condition.

    And I say this as a white, thin woman. I imagine that people with disabilities and dark skin and/or more fat on their bodies experience the same bullshit but to a much higher degree. Because if you’re black or fat, then you must be stupid, right?

    Is it time for ass-kicking boots?

  24. One of my coworkers blew my mind today by saying she didn’t trust her husband enough to leave him alone with the baby for more than an hour.

    I had a co-worker who came to my house for a end-of-semester lunch, but she could only stay an hour because her husband “gets nervous if he has to be around the baby by himself.” Her husband had a way of getting nervous or causing problems if she paid too much attention to her job, or her personal interests, or even their child. Sigh.

  25. @ Shinobi –

    Yeah, that attitude about not leaving the baby alone with its father comes from bad sitcoms and serious, mind-warping hormones. I was afraid to leave my first baby alone with anyone, because I was afraid that the baby would die in some horrid way and it would be all my fault. I knew, rationally, that death was not actually a possibility, but – those hormones told me to cling, cling, cling to the little helpless baby, or the baby would fall. When you think about it, in terms of evolution, it really hasn’t been that long since that instinct was a necessary tool for survival.

  26. One thing I want to say and one thing I want to respond to:

    The other similarity is that there’s a sisterhood of Bad Moms out there, just like the sisterhood of Happy Fat Women, and we’re not that hard to find – if you find the time to look up and reach out (and not avoid us as bad influences) we’re out here. Our kids are running around with dirty faces while we sit on the park bench and chat (or they’re in daycare while we talk over the cube wall.)

    And then, this: talking about babies is not more or less boring than talking about your cat or your career or your mortgage or your bad boyfriend or (by God) your diet. The intense baby-focused phase lasts about as long as a Presidential election season. If you’re my friend, I have listened to you go on ad nauseum about your relationship with your ex or your mother or your body and you can politely pretend to be interested in my little bundle of joy during the time when I am completely immersed in motherhood.

    I do not understand why people who will politely listen to sports talk, car talk, job talk, and political talk even if it’s not their thing will completely avoid talking to new parents because it might be boring for a few minutes, and not even be embarrassed about it.

  27. @ Rosa – I think a lot of the stigma against listening to moms talk about kids is that a lot of moms want to talk about nothing else and will not politely listen back when the other person wants to talk about something that matters to them. Now, in the first hormonally influenced months, this is understandable, but if your child is going on 2 and you still refuse to listen to me talk about knitting or my cat and steer every subject back to Junior, then I’m just going to start avoiding you altogether. When someone goes on for half an hour about cats, they’re stigmatized a lot more than when a mother goes on for the same length about her children. There’s also the old “once burned, twice shy” adage. If someone has had extensive experience with mothers who talk of nothing but their children for hours, with no interruptions allowed, they may believe this is simply a fact of motherhood, and will then start to avoid all mothers, not giving them a chance to prove themselves as being different.

    I’m not stating that that behavior is necessarily okay, just postulating possible reasons for it. And you’ll notice that those mothers who go on forever about their kids eventually do get lumped in with the crazy cat people or other hobbyists who will steamroll all other subjects to get back to talking about the one they care about, because regardless of the subject’s societal approval (or lack thereof), it’s still just being rude. It’s just harder to tell them apart from new moms because of the aforementioned hormonal influences.

  28. Um… I realized after posting that my comment is a lot more insulting than I intended. x.x Substitute “mom talking about kids” with a lot of other subjects and it would basically be the same, the issue not being having a subject you enjoy and is important to you, but rather being the kind of person who goes on forever about it without allowing others a word in edgewise, even after the bloom is off the rose. I mean, when I first started knitting I was a veritable font of knitting information, whether my listener cared or not. XD Naturally, these days I tend to only talk knitting if it’s actually relevant to the conversation, or I’m among company who would appreciate it. Motherhood, in this particular example, can be compared to just about any hobby you can think of, IMO.

  29. … if I am not moving my body in the doctor-recommended/prescribed way 100% of the time, nor remaining constantly vigilant, nor taking supplements X, Y, and Z daily, then I only have myself to blame ….


    This is another restrictive social role, like that of the sincere dieter or the good mommy: the responsible (and cheerful!) sick person, who is expected to be wholly dedicated to the Sisyphean pursuit of Health … as defined by everyone else.

    A Sarah, I’ve run into some this nonsense about my pets as well … I think there’s some bleed-over the last few years, from the expectations placed on mothers to ‘pet parents’ – and I’ve noticed that, somehow, I’m always the one targeted for criticism and advice and not my husband. Somehow. I don’t know why … maybe it’s the boobs? Yeah.

  30. @Laura M this ( am unsure of the code for italics etc here):

    “The trivial day to day concerns are how the patriarchy keeps you where they want you, like a million tiny brad nails tacking you down all over – a few are small enough to ignore, but the steady hammering is almost impossible to break free of.”

    Is a brilliant explanation. Would you mind if i quoted it in my personal blog? Several of my friends/relations continue to say oh it’s “just” a comment, “just” a joke etc, etc… And I am unable to put it in terms that make my point anywhere near as eloquently.

  31. A Sarah — Can you elaborate on this:

    “nor the way I was now smilingly by firmly shut out of mix-gender grown-up conversation, to be addressed only later, as an afterthought, with ‘And how is the baby doing?’ ”

    I’m not really sure what you mean, and I’m curious. When and how exactly does this phenomenon play out?

    As for being “shut out,” how do people do this? Can’t one just join in a casual conversation without being asked questions or “addressed”? I know I do all the time! (But you might be referring to a different situation.)

    Just to be clear, I’m definitely not doubting that what you described happened. I do believe you and I’m curious to know more.

    Overall, great post! Really interesting insight how parenting pressure relates to diet pressure.

  32. “Motherhood, in this particular example, can be compared to just about any hobby you can think of, IMO.”

    Sorry–I don’t know how to do that neat thing where you include part of anoter comment…? But having just become a mother 2.5 months ago, I can honestly say that I’d have agreed with HiddenTohru’s comment pre-baby, but now? Not so much! Much as I kind of sometimes wish I could consign my new kid to the category of “hobby about which I probably have the tendency to overshare/talk too much/bore my non-hobbyist” (especially at 4:20 am when he’s been awake for three. freaking. hours.), my experience of motherhood has been body-altering, and horizon-shaping (in good and bad ways) to an extent that nothing else in m life really has. I’m still processing what it all means, but I definitely would say that, for me, at least, it’s not even remotely comparable to a hobby–even hobbies which in the past have been totally consuming (ahem Buffy fanfic ahem). Just my 2 cents.

  33. One of my coworkers blew my mind today by saying she didn’t trust her husband enough to leave him alone with the baby for more than an hour.

    I was the same way, but that was because the kiddo’s dad would just, uh, ignore him. And when he didn’t ignore him he was so angry that it was scary.

    We don’t live with him anymore.

  34. @ Lindy – Argh, I am just digging myself deeper. That’s why I tried to clarify that I meant only in the particular case of talking about it. Obviously motherhood is not simply a hobby, but in terms of it being a conversation topic, I find the amount of time spent talking about it is very similar to how many hobbyists talk about the things they enjoy. I would say that owning a pet isn’t a hobby either, it’s a commitment on par with having a child (not as difficult, perhaps, but lasts about as long and involves a lot of work). But for the specific example that was being discussed, I stand by my statement that motherhood is similar to hobbies. I don’t mean to diminish it by making that comparison.

  35. Every time I take a look at Babble.com or any other parenting info on the Internets, I’m reminded once again that I’ve picked an extraordinarily poor time to have an autistic child. It seems to me that as more women realize (consciously or unconsciously) the futility of dieting and stop fighting that futile battle, they’ve decided that what they CAN control is their children. Children can be molded like putty and any “unacceptable” child must be the result of unattached mommies, parents who didn’t bother with the organic food, bottle-feeders, etc. It isn’t far away from the old “refrigerator mom” theory of autism and it’s maddening ubiquitous: moms who are “doing it right” wind up with the good kids, the rest of us… well, clearly we’ve done *something* wrong and therefore deserve the ugly looks, comments, and snide asides we’re treated to in public.

    As one of the people who have been ruled out of the competition, I have to say that it’s a little liberating. So much of the current hysterical, all-encompassing style of parenting just simply doesn’t apply to our situation, so I can shrug and just concentrate on doing what I can to make my daughter’s life as happy and peaceful as possible.

  36. Then there’s the evangelizing.

    If your’e fat, they try to get you to join them in diets, come to meetings for whatever horrible program they’ve signed up for, they foist books off on you, unwanted gifts, god knows whatall. Then, if and when you refuse completely, you get the “But WHY? Don’t you want to be thin? Everyone wants to be thin!”

    If you never ever want kids, you get the same crap. Hell, sometimes even if you do want them, and don’t have them yet, or don’t have “enough” for the person you are talking to. But especially if you don’t want them at all. I’ve been verbally assaulted — screamed at — by a complete stranger for hating her child (not present) when all I had said was “We have decided not to have children.” I’ve known folks who have gotten really hamhanded gifts as “hints” that they need to get pregnant; books and baby toys and such. I’ve had people forcibly and passive-aggressively leave their babies ON ME in an effort to show me what I’m missing. It can be really pretty horrible. Especially in the latter case.

    If you don’t want to be thin, you’re weird and a freak and somehow invalidating the struggle of dieting women everywhere. If you’re voluntarily without children, you’re weird and a freak and somehow invalidating the struggle of parents everywhere; and you might be a child molester. Where that last one comes from, I don’t know, but it’s pretty sick and pretty common.

    Oh, and don’t forget the “you have to do it before it’s too late!” thing. For pregnancy, of course, you have to be a young, fit mother. For losing weight, you have to do it before your metabolism! at! 30! makes it impossible!

    So, yeah, there are parallels that go both ways. Parenting is, at least, something that if a person wants to do it, it’s good for them to do it. I don’t want to imply that I think parenting is stupid or useless or detrimental. It’s not. Or, rather, it’s not as long as it’s what you want.

  37. Absolutely this!

    In fact, it seems that steps have been taken to limit the actions of women, who may or may not be pregnant, in order to protect their fetuses and/or potential babies. And these actions are framed in a way that is nearly impossible to protest, you don’t want to work at X well-paying job, it could harm the babies! Or Don’t you dare een have one sip of wine, preggo, even though you are an adult and perfectly capable of making that risk-reward calculation on your own because there is a chance, however small, that it might harm the baby! Or, how dare you think you don’t need a c-section, I’m going to take you to court and try to force you to have surgery!

    All of this takes the responsibility to protect the potential children off of the powerful interests that are able to do those children the most harm, and puts it squarely on the back of the already harried and oppressed women. And we women take it because speaking out means we are bad people and bad mothers and that our children might be taken and raised in foster care or it seems like something is wrong but there is no way to identify it specifically.

    It’s more victim-blaming.

  38. It’s a very apt comparison, in my opinion.

    Beyond that, I need to process your post before I can comment further (as per the “discussion questions”).

    Your post is extremely thought-provoking. Brava.

  39. @ EVERYONE

    first of all, thank you soo much for this post and the discussion. This topic (both dieting and parenting) hits home for me on a number of levels as i have spent a good deal of time in therapy trying to come to grips with both. i honestly think the bottom line is:


    until we love and accept ourselves (bodies, faults, and all) we are going to continue to drive ourselves and others insane with this constant battle to be perfect and fit into an imaginary box that is NOT one size fits all. this manifests itself in parenting and in body image. the more we can each approach life with love, acceptance, supportive encouragement, and heap-loads of forgiveness for ourselves and the people around us the better we will all be for it.

    that said, i have in no way figured this out, and i still spend way too much time beating myself up. it’s a daily learning process, and i try my damnedest to love the body i’m in and forgive myself for sometimes being a flaky parent, and above all i try not to judge the women around me for the body they are in or how they parent. This behavior has to stop with each of us.

  40. I have no idea where this fits in, but it blew my mind.

    I think it fits in because both Perfect Dieting and Perfect Mothering are supposed to be the exclusive provenance of women, something that they do FOR men (or at least for the panoptic male gaze). Possessiveness, jealousy, and in the case of dieting the weird opposite impulses of boasting and shame are all ways to try to wrest back a semblance of power — “sure, I’m doing it for you, but not because you told me to! Only because I’m so good at it!”

  41. Emma B said:
    ” If you miscarried, it’s because you ate deli meats, or your child’s birth defect is because you didn’t take your vitamins, or you have gestational diabetes because you can’t quit snarfing ice cream, or your child is born prematurely because you couldn’t gain enough weight due to nausea… it’s all your fault, and of course none of it would ever have happened if you just ate properly.”

    This made me think of something Erma Bombeck said in one of her books. Though she normally makes me laugh my ass off, this chapter drove me to tears, because she wrote so emotionally of her miscarriage. She said “Whenever a woman becomes pregnant, it’s ‘We are expecting a baby!’ But when a miscarriage happens, it is always the woman who says ‘I lost the baby.’ It is a mutual joy, but a solitary feminine responsibility and sadness.”
    That struck me as so true. My mother, due to lupus, struggled with pregnancy and suffered several miscarriages and one baby who died hours after birth. My brother was her only normal, healthy birth; I was two months premature and weighed 3 pounds 6 ounces; I nearly didn’t survive. She said that after each miscarriage, and especially after the loss of my older sister Lily (she was three months premature in 1987 and had no chance of survival) some people took the attitude that she must be doing something wrong, being careless. She said the worst of these were some people in church who had several children already, and acted as though she was insufficient as a woman because of the difficulty she had with pregnancy. I also had a close friend who miscarried after becoming pregnant at 16, and the general attitude was “You’ll get over it, you’re too young anyway, it was probably better for all involved that the baby didn’t survive” despite the fact that she was heartbroken. The list you gave of eating-based reasons struck very close to home; never mind that my mom suffered from toxemia (HELP syndrome) and lupus, never mind that my friend had the bad fortune to trip and take a bad fall one day early in her pregnancy; clearly it was because they were both bad mothers and didn’t really want their babies, and they could have stopped the miscarriages by behaving better! It’s a very similar attitude to “Well, if you just ate right, you wouldn’t be fat, you moron!”, and it needs to go, posthaste.

  42. A Sarah, I think you are spot on with this. I am another who passed the audition, and so is now expected to compete. My husband’s comment was “it seems the solution to both is not to care what other people think,” but I don’t think it’s that simple. I mean, yes, that’s one aspect, but you have to learn to turn off or ignore your internal bullshit-producer.

    I discovered FA while I was pregnant and spent those months learning to ignore my dieting bullshit-producer; now I’m learning to turn off the parenting one – that little inner voice that says “are you heartless? How could you put her down when she’s screaming? What a terrible mother! Everyone thinks you’re a cold fish and a terrible mother!” I’ve been lucky in that my own mother is very up front about the difficulties of parenting and especially about how unrewarding she found us as infants. It’s still a struggle to be ok with my parenting, though.

    Oh, and also, that bit about how both women’s children and women’s bodies are supposed to be silent and adorable? Inspired.

  43. I am reminded of a sign that’s posted in my therapist’s office: “Children are not things to be molded, but people to be unfolded.”

    And it’s true of our bodies, too. I have given up trying to “mold” my body into an “acceptable” shape. Instead, I am unfolding into the shape that my body wants to be. It’s wonderful. As was the post, A Sarah :)

  44. @Lila: I was thinking something similar. My mother was very focused on *looking like* a good mother, and also dealt with a lot of pressure from various professionals to stick to a particular plan for me (as I’d been diagnosed with ADD and am also very smart), which resulted in her ignoring my actual needs almost entirely.

    I do think there’s such a thing as being a good mother – and there’s obviously such a thing as being a bad mother – but paying attention to society’s one-size-fits-all message about that is definitely not the way to go. Neither is only paying attention to what you think or want. Parenting a child is a relationship that involves two people who *both* have needs that should be met.

  45. I figured out about 6 months into this whole motherhood thing that no matter what I did, somebody would think I was wrong and I’d feel guilty about it. Once that was clear to me, I chose my favorite flavors of guilt and moved on.

    I haven’t got to that point with body image though.

  46. This reminded me so much of my experience with a person who clung to the illusion of control even when it was proven to her that an illusion was all it was.

    I used to work with a woman who was a fidgety control freak. Nice enough lady, but she was constantly on point wanting to eat correctly, exercise correctly, raise and feed her children correctly. Nothing wrong with trying to be your idea of best, but she was adamant and smug about her methods and dominated her husband.

    What amused me about her was her utter bewilderment when her fabulous plans didn’t always pan out the way she wanted them too.

    Her obsessive dieting and exercise did nothing to prevent her having high cholesterol, damn those genetics! Her older son towed the line and was pretty perfect in her eyes. The younger one was way too much of an individual and, although a really good little boy, demanded to go his own way no matter what she did.

    She just didn’t get it. She did everything right, why wasn’t everything perfect the way it was supposed to be?

    Even though her thinking was flawed, she still preached the party line. When talking about a rep from another company and her decision to have weight loss surgery she positively glowed with self-righteousness. “I do everything right. I eat right, run every day, and do everything I can to stay in shape. Why couldn’t she do the same? Why surgery?” Having seen her pictures from high school I knew that she was still basically the same size and shape, but I asked her calmly and quietly if she’d ever been fat. “Well… NO, but…” and that was the end of the conversation.

    When expressing her frustration about her youngest, I pointed out that while her older son was mild-mannered like her husband her younger boy was too much like her. She’d given birth to another dominant personality. This seemed to please her, but she still continued to try and make him conform to her standards.

    My main point is that this woman had everything in life we’re told we are supposed to have to be happy. Healthy family, healthy marriage, (mostly) healthy body, beauty, brains, a great job, a great house, and money to spare, and yet she made herself miserable because she could not let go of her perfection obsession.

  47. As a former WWer and a mom of 2, you have truly opened my eyes. I didn’t even notice until how similar they are. I remember after my first child, I was in the throes of a deep post partum depression and though if I lost the baby weight, I’d be happy and my baby would be happier because I’d be happier. It’s probably no coincidence either that on my “fat days,” I also have concerns about being a better mom.

  48. It’s probably no coincidence either that on my “fat days,” I also have concerns about being a better mom.

    This reminds me of those Realize lap band commercials that equate being fat with being a bad parent. I think there’s definitely a way that society links those two insecurities together, even just in that idea that moms “let themselves go” and so aren’t really trying hard enough to be thin and attractive for their kids.

  49. Lynn, it’s hard to put my finger on, but I noticed that the getting talked over by dudes got stepped up when I was a mother, and that it applied more broadly to mixed-gender conversation as well. I think partly because having kids tends to funnel you into kid-friendly social events which usually are run by other parents so you end up being friends with other parents just because those social events are easier. Once that was in place, then along with it came the assumption that the men would talk about dude bidness and the ladies would talk about the kids. And if I tried to break the boundary I was very decisively put back into place by being talked over (by the dudes) and ignored and redirected to kid talk by… well, both groups actually. At this time I also lived in a really conservative, religious area and attended a conservative university, so there was that. Does that help explain it better? It wasn’t the same set of people that used to include me and then stopped, if that’s what you’re asking.

  50. HiddenTohru, I’m not trying to pick on you, because this is something I see in the culture at large “OMG PARENTS they just want to talk bout their KIDS and nobody wants to hear it!”.

    But how many of these bad experiences with obsessive moms have you actually had, to avoid *all* moms because they might not let you talk about yourself? Seriously, most of the women you run into are moms, and probably very few of them do that. But people feel free trotting out that stereotype because it’s reinforced in our culture – as a way of shutting out women, since women do the brunt of child care.

    Now that I’m out of the baby stage (my son is 4) he’s not my main project in life anymore. But I have friends with younger kids and I notice two things: they aren’t any more boring than they were when they were in grad school or law school or house hunting or dating or divorcing. And they weren’t any *less* fixated on a topic then, either. But I have never heard anyone say they avoid single women at parties because they don’t want to hear about their dating life.

  51. The other aspect where I’m seeing a similarity is in thin privilege, or the privilege associated with have a kid who’s naturally “silent and adorable,” as you put it. It’s assumed that having this privilege is the result of your hard work and moral superiority, and thus whatever you do now is fine. Eat a zillion potato chips and stay thin? Fine. Beat your kids and don’t spend any time with them, as long as they just don’t cry on airplanes or in restaurants. As if thin people can’t be unhealthy and quiet children can’t be negatively affected by their parents.

    I was talking with a friend who had a very easy first baby, and felt very smug about her parenting skills when she saw other, less-well-behaved children screaming in restaurants. Then her second child was much more difficult to handle, and she realized that it had a lot to do with her two children’s personalities, not her superior parenting, which is why this came to mind.

    @Ashley: Hooray! I love it when someone brings up the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, because I see it so present in the criticism we make about diet culture.

  52. Right on, A Sarah!!!!
    It’s not enough that we grow new human beings in our bodies, that we feed them from our bodies (after pushing them out in the most painful way possible-I think carol Burnett said that childbirth was like “pushing a watermelon out of your nostrils”), that we then lose years of sleep taking care of these new little people, but now we must be PERFECT. We must give birth at home, in a pool, with a doula and WITHOUT an epidural. We must breastfeed for years and years (which, of course, means limiting our diet, so that the little one doesn’t get an upset tummy), we must WEAR our babies in slings, because it’s better for them than simply carrying them. We must NEVER feed them ANYTHING that isn’t organic/locally grown/harvested in nearby mountains by monks and tame billygoats. AND…
    We must be “bikini ready” 3 weeks after giving birth.

    In a way, I feel that having two kids with Autism is a blessing: it has taken me out of the Perfect Mommy competition, and allowed me to trust my own instincts. NO ONE knows my kids better than I do. (Just today I was at the dentist with my son, and the dentist asked me all sorts of questions about how my son expresses himself. it was nice to feel like the expert when surrounded by medical professionals!)
    And I wholeheartedly agree that privilege plays a huge role in Perfect mommy syndrome. If you’re not worrying about the minutiae of daily life, such as food and rent, then you’re going to worry about whether little Tommy and Janie are wearing the “right” clothes, going to the “right” preschool, and making the “right” friends.
    We CAN become aware of the millions of subliminal (and no-so) messages, and choose to opt out of them, but it takes a lot.
    Only when we stop criticizing other womens’ choices will we start to break away from this madness.
    (And if I could go back in time, I’d tell everyone who demanded to know whether or not I was breastfeeding to fuck off!)

  53. Yeah, I just want to punch televisions when parents (yes, mothers especially) of autistic kids get treated like foul objects as if they made them that way. Vaccines! Pizza! You’re killing them!

    Uh, zuh? My grandfather was autistic; although he was never diagnosed, it seems obvious in retrospect that he must have been. He was born in 19-frigging-TWELVE. The only vaccine that existed before he was 11 years old was for smallpox. The MMR didn’t exist until he was almost 60. (And I didn’t have it either, for that matter.) He was raised a vegetarian, which was a downright radical thing to do in America a century ago, and remained a vegetarian all of his life. Who or what “made” him autistic, besides his goddamn DNA?

    Oh, that’s right — in addition to everything else you’re supposed to do for your kids, you’re supposed to pick exactly the right sets of alleles, too, and avoid anyone who might have “bad” ones. If only my mother had known…

  54. The connection between “ideal” motherhood and dieting is one of those things I probably wouldn’t have thought of on my own, but now that you’ve presented it it seems obvious.

    It’s definitely another check in my mental “con” column against having kids. I’m not sure if I have the mental armor to deal with everyone telling me I’m doing it wrong.

    So I salute you, A Sarah and all the other parents here, for doing the very important work of raising the next generation of society.

  55. This reminds me of a woman on a discussion board I used to read a few years ago, when I was making and trying to sell lampwork glass beads. This was during the _last_ recession, when people didn’t have money for luxury items either, so making any money this way was very difficult, and taking advantageof chances to do so was very important.

    This woman was also a beadmaker, and had an opportunity to sell her beads at a sort of indoor flea market. However, she would have to be in the booth a couple times a week for a few hours. She had a small daughter — about 4 or 5, if I remember right. She was really, really torn about this — she wanted to take this opportunity, but she had never left her daughter with a babysitter before, because abandoning your kids at a babysitters means you don’t love them or something like that. I don’t know; I know there’s a parenting theory that says you pretty much leave them welded to your hip for a few years, but I don’t recall her having a theory as such. She just “knew” that good mothers don’t ever leave their children with strangers.

    I would have thought she was on crack if I hadn’t also been running into this idea elsewhere on a different board which focussed on etiquette. One of the forums was on weddings, and one of the things discussed regularly was whether or not to have kids at weddings. Apparently a lot of people have been told by their guests that they cannot bear to be separated from their children for an afternoon, and therefore the children must be invited to the wedding; and they must be at the ceremony and reception, not off in a room set up for children’s play with a babysitter hired by the hosts.

    So this poor woman was beating herself up for thinking about having interests and work that did not revolve around her child. It made me sad for her, and mad at whatever/whoever came up with this notion. I told her in order to be a good mother, she needed to be a whole person, and that meant considering her needs and interests as well as the child’s, and often putting them ahead of the child’s. No idea if this sunk in or not.

  56. Yay!! Motherhood post!!!!!

    Not being a mother I have nothing to say, but I am very much enjoying reading.

    Apparently a lot of people have been told by their guests that they cannot bear to be separated from their children for an afternoon, and therefore the children must be invited to the wedding; and they must be at the ceremony and reception, not off in a room set up for children’s play with a babysitter hired by the hosts.

    That’s such insanity I don’t even know where to begin.

  57. I’d never thought about it before, but you’re right! Both dieting and parenting involve lots and lots of people telling us how we should do things and judging us negatively if we don’t conform. For me, although I’ve felt “less than” because of my weight for most of my life, I’ve always been extremely confident about my decision to parent “intuitively.” I’ve bought many diet books, but I refuse to even look at a parenting book. It may be because I came to parenting as a mature woman, in my early forties, with lots of professional experience with children and confidence in my judgment. I began to receive negative feedback about my weight, though, as a vulnerable and defenseless child. Even though I began to question the whole dieting thing years ago, it’s only lately that I’ve had the courage to try intuitive eating and eat whatever I feel like eating (when I’m hungry) in front of others. Let’s hope that my confidence in the decision I’ve made about eating can catch up to my confidence as a parent.

  58. When I had my first, I felt those exact same things! Great article for those of us who feel like a walking train wreck on occassion when we are just normal families ^.^

  59. Wow, there’s a lot of wisdom in A Sarah’s post and in the comments that follow. I have to say that, as much as it sucks to be infertile (I get pregnant at most once per year, and miscarry by the 5th week), it’s comforting in a small way to know that my body has opted me out of the “perfect mommy” competition by default. I miscarry so early that we never tell anyone, so I don’t ever have to deal with “Oh, you must not eat well enough. Oh, stress is bad for the baby and you’re a stressed grad student. Oh, we’re not going to come out and say it’s your fault, but it IS.” I do enough of that in my own head, thanks. If we have children, they will most likely be adopted, so I’m removed by default from the natural birth-breastfeeding wars. And I think, in a way, that accepting my body’s limitations in this regard has helped me accept my body in other ways. I’m a lot more comfortable in my skin lately. I eat what I want and when (within reason- I’m not going to put down a lab experiment because the tummy rumbles a bit), not because it will keep me at an acceptable weight or because it will make my uterus happier for babies, but because it makes me feel good. I exercise not to be socially acceptable, but because I’ve found forms of exercise that I think are fun and that make me feel better. If we do raise children, I hope to pass this on to them.

    I don’t know why everything has to be a competition. Motherhood isn’t a zero-sum game. Being the best organic-crunchy granola-attachment mom isn’t going to win you a prize, nor does it guarantee perfect children. Losing the most weight isn’t going to win you a prize unless you’re on the Biggest Loser.

  60. I am sooo happy to see this. The culture of self-abnegation for women is alive and strong. We are told that we live for others. We are peacemakers, teachers, service-oriented, nurturers–and no one take this wrong, please, there’s nothing bad about actually being kind or nurturing or a teacher. What’s wrong is the universal social expectation that, as women, we have to be those things. That women who are not those things are bitches. In its most pernicious form, that we aren’t whole, right, acceptable or okay without a man or a child for whom we can sacrifice ourselves.

    This is a huge issue for me, since I was raised in a religious culture that was pretty straightforward “women’s roles.” It’s the “chicken wing” phenomenon: a name I take from a never-to-be-forgotten sermon with a paean to Motherhood, all about how selfless and naturally wonderful women are, and how that makes them Nurturers of the Next Generation of Leaders. How mothers are the people who eat the chicken wings so that their husbands and children can have the good parts of the roast chicken. I believe that the speaker actually said that he’d never seen his mother eat any other part of the chicken.

    The larger culture still expects women to eat only the chicken wings, and to sacrifice everything else to the well-being and happiness of others, because CLEARLY to value herself on par with those with whom she is associated would be wrong and uppity. So if a woman isn’t making her children or intimate partner perfectly happy by doing the socially accepted diet or parenting or career balance or home maintenance or what-the-hell-ever, she’s selfish, and probably a bitch, and deserves the condemnation of the wider world, which is more than happy to provide it. And since no one can actually do everything, instead we just have to really, really want to, and beat ourselves up about our “failures,” feel guilt for our self-indulgences (wicked pizza! wicked time browsing in the bookstore!), deny wanting anything other than to do it right, and work our little hearts out doing things that may be more harmful than helpful to ourselves and our families.

    This is so toxic, it makes me want to scream.

  61. Sorry, tried to edit for clarity and instead just managed to muddy: I was raised in a very conservative religious culture that wasn’t shy about what it considered appropriate “women’s roles.”

  62. One of my coworkers blew my mind today by saying she didn’t trust her husband enough to leave him alone with the baby for more than an hour.

    Who does she leave the kid with when she goes to work?


    You’re letting the Patriarchy off the hook there. Women may police each other, but it bears examining why.

  63. Apparently a lot of people have been told by their guests that they cannot bear to be separated from their children for an afternoon, and therefore the children must be invited to the wedding; and they must be at the ceremony and reception, not off in a room set up for children’s play with a babysitter hired by the hosts.

    Man, people gotta stop inviting Katie Roiphe to their weddings.

    (Awesome post, A Sarah!)

  64. I think a lot of the judgment and criticism that goes on with motherhood and with dieting is a way for people to protect themselves from what scares them – “THIS WON’T EVER HAPPEN TO ME AND HERE’S WHY”

    But sometimes you do everything “right” and shit happens anyway. Lots of people can’t seem to get their heads around that.

  65. I do understand what you’re saying. Most of the pressure I’ve experienced on both counts has been from myself, though, from advice given from reading or hearing other people say, not necessarily directly to me. I’ve pretty much adopted the attitude of the “poor slob” who does whatever she wants and doesn’t give a flying f*** what anyone else thinks. Most of the time, anyway. I’m also pretty surly toward those who stick their nose in where it doesn’t belong. Maybe that’s how we can change attitudes. I think it’s socially reprehensible to comment on someone’s eating, weight, and parenting specifics (barring illegal child treatment). Call people out on their rude behavior.

  66. Excellent post, A Sarah! I never really thought about parenting/dieting in these terms, but I think you’re spot on. The “perfect parenting” paradigm is just another arena for competition among women, and one more way we can beat ourselves up for not making the mark. Every morning when I drop my kid off for school, much of the conversation among the moms seem to be about either a. kids (and all their extracurriculars, etc) or b. exercise/diet/weight. Its taking me awhile to deprogram myself from competition mode, but I feel so much more at peace since I’ve opted out.

  67. shyvixen, I think it’s more than they don’t WANT to get their heads around it. It’s why people believe in god – they want to believe there’s a plan behind it all, that this isn’t all completely random and that there’s no real reason that bad things happen to good people.

  68. What a fantastic conversation. A friend once remarked to me that most parents are trying very hard to do what they think is best for their children and that as long as she doesn’t see a child being hurt she tries not to judge anyone else’s choices. I have never forgotten that. I think it’s exactly right.

    And I am always surprised at the pressure people put on each other to have kids (or to have more than one). Being a parent is HARD and I would never encourage someone to do it unless it was really what they wanted. My choice to have kids is not any more or less valid because of what other people choose.

  69. This makes me think of how judgemental stay-at-home moms can be about working moms (and vice-versa!). And how many studies come out regarding different children’s problems and how it’s because the kids are in daycare while mom works (but it’s always mom’s fault, right?). Only, in 2-parent homes, doesn’t the dad usually work too??? I used to work in a child welfare agency, and lots of the abusive/neglectful parents I worked with did not work outside the home, so WTF???

  70. This is one of those parallels you feel stupid for not noticing once someone has pointed out to you. To summarize:

    Regardless of the fact that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that there is little control available to individuals over their body shape and size, there is one body shape and size that is right and appropriate for everyone, which is easy to obtain if you just follow the rules (and we’ll call you out if you cheat, because it’s so easy to tell!).

    Regardless of the fact that people are unique and children are individuals with their own personalities and there is little any parent can do to change the natures of their children, there is one right and appropriate way to raise all children which makes picture perfect kids easy to obtain as long as you follow the rules (and we’ll call you out if you cheat, because it’s so easy to tell!).

    Excellent post.


  71. And the assumption that women are (or should be) always dieting and always trying to “improve themselves” is so pervasive that even really young kids pick up on it. I’m one of those who really is interested in a healthy diet. But my idea of a healthy diet has nothing to do with counting calories or limiting grams of fat or worrying about how much you weigh. But my 5 y/o stepdaughter has already got the “healthy diet” lingo of our culture. When she asked if we could buy the cupcakes with the fluorescent green frosting at the grocery store and I said no, she asked “because they’ll make us fat?” This from a kid who lives in two households where dieting and fat are never discussed or worried about. So you make cupcakes with them at home and explain that the store-bought ones have “the bad icky stuff” in them, knowing that the messages you give them are tiny and seem insignificant compared to the messages about dieting and weight and beauty that they’re inundated with daily.

  72. I’m 3 months into motherhood, and all I can say is YES YES YES. In a lot of ways I’m really really lucky. Most of my weight gain was water in the last 2 months, so I was 5 pounds below my pre-prego weight 2 weeks post partum (so yes, it can happen with no effort, and like all body things it’s pretty much dumb luck); my baby is “perfect”, nurses well and sleeps through the night. We’ve had no serious problems, and only a few very minor ones that she grew out of easily.

    And I STILL get crap about how I should be more active to “lose the baby weight” (uh, hi, it’s gone) and how if my baby is fussy or has acne or has a bad day or isn’t gaining well enough or is gaining too fast it’s because she has a dairy allergy. Whch, for the record, she doesn’t.

    I have PCOS and was on metformin during my pregnancy (and am now). I had lots of people question this, concerned that it would do something to the baby. The ironic thing is that the metformin was what prevented me from miscarrying, like I did my previous 3 pregnancies! But no, it’s better to have no child than one who was exposed to a mild and common drug in utero.

    In short, I could go on and on about this, and having a cold is making me less than coherent.

    I also despise the idea that i need to “sacrifice” because I have a baby, and that if I don’t “sacrifice” I’m a bad mom. As if degrading my own sense of self into this motherhood role is healthy for me, let alone for my family. I don’t believe I’ve sacrificed a single thing for my child other than a few hours here and there lying in bed to help her sleep instead of being up and doing things I’d rather do. I do what’s best for me at all times, and shockingly 95% of the time that coincides perfectly with what’s best for my daughter.

    As for the thing about not leaving your child for more than an hour, that can be necessary if you’re nursing and they don’t take a bottle, as with me. Evie pretty much refuses the bottle, though we’ve tried several times, so until she either takes it well or is eating a good amount of solids, I can’t leave her for more than 2 hours. But that’s only for the first few months, so I can deal.

  73. wow, as a mother i have to say i’m pretty confused by this post. i don’t relate at all to the pressures you discuss here, to be a good enough mother. i’ve been annoyed by condescending strangers and sexist assumptions about my lifestyle, but that’s where the similarities end. i’ve never experienced competitiveness, or this borderline obsessive parenting style you are referencing, and i can’t imagine it’s so typical as to make a generalization that it’s what’s expected in our society. reading this, and in particular never having dieted, i kept thinking wow, it must suck to be this woman. i really just hope this isn’t typical.

    have you thought about not giving a fuck what’s expected of you? am i atypical or fortunate for not giving a fuck?

  74. @ Rosa – I understand you points. I’m saying that if I meet anyone who talks about one subject to the exclusion of all else and that they refuse to allow me any conversation time that doesn’t involve their topic, that’s going to make me frustrated and not want to be around them. And in my experience, some mothers can fit into this category. Obviously, in the first couple months I cut them some slack, because hormonally they’re pretty much brainwashed into thinking of nothing but baby (which is a GOOD thing, as it ensures baby’s survival when mama is woken up at 4 AM for the fifth night running).

    It probably is a stereotype that most people buy into. As I stated previously, along with my own FA I’m learning to be more accepting of those who previously I would just breeze right by, including mothers (and they’re not the majority of the people I’ve learned not to ignore by a LONG shot). The issue here isn’t “mothers talk about babies too much” it’s “some people are rude and don’t know that a conversation is not supposed to be a monologue”. I just think women (especially mothers) get stigmatized about this a lot more often than others.

    I didn’t mean to imply that someone stereotyping you is a good thing. Just that there’s probably a reason why people do it, because all stereotypes have a grain of truth in them. That doesn’t make their actions right, but it does explain the motive behind them.

  75. @ wowee

    I think you probably are both atypical and fortunate in not giving a fuck. I doubt the many people here have simply imagined the bombardment of messages about both dieting and motherhood (hell, I’ve see plenty of both and neither of them apply to me yet, which surely makes me less sensitive to them), so if you’ve managed to let all of that slide off your back, you are indeed a lucky woman.

    Your question “Have you thought about not giving a fuck what’s expected of you?” struck me as really patronizing. I would venture to guess that all of the people here have indeed thought about not giving a fuck – and for that matter have probably done more than just think about it. And as a lot of them say a lot of the time, it is really, really hard. It is hard to ignore messages you’re being bombarded with all the time. More, ignoring things is really only a temporary palliative that doesn’t actually solve the problem. When people are pelting you with garbage, saying “just ignore it” puts the onus on you to deal with it, rather than justly realizing that the problem is with the people pelting you with garbage.

    Of course, that doesn’t address the issue of internalization. But “just ignore it” really doesn’t either.

    I think not hearing/internalizing misogynistic messages is sort of like being born with skinny genes: largely a matter of luck. I really wish I had your good luck. (In the matter of misogyny, that is – of course I have no idea what your body’s like.) But saying “You should try not giving a fuck” is really unhelpful to individuals struggling with…well, any number of things, actually. And more, it perpetuates oppression – whether or not you intended to do so – by saying “There is no problem, and you shouldn’t get worked up about it.” Which just grates on all my feminist nerves.

    I apologize if I totally misunderstood your intent, ’cause that can happen on the internet. But as I said – feminist. Nerves. Twitch.

  76. have you thought about not giving a fuck what’s expected of you?

    What a novel idea! Next you’ll suggest eating less and exercising more!

  77. have you thought about not giving a fuck what’s expected of you?

    What a novel idea! Next you’ll suggest eating less and exercising more!

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, zuzu.

  78. likeamayfly: yeah you did misunderstand, but really more about the “what’s expected of you” part. i do not suggest that anyone ignore anything, but i simply don’t relate at all to internalizing the expectations of others, to the point where i’m questioning my own life decisions. as a mother i’ve always been secure with my choices, which isn’t to say that i don’t feel the judgment of other people, i just don’t care that i haven’t met their expectations. this has nothing to do with my politics or feminism, by the way, it’s a personality trait i’ve always had. and yes, i’m grateful for it.

    when i do have occasion to notice the scorn of others, they’re really just nuisances – projections of their warped idea of what a mother is – which isn’t my problem. while i know that i’m not within the norm in most respects, i never felt that my society views me as not “good enough,” i just don’t match the june cleaver image and it bothers some people. so when i ask if you’ve thought about that, i’m referring to the notion of being what’s expected, in any context.

    but particularly with motherhood, where we’re making choices based on what we think is right or wrong. that shit is too real to pay attention to what other people or society at large expects of us. which isn’t to say don’t resent it, or be annoyed by it, or confront it when people are shit talking a mother for her (alleged) lack of skill. it’s just that the original post seemed to take a petty annoyance of motherhood and turn it into an oppressive force. it’s not. if she has friends who stop talking to her because she had a baby, that’s not misogyny, that’s bad friends. and i just don’t get comparing motherhood to dieting. the post seems to draw a parallel based on going to extreme lengths trying to fit society’s mold with both. i simply cannot fathom how anyone could mother that way, and look at themselves in the mirror. dieting, yes, i don’t do it, but i can see how it happens. but raising your child? no way. and i don’t think i’m really all that unusual. most of the mothers i know give a hearty fuck you to anyone who disapproves of their parenting style.

    i’m sure that was repetitive and not well constructed. in short, don’t ignore, but do live your own life and understand that you’ll never meet normative standards. because no one does. sounds like a platitude, but it’s totally true.

  79. wowee

    It must be so nice to be you, perched on your untouchable pedestal where you look down on all the mere mortals who are so pathetic that they actually care about what other people think (so ludicrous, especially when you realize women’s bodies and their mothering are both generally considered public property open for comment to everyone), and congratulate yourself on your perfection while lecturing other people for being weak for not being exactly like you.


  80. wowee–
    My bullshit meter is now screaming so loud I can’t ignore it. Please don’t tell me we’re “going to extreme lengths trying to fit society’s mold” when we have studies like this, blaming behavior problems on kids being in daycare:
    And these problems are always blamed on working moms, not working dads, as are any problems with the kids. Geez, do you put your fingers in your ears while chanting, “lalalalala” too?

  81. it’s just that the original post seemed to take a petty annoyance of motherhood and turn it into an oppressive force.

    Well, Shakesville’s Liss put it best, so I’ll just borrow from her to respond to this:

    The idea that feminism should be kept under glass, broken only in case of a “real” and “serious” emergency, is predicated on the erroneous assumption that “the little things” happen in a void, as do, presumably, the “real” and “serious” things, when, in reality, they are interwoven strands of the same rope. And as soon as one begins to judge the worthiness of feminists’ attention on a sliding scale, even generally-regarded “serious issues” like equal pay are dwarfed by global concerns like sex trafficking or government-sanctioned use of rape as a tool of war. It doesn’t have to be one or the other—feminists can multi-task.

    And, in a very real way, ignoring “the little things” in favor of “the big stuff” makes the big stuff that much harder to eradicate, because it is the pervasive, ubiquitous, inescapable little things that create the foundation of a sexist culture on which the big stuff is dependent for its survival. It’s the little things, the constant drumbeat of inequality and objectification, that inure us to increasingly horrible acts and attitudes toward women.

    The “petty annoyances” don’t need to be “turned into” the oppressive forces. The petty things are part of the mechanism of oppression.

    Look, wowee, I let you in despite the fact that your first comment was condescending as hell because I thought you wanted to join the discussion. If your contribution is to say “Well, I don’t internalize this so this is just you all being petty,” you are not actually discussing. You are gloating, and that gives me the stabby pain. Maybe if you really want to know why other people feel this oppression and you don’t, you should listen rather than talk.

  82. wowee, sounds like this conversation doesn’t concern you, then. Feel free to go talk to and with people you feel you can relate to better. Do you ordinarily go all around the internet looking for things you don’t relate to and then commenting to let people know? *shrug* Takes all kinds, I guess.

    Oh, say, lookie there — I just answered your question about whether I’m capable of not giving a fuck.

    (goes off to think about something interesting)

  83. Er, HiddenTohru, I’m just ever-so-gently making sure you weren’t hearing the comments directed at wowee as being directed at you?

  84. @ A Sarah – oh no! No, I wasn’t. XD I just feel like I really bungled my attempts to clarify my point each time, and it frustrated me a bit. No, I know people weren’t yelling at me about what wowee said!

  85. This post proves to me once more that even as a woman with thin priviledge and no children (yet), there are a lot of things on this side that I can relate to.

    During my struggle with depression, one of the most important things I realised was how much energy I was putting inro being “perfecct”- andhow utterly impossible it is to ever reach that coveted place of perfection.

    I have a body that fits the ideal, to the point where people told me to try modeling.My answer wasn’t that I had no interest in it, but that I could never do it because I was too tall, had a scar in my face and my teeth wern’t white enough. I wasn’t perfect.

    I graduated top of my class and got the accepted at the law school of my choice – but instead of seeing this as an accomplishment, I let it put me under even more pressure. When my grades didsn’t fullfillmy expectations, instead of saying “well, I need to check my expectations”, I looked at it as a sign that my previous achievements were meaningless and I had to try harder.

    My dissatisfying social live, my fear of phisical and emotional intimacy, my lack of exercise…I was constantly looking at myself in comparism to the ideal of perfection: the perfect looking woman with a great career, a broad range of interests, a fullfilling relatioship, interesting friends, who exercised regularly,meets friends regularly, spends quality time with her partner, has interesting hobbies and takes part in all kinds of cultural activities.

    Needless to say, I always found myself lacking. And it took a long time to realize that it is actually impossible to be that woman. For one thing, there are far to little hours in the day to do all that.

    What I realized reading this article is that my priviledges mean that there are some aspect to that “perfection” that I don’t have to worry about.

    I have the “right” skin collour, so I don’t have to worry about being judged more harshly than my peers simply because my skin is darker,or being excluded from “real” perfection from the start because obviousely, the shape of my eyes signifies certain characteristic of my personality that make it impossible to ever be “perfect”, no matter how hard I try.

    I am tall and thin, so noone will telll me to loose weight to fit their expectations of what a woman should look like (occasional worries about my being too thin might occur, but that does not change the fact that society at large considers me to have the “right” body).

    I am currently able-bodied and therefore not exposed to people blaming me for my disability.

    It goes on and on. I will never be “perfect”, but due to facts about me that I had no influence on what-so-ever, I am closer than many.

    The solution for me (which I am still very much struggling to actually adhere to in practice) is not to work harder to get there. It is realising that this “perfection” is impossible to reach for anyone to reach, and more importantly, shouldn’t be something anyone needs to reach, because it is an ideal so defined by fitting into all the priviledged categories.

    “Perfection” according to these standards, is fitting into all the standards of priviledge. That is not something that should ever be the declared ideal.

  86. wowee, maybe you didn’t mean to come off sounding so condescending in your post. At least I hope you didn’t mean to. Ah well, if nothing else it sparked some further discussion in a different direction.

    See if this makes sense. I’ve had the same best friend since I was 6 years old. We’re like some of the same things but are very different. One way we are different is that she feels tremendous guilt over a lot of things and I really just do not get feeling guilty at all. It’s not like I could change anything by feeling guilt. However, it is part of who she is. I have often wanted to tell her to just not give a fuck, but what good would that do? She’s also bi-polar; her mother’s solution when she gets bad is to tell her to snap out of it. These suggestions are similar in nature and less than useless. I’m diabetic. It would be kind of like telling me to get over it and just regulate my blood sugar naturally. I can’t because that’s not how I am made.

    I kind of get where you are coming from because I almost never worried about what other people thought about how I raised my child. It’s kind of hard not to think about it though when your kid is acting less than perfect and you know every single person in the vicinity is judging you because of it.

    You are indeed fortunate to not feel the pressures that other people feel on this issue, but asking them to simply be like you is not an answer to the problem.

  87. Gah.
    Please ignore the bad spelling. Sometimes the fact that English is not my first language really shows.

    Another thing that came to mind when reading this great post:

    I took a class that could be roughly translated as “science of education” in school. When discussing the different toys for children and the different games to play with them, the conversation was always focused on what a child could gain from these games. What abilities were being trained, what developement was helped along? When I had the audacity to propose that games and toys should merely allow the child to enjoy him/herself and to be happy at that moment, I was looked at as if I had lost my mind.

    Ignoring the fact that most games and toys, when the child enjoys them, can have positive effects on the child’s devolpement, whether they are officially declared “educational” or not, I find it deeply troubling that so much of what we do with our children has to be aim at some pereived advantage in the future. No fun for the sake of fun. It seems were are constantly living in preparation for the future.

    The child has to be prepared for kindergarten the best way possible (language courses etc) so it can get into a good kindergarten. It has to get into the good kindergarten not because it will enjoy itself there but so it can get into the good school. It has to go to the best school not because the teacher there will help the child to enjoy learning, or because it will have great time in a positive place, but because that school will prepare the child to go to a good college. And of course, the good college is important not because the child will learn fascinating new thing,but because it will be prepared to get a good job.

    And I’m not saying that these parents don’t want their children to be happy. I am sure that the believe that a good future will make their children happy is a driving force.

    It just seems to me that we are currently living in a society that is so focused on having the best possible future (and that constantly swamps us with rules that we have to follow to get us and our families there), many of us no longer realize the importance of having a happy now.

    Which might be the point. After all, if the now is not nearly as important as the future, nobody has a right to complain about it.

  88. Hey A Sarah,

    Thanks for answering my question about [shorthand here] mixed-company-talk-overs way upthread! I’m glad to hear that you didn’t have previously-awesome friends who became jerks, but I’m nevertheless sorry that you ended up having to put up with conventional-eers in order to have a social life, at the time.

    When you described it, I recognized that situation exactly! In which “the wives” (and any second-class, unattached, hanging-on women) are supposed to hang out in the kitchen feeding and talking about children or, failing that, shopping, and all the menfolk watch football or whatever, and hog the beer. Barf city! I’ve inadvertently found myself in situations like that a few times, and it always gives me hives.

    Luckily — due to not being a parent and living in big-enough cities — I’ve usually been able to limit my exposure. Still, I vividly recall those few afternoons I spent with these types and how bored and uncomfortable I was with their sex-segregating ways. (For some reason, it was always afternoon cookouts.) I can see how being a parent and needing kid-friendly events or needing a parenting community could over-expose you to this dynamic, especially if the town you were in was conservative.

    In fact, I dislike this sex-segregation dynamic so much,for a while I didn’t even want to be married because I was afraid being a wife would mean people pressuring you even more to act like “the wives”!

    Don’t get me wrong — with my best girlfriends, I can really enjoy women-only. And you know I don’t mean that there’s no role or need for people talking amongst their gender. I just mean that, given a random group of “mixed company” at a social event, it feels normal to me for said company to actually mix.

    I hope that you’ve got some cooler friends these days who don’t act like this! You certainly deserve the coolest. At least you’ve got the Shapelings. :)

    Also, DRST — your pithy summaries were spot-on.

  89. One more thing,and then I promise to shut up:

    My mother also suffered from depression. One of the best things she ever did for me and my siblings was to assert her need to take care of herself and her own happiness.

    The self-sacrificing “ideal” mother who always puts her children first and her own needs last (after those of her kids and those of her partner, also those of her community and society at large) may be viewed as the good mother by many. But I am convinced that a woman who takes care of her own needs, who makes sure that she has what she personally needs to be happy, can often be a much better mother as a result.

  90. It just seems to me that we are currently living in a society that is so focused on having the best possible future (and that constantly swamps us with rules that we have to follow to get us and our families there), many of us no longer realize the importance of having a happy now.

    This. I think this is exactly it. “If you don’t educationally/nutritonally/emotionally/physically enrich every single thing your kids do NOW, even if the whole family is miserable in the process, they might not become super astronaut-model-doctor-athletes in the FUTURE!” Sounds a lot like “if you [women] don’t eat perfectly-lose lots of weight-exercise in just the right way (can’t have you bulking up muscles, now)-educate yourselves (but not too much, you won’t get a man and single women die sooner) right NOW, you won’t live FOREVER! We all know that living a really, really long life is the only way to win, even if your pursuit of it makes that life miserable.”

    Sigh. Yeah, I got off that train a while ago. I grew up watching my stunningly beautiful (seriously, they could have been models), intelligent older cousins live the lives that they believed were expected of them. Fortunately for me I smiled, nodded, and ultimately ignored their advice when given (which was pretty much every time I saw them). Neither of their lives worked out according to the plan. They’re happier now, but they went through hell to get there.

  91. Lauren, I overall agree with you, but I see some use in linking toys to development. I have a 12 week old, and what I’ve read on toys and development have helped me pick out what toys she’d most enjoy at this stage. Because like most people my age, I wasn’t raised around lots of babies, didn’t have much experience babysitting, and so I didn’t really know what they’re capable of and what they like. The books have helped me with that. So I buy her a brightly colored teething ring that rattles not because it’ll help her in x way, but because it’s geared for her stage of development. If it weren’t for that research, I’d probably buy her something more advanced than what she can handle at this stage.

    But a big part of why we’ll be homeschooling is because I want her to have fun while learning, and not be focused on academics and worksheets and test at age 5.

  92. Oh, say, lookie there — I just answered your question about whether I’m capable of not giving a fuck.

    *hands A Sarah a box of baby donuts*


  93. I think there is absolutelynothing wrong with finding out what toys areaimedat what age. I wouldn’t give a toddler toys with tiny parts after all. It’simportant to understand the need of a child at a certain age, and to consider them when looking for good toys. And there is nothing wrong with educational toys, as long as the child enjoys them.

    What I was talking about are people who think that buying toys that do not have an expressed educational purpose are hurting their children. Children can learn a lot when playing with a bunch of random stuff, using their imagination.

    If someone wants the special, this-will-turn-your-child -into-a-genius toys, that’sfine. But apart from my general disbelief that these things are actually able to fulfill their promises, I think the marketing puts a lot of undue pressure on parents- if you don’t buy these toys, you are ruining your childs future.

    Again, the future is made out to be more important than the present and the parents – especially the mothers – are to blame when that future does not come to pass.

    Because everyone knows that a person’s path in life is determined by nothing but thatpersons abilities. And a child can have any ability we want it to have, as long as we do everything right duringtheir childhood. /end sarcasm

  94. Lauren, you are so right about mothers having to put their own needs first. My own mom was an “ideal” mother, who eventually turned into the epitome of passive aggression. Her adult children try so hard to be understanding, recognizing that she does it out of unhappiness and an inability to overcome her inhibitions about asking for what she wants directly. But, boy, can she be horrible.

    I know I tried like hell when my daughter was young to do everything right, and thought that my guilt was a just punishment for any unhappiness she experienced, and started to act with passive aggression at times. With therapy and wonderful online communities improving my self-esteem, I managed to raise my son in a much mellower, happier, Mom-deserves-things-too environment. I don’t think my daughter is scarred by my unhappiness, but the potential was there. My son is absolutely thriving in the absence of being placed first in priority.

  95. This is only tangenitally related to the post. But Montessori education was developed by a feminist (Maria Montessori, the first woman doctor in Italy) for the poor factory workers’ children. Once it caught on in the US it became accessible only to wealthy white people, but these days more and more public Montessori schools are opening, making it more accessible even to people who can’t afford private school. It has the success it’s had because it’s completely child-focused and it encourages individuality and the child’s own curiosity. I’m saying this as an elementary Montessori teacher at a low-income public school, not as a parent. I wouldn’t dream of telling people what they should do, but please don’t dismiss Montessori school as a parenting fad (it’s been around over a hundred years) or something that’s for white private school helicopter parenting-types.

  96. A friends mother worked at a Montessori Kindergarten (which here means optional daycare for children between 3 and 6). I thought her work was awesome, especially the fact that it was an integrative Kindergarten for able-bodied children as well as those with physical or mental disabilities.

    I think this actually proves the point: Not all the things people are telling you to do for/ with your children are bad. What is bad is the believ that when you do not do all those things, you are a bad mother.

  97. Thanks for the clarification about Montessori education! You know, as I think back, I probably did write that thinking that most Montessori schools were privileged mostly-white moneyed enclaves. I recall now hearing that the public magnet schools in Minneapolis were all Montessori-based, and there’s a newly-opened Montessori public school in the school I just moved from, and perhaps I tossed those examples out of my mind because of confirmation bias. Anyway, point taken, and thanks.

    The thing is — and I think this shows that we’re both right, in a way — I actually did know the story of Maria Montessori, and I know that the method has been shown to have a number of positive outcomes compared to other methods, and as such isn’t just a fad. Because that’s one data point in the huge set that me and my fellow Responsible Mothers (with all the ways that that’s race- and class-coded) are supposed to have.

    So if there’s a valid point in that paragraph, I think it’s that there’s an assumption that Responsible Mothers will know and have researched everything from the best educational philosophies to the various ways to treat an ear infection to the hidden dangers of household cleaning products to the glycemic index of apple juice. You’re supposed to have this encyclopedic knowledge of everything that might bear upon childhood and the optimization thereof.

    Like, sometimes I have moments where I think: Why in the hell do I even KNOW there was an Institutes of Medicine study that is said to have disproved the thimerosal-autism link? Why do I feel like other mothers of young children who are in my socioeconomic status would look down on me if I didn’t know that? Why did I feel the need to file that away for times when I will be confronted by anti-vaxers who want to win me over? Why do I feel like, in order to be thought a good mother, I have to be as much of an expert in data about child psychology and public health as I am in the field in which I chose to get a PhD? And what the hell does it mean when these vast stores of very detailed knowledge are seen to be part and parcel of parenting (or eating!) in a manner deemed sufficiently “natural?” (The class-coded rhetorical use of “natural” was something I didn’t really go into in the post, but it’s another intersection between pathological attitudes about food and pathological attitudes about parenting, I think.)

    So to loop back to the issue raised earlier by a previous commenter (I’m sorry — my page isn’t loading correctly so I can’t see the comment or the name) that there actually is bad parenting, in a way that there aren’t bad bodies…. Well, true, but perhaps the parallel holds better if one substitutes “children” for “bodies,” rather than substituting “parenting” for “bodies”?

    Both children and bodies are recalcitrant and resist outright control; and in both cases women are told that they are bad if they haven’t achieved complete control of entities that cannot be controlled. That’s an impossible situation to live with, but meanwhile, there’s still this body/child there, insisting on being dealt with in all her/his concrete specificity.

    So what do you do? You manipulate, you punish, you learn to live with a chronic level of anxiety, you try out techniques, you beg, you bargain. And sometimes you say “I don’t fucking have the energy for this right now” and you scream at your kid out of sheer desperation… or you eat yourself sick because you find yourself in a situation where you imagine you finally have permission to eat and who knows when that will come again? And then you tell yourself “I’m bad, I suck, I have to get back On Program,” etc.

    And in some cases the punishments and manipulations reach levels that are absolutely injurious and maybe deadly. Abusive or neglectful parenting is Not OK, and is on an entirely different level than just uptight overachiever parenting. But I’m not so sure that both phenomena aren’t (sometimes, probably not always) linked to the same broader reality.

    Which is a dominant culture that says, basically: Attention women! You MUST control these two realities — your children and your bodies — to our specifications. Yes, even though both realities resist control and in fact respond pretty badly to attempts at control. Not only must you do this, but you also must WANT to do this, to find this quest for control supremely FULFILLING and HEALTHY. And if your husband (you have one, right?) isn’t held to the same impossible standards in HIS parenting… well, ha ha ha ha, bless his heart, He’s A Guy and you should be grateful he even knows the kids’ names. What? Help? No, the rest of us aren’t going to help you one bit except by shaming you when you don’t measure up, because we think that’s really a lot of fun and we like feeling superior. Oh, and on that note, all the mandatory work you do in pursuit of this control is really stupid and trivial and silly. Ugh, WOMEN! Hugs and kisses, the white supremacist patriarchy. Oh, and PS: if you don’t want children, or you’re naturally fat, or you’re disabled, or queer, or ugly, or poor, or a POC whom we’ve not deemed acceptably non-threatening…. meh, you’re subhuman and we don’t want you in our pageant in the first place.

  98. Yay for people who make sense.

    I always wonder, how are we supposed to be/define what it is to be ‘good enough’ mothers/women if there’s no place for genuine compassion? Our society bases its standards not on the things that really matter to us and our children (ie. love, understanding, empathy etc.) but on whether or not we use the ‘right’ brand of organic, home made baby food whilst exhibiting as much self-abnegation as humanly possible–

    It seems like we’re studiously avoiding the very things that make life worth living in the process of seeking that which we know is unattainable yet desire anyway. And why?? Because it is demanded of us by those who are willing to acknowledge us only if we are deemed useful and never because we are, quite simply, human.

    It only stops when we step back and acknowledge that A. they really don’t care so much as pay lip-service to tokenistic sociopolitical bullshit, and B. we need to stop exchanging our hearts for a seal of approval we wouldn’t want even if they handed it to us on a platter of baby donuts.

  99. A Sarah, this is wowing me. I am naturally thin and naturally – or something – enjoy being a full-time stay-at-home mother (“enjoy” is not synonymous with “find it easy,” but it does mean I *want* to do it, more than anything). The link between not-thin women trying to force themselves to attempt to appear thinner and not-SAHM-educated-hippie-homebody-women trying to force themselves into that model – it makes total sense.

    I am going to sit over here working really hard on not feeling like a bad feminist now, but I want to say, from my double-the-privileges-for-half-the-price position, your analogy is spot-on.

  100. I think this says most about society’s approach to women in general. I think these examples are part of a larger problem of believing that women ought to be working to be something other than what they are.

  101. Lauren: What I was talking about are people who think that buying toys that do not have an expressed educational purpose are hurting their children. Children can learn a lot when playing with a bunch of random stuff, using their imagination.

    This reminds me of that phenomenon* where kids get given some super-duper toy/similar for their birthday/other special occasion, and then exasperate their parents by being far more interested in the box it came in than the thing inside — yet if you think about it, the excitement over the box shows imagination is at work! Ooh and I just remembered the ace Xmas where we got given a plastic Addis box (storage/stacky box, quite strong and at that age/time big enough to sit in) and spent the entire holidays playing at carpet sledging/pirate ships, etc etc. Dreams about finding a big enough box to repeat now…

    (* I say ‘that phenomenon because my brother and I Loved Boxes and I have seen this idea in an advert for something or the other, so have assumed it wasn’t just us!)

  102. Many, many years ago, I was introduced to the concept of “Good Enough Mother” which is not the same as “perfect mother.” The clinical idea is not the same as the pop psychology one either, but when, at the age of 40, I had my child, I’m finding it very useful. As I read it, the good enough mother actually teaches her child how to cope *by not being perfect*.

    There’s another thing going on here: people who have never learned by interacting with kids what kids are like are going to have more neurosis about parenting; people who have never learned how to eat normally by eating normally are going to be neurotic about things.

    And yes, dieting and being the perfect mommy are both ways that society has tried to make women in particular responsible for creating the perfect world for men to live in and enjoy.

  103. The self-sacrificing “ideal” mother who always puts her children first and her own needs last (after those of her kids and those of her partner, also those of her community and society at large) may be viewed as the good mother by many. But I am convinced that a woman who takes care of her own needs, who makes sure that she has what she personally needs to be happy, can often be a much better mother as a result.

    I think it’s important to remember that, when it comes to society’s criticism about mothering skills, the Mothering Concern Trolls are no more truly concerned about your child’s wellbeing than the Fat Concern Trolls are about your health.

  104. A Sarah: We’ve interacted enough in the past about motherhood to make me pretty upset that I don’t know you for real. This post and your subsequent long comment are just driving that home.

    My daycare provider just spent every day last week telling me that my 2.25-year-old was misbehaving (grabbing toys, shouting, etc…) and, “Wasn’t I talking to her about it at home?” By Friday, I got this note, “Your daughter should be using “my” and “mine” better.” I’m so sorry. Her use of the subjunctive mood could be improved too. Maybe by the time she’s two and a half?

    I was weakening…beginning to believe her…until I read this post and comments.

    Fuck her. I may not be able to change daycares (what I want to do), but I can teach my daughter a lesson here about standing up for oneself.

  105. atiton, don’t worry about what your daycare provider said for a moment! When my daughter was two and a half, she consistently used “you” to mean “I”, as in “you want a drink” when she was thirsty. This did the heads in of the rather narrow minded playgroup leaders she knew at the time. In time, she sorted her pronouns out, and she is now an all too articulate rising 15.

    It strikes me that there are few commentators here who have older children or teenagers. I think there is a whole different aspect to society’s views on parenting when the child reaches the age when they are expected no longer to be under one’s control in the same way, but I am not quite sure how to articulate it. On the one hand, everyone agrees that they are beginning to go their own ways… on the other, if there’s a problem it still often seems to be blamed on the parents (though not necessarily so much the mother in particular, IME). My teenager’s rebellion largely takes the form, at the moment, of being as anti-feminist as possible and saying how she considers careers for women stupid and futile and wants to marry a rich man and have his babies. I am not quite sure how to deal with this either. Parenting bystanders try to talk her out of it, but they don’t get far.

  106. Seriously, about 18 months after my daughter was born, I just said, “Fuck it. Fuck it all.” And I simply do not care what anyone else thinks of my mothering… or my weight. I can’t do a damn thing to live up to anyone’s expectations, so I don’t try. I do the best I can with the resources I have at the time and laughingly stash money away in the little one’s therapy fund for all the ways I am surely messing her up. It kind of bewilders people when I don’t get all hot and bothered about whatever parenting/child development fad they are currently ranting about.

  107. To Alison:
    I was a tenager with very, very laid back, liberal parents. And I rebelled by suddenly taking the rules of “acceptable” behaviour, as defined my the dominant society, far too seriousely. I didn’t rebell against feminism or their left-leaning politics that way, so it is not quite the same, but if it helps at all, I can tell you that I got over it (mostly.- cab you still be a rebelling child at 25?), so don’t give up on your daughter quite yet ;)

    You have raised in a way that will later make it a lot easier for her to understand the neccessety of feminism, because she knows and loves people who try to live according to these ideals. Conciously or not, a lot of them will have been cemented in her mind.

    I know it probably doesn’t help right now. My baby-brother is currently going through a phase of rebelling by being (or really just pretending to be) as politically uncorect as possible,and it is driving me nuts whenever I visit my family. Knowing that he is a good person at heart and will get over it doesn’t change that. But I remind myself of it anyway.

    Your daughter may not want a career right now (or she might just say that because she knows it drives you out of your mind, testing the boundaries), but the fact that she is self-confident enough to tell you this tells me that despite what she may pretend, she believes in women’s right to have their own ideas and thoughts, to make their own choices and to express them.

  108. When my daughter was two and a half, she consistently used “you” to mean “I”, as in “you want a drink” when she was thirsty.

    I did the same thing when I was little!

  109. As a new mom who’s also fat, I can definitely see the similarities.

    The only time I feel anxious as a mom is when I start reading the parenting books/Web sites. Similarly, the only time I feel anxious about my body is when I read articles about weight loss/dieting. Coincidence?

    I’m a rule-follower by nature. I get so caught up in doing things the “right” way that I forget to listen to my instincts. But when I make the effort to listen to what my body needs, I feel healthy and strong. Likewise, when I listen to my motherly instincts, I feel more relaxed and confident as a parent.

    It’s hard to drown out the “shoulds,” but I feel so much better about myself when I do.

  110. Atiton, I hesitate to even suggest it because mostly I’ve avoided the Parenting Competition by not hanging out with parents who are remotely like me, but maybe we should organize Child Acceptance get-togethers?

    p.s. my 4-year-old says mines instead of mine even though i’m pretty sure he knows better. He doesn’t think we should tell him how to talk, so we mostly don’t. I assume he’ll be a fluent Standard English speaker at some point in his upcoming 12-18 years of formal education.

  111. First off, I’d like to say how grateful I am for this amazing community of women. Thanks for being here, all of you. It’s so nice to know that out there in the ether is a group of women struggling mightily against a rising tide of oppressive perfectionist bullshit. The fact that we are all coping with this pervasive societal message about our personal inadequacies gives me strength to try to resist. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!!

    As a mother and as a person who has struggled for years with disordered eating, I love the parallel that A Sarah has drawn here. I think the hardest part of resisting the daily bombardment of messages that scream YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!! is to ignore the temptation to grab a pitchfork and join the mob. I think, deep down, most people realize that it’s ugly and unkind to pass judgement on people based on their looks or parenting styles. I know it’s simplistic and stupid and impossible to implement, but I can’t help thinking that if we’d all just fucking BEHAVE ourselves we wouldn’t have these conflicts. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of being a Judge-y Judgerson from Judgetown. I’m not proud of it and I’m really trying to work on it, but I’m human.

    My problem is that it seems like the message we’re getting from all sides of society is that we should cultivate our personal Judge-y Judgersons. That judging other people for their lack of perfection is GOOD FOR THEM! That there is virtue in being an asshole, basically. I find that insanely frustrating. Because, didn’t (most of us, at least) learn as children that we should be kind to each other? Share our toys, play nicely in the sandbox, and avoid saying and doing nasty things to people?

    It’s incredibly sad to me that the world I’m trying to teach my daughter about- the world in which people are kind and she is loved and special- is not necessarily the world that she will enter. I can only hope that she’ll find little enclaves of people who value civility, individuality, generousity, and tolerance. Hopefully, that will be enough to keep her sane in an insane world.

    Again, so grateful to have found such an enclave here…

  112. Hi HiddenTohru–just checking back in to say that I wasn’t at all offended, and that I like our name, and that I think you got your point(s) across admirably!:)

  113. Seriously, about 18 months after my daughter was born, I just said, “Fuck it. Fuck it all.”

    Just remember that it takes a lot of privilege to pull this off. If your kid has health or developmental issues that take you into contact with a lot of medical or educational professionals… or if your family situation requires a lot of contact with caseworkers… or if your economic situation means that you have to explain what you buy to a funding agency… or if you have neighbors who can see and hear everything you do… then a “fuck it all” attitude could get you reported to the authorities. If just one of those people thinks you’re doing it all wrong, you could be denied services, lose custody, or at least spend a lot of time justifying your choices to folks who have the power to make your life pretty miserable. Which is why this isn’t just a matter of attitude; societal pressures to conform come with real consequences, whether the pressures are about body shape and motherhood.

  114. Can I add another thing to the list of similar situations?

    I’m depressive. I have depression. If I do all the right things, and behave in all the right ways, I can simulate normality, and generally I try to.

    But lately I’ve been finding myself asking why.

    I’m not stupid. I know logically and intellectually taking my meds every day stabilises my mood, and leaves me better able to deal with the waking world. But emotionally I just can’t see why I want to do it. My “giving a fuck” system is so totally messed up I can’t give a fuck about myself, it seems. So the cycle goes something like this:

    Wake up on Sunday, resolve to be a “good girl” this week and take my meds all week. Fill up the one-week pill container in the fridge (I take a couple of thyroxine supplements which need to be kept refrigerated, so all the meds live in the fridge) with a week’s worth of medication. Swallow the Sunday meds.
    Wake up on Monday. Think “oh yeah, meds”. Swallow Monday medication.
    Wake up on Tuesday. Might remember my resolution to take my meds. Take Tuesday meds if this is the case. If not, forget all about it.
    Wednesday through Saturday – repeat as for Tuesday, noting the probability of my remembering my resolution declines with each successive day to the point where if I’ve been forgetting from Tuesday through Friday, it’s highly likely I won’t remember to take them at all until I reach Saturday.
    Wake up Saturday. Look at the one-week pill container in the fridge, which should only have one day’s meds in it, but actually has somewhere between one and four, depending on which days I remembered to take them. Feel massively guilty, and resolve to take my meds every day next week. I may or may not actually take the meds on Saturday.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Sounds like the diet cycle, yeah?

    Which is how I find myself where I am today: a weepy mess, feeling totally inadequate and useless as a human being, because I can’t even stick to the little routines which would keep me vaguely sane. At present I’m busy working up the emotional energy to write an email to my vocational rehab providers, and explain I’m feeling like crap this week and could they please excuse me from the human race for a bit. I’m also trying to work up the impetus to contact some of the various depression support services, and see whether they’re able to provide me with something like home help for a few weeks (months, years, the rest of my life… gods, I dunno) so I can have some practical assistance in getting through the day. Of course, I’m also wondering whether I shouldn’t just call the local psych hospital, and ask them whether they do pick-ups, and if so, could they come fetch me please (even though I’m probably not severely disturbed enough for institutionalisation)?

  115. I’ve always had an easy time ignoring other people’s judgments about important things. I was able to look at supermodels and myself in junior high, and just decide to focus on non-looks aspects of myself. It didn’t rid me of all the shame, but I was able to distance myself from shame and stop feeling guilt entirely. In high school, I followed WW to the letter and gained weight because I was eating too much (for ME). I stopped eating twice as much food as normal and lost the weight. I was accused of lying, self-deception and not understanding the program in the groups. I knew the truth, and that was all that really mattered to me.

    As a 300 pound woman by the end of my twin pregnancy who wanted as little intervention as possible, I was given less than an appropriate amount of respect by some hospital staff. My sudden pre-eclampsia was blamed on my weight, rather than the twin pregnancy, despite no history of even medium blood pressure. Because of the real dangers of eclampsia, I made choices I hadn’t planned on, but I was satisfied with my high intervention birth because I chose which interventions happened when. My awesome OBs decided that 38 hours from induction to vaginal birth was just dandy progress, we truly worked as a team.

    That said, I appreciate that everyone doesn’t have my lucky temperament. And I struggle with school expectations of my 8 year olds. They have this behaviorist green-yellow-red status “discipline system” called Capturing Kids Hearts (no shit, love the conquest metaphor). And even the charter schools use it. They talk a good game about caring, and fresh starts every day, and accountability and communication. But the teacher still writes names on the board. The only reason for doing that is to humiliate the child. Period. That’s really the only effect it will have, no matter what the professed reason is. And I can’t imagine any adult not knowing that at some level.

    But I’m not sane and organized enough to home school them, or rich enough to send them to Montessori (Over $20K per year). It’s illegal to let your children study with an already home schooling parent unless that parent holds a teaching license. I won’t send them to a religious school, all of which would employ similar methods anyway. So we’re kind of stuck.

  116. Meg, ((((((((hugs))))))))…. It sounds really hard, and also does sound like the same kind of cycle. I can sort of relate to the messed up ‘giving a fuck’ system, from the perspective of what I think is situational depression (several factors), but I don’t want to come off all ‘oh I so know how you feel’ patronisey because obvs my experience =/= yours. But I empathise (right word?) very much with how you describe feeling, and understand that it’s so not as simple as ‘being that simple’. It sounds like calling some support services/groups might help, and in a way posting here is a bit like doing that, it’s such a supportive community — so you have already done something to try to get things moving… sounds like you’re making loads more progress than you might be giving yourself credit for?

  117. Hey, Meg, I actually feel your pain completely. The medication thing can be a complete drag, and depression is not a minor problem. It’s sometimes a “Wow I took a shower today and that is my big accomplishment now let me go back to bed” disease, and it took me a long time to get to the point that I could acknowledge that a shower was really good progress when I was at that level of depressed.

    That being said, you’ve got a system that’s failing you. You’re not failing anything. Your system is the problem–that you “should” be able to remember is no more relevant than the idea that you “should” be able to walk to down the stairs would be, if you had a broken leg. So you need a new, successful system. I myself have relied on caffeine in the past, since I have a major diet Coke addiction and drink the stuff every morning when I get up. So the pills would live next to the diet Coke in the fridge, and the first drink would get the pills down. Also possible: non-fridge pills by the alarm clock or the computer or wherever’s your first stop in the morning. The fridge pills can be the next step, and even on non-successful days for step 2, perhaps step 1 will help.

    And sometimes you need an actual human being helping while you’re at a bad point. This is fine. Remember that the guilt and lack of affect is part of the disease, not a personal failing–gods know, it doesn’t actually help the emotional burden, but it sometimes makes it easier to bear. My father had a pinched nerve in his back that meant his hand would hurt terribly. The pinched nerve was in his back, but he could barely keep himself from massaging and icing the arm, which had zero effect. In the case of depression, the GuiltShameSorrow cloud is a function of wack neurological interactions and would attach itself to your parenting if you were a parent, your education if you were a student, your music if you were a singer, and in all cases whatever it is that is foremost in your mind. The emotions are just big chemical productions, which the brain associates with your activities or what worries you, just because the brain is trained to make those connections. But the connections don’t really exist: the problem is the equivalent of a pinched nerve. Your arm is fine. (I know, strained metaphor, but it really worked for me.)

    In this case, your will and humanity and worth are all still there–it takes enormous courage to reach out for help like you’re doing–but the GuiltShameSorrow cloud is attaching itself to your efforts and leaching your energy. It’s a function of your physical illness, not your character. This is an absolute truth.

    I am so sorry you’re going through this. I hope this helps a little.

  118. Oh, hey, and Meg–you might want to consider getting the medicine looked at as well. If you’ve changed from being pretty good about it to not giving a fuck, there’s a possibility things just aren’t working for you. Another situation where it’s the system, not you, that’s at fault. I know messing with the meds can be hell on wheels, but sometimes a little tweak is all it needs.

  119. Shiyaya: “amn’t” is in common use in Hiberno-English; it’s particularly noticeable where other dialects use “aren’t,” as in “IAren’t I clever?” vs “amn’t I clever?”

    I prefer it, but have stopped using it since moving to the UK. Damn useful word.

  120. Thanks for the support, folks. I keep wondering if I should teach my two-year-old how to say, “Back off, Bitch!” But that wouldn’t help anyone but my vindictive soul…

  121. “Or is it the case that dieting, and self-effacing competitive mothering are both instances of some more general artifice that frames a certain sector of privileged women? Is there a way to talk about this that isn’t all WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE POOR MONEYED WHITE GIRLS?!?!”

    @ Laura M “This applies to all women, just in different ways. Women of Colour labour under the “welfare queen” stigma, where far from being expected to be perfect, they have to work three times as hard to be considered anything but a crappy mother – imagine everyone expecting you to fail! Perfect shining motherhood does deem to be a white moneyed thing.”

    Forgive me here if I screw this up, I’m not an experienced poster (or writer) but this is a topic that I have experienced (and do experience on a daily basis) and therefore have been curious about and have considered for the last 5 years. A woman’s body, her children’s bodies and the perfect parenting ideal are all stark realities in my socioeconomic circle. One of the primary reasons that I am able to dis-engage from these mechanisms of oppression is because I see the phenomenon as existing almost exclusively in the light of privilege.

    I don’t see that question being answered here (and it is one that A Sarah posed) – are these oppressive mechanisms peculiar to the moneyed classes? The neuroses that I see among my female peers regarding choice of school, diet and their own body size seems to me to stem directly from class privilege. However, I’ve read this entire comments section and that doesn’t seem to be the impression that I am getting here. I am seeing that lots of women here see this as a given in their society, i.e., it’s not surprising, unexpected or unfamiliar and that it is almost non-exclusive. This seems curious to me since I see it as an exclusive phenomenon. Am I the only one who sees this? (aside from Laura M)

    Of course all women here have access to the internet, are literate, have time to read and write on message boards, etc, this speaks to some level of privilege (a fact, which I’m sure has been pointed out numerous times on this website). Laura M seemed to me to sum it all up when she said that there are many mothers for whom society expects to be “bad mothers” and that expectation originates in racial and socio-economic prejudice. I think what she says is true so doesn’t it follow that that the neuroses of being the perfect mother is a class driven notion and therefore the indulgence in that neuroses is merely an indulgence in one’s own privilege? (Yikes, I fear that is said with a heavy hand but I don’t know how else to say it with less weight. No pun intended.)

    What A Sarah said about “Won’t someone please think of the poor moneyed white girls?” pretty much summed it up for me. Most of the social commentary (in the form of books or articles) on this phenomenon of social isolation, high parental expectations, harsh judgment from society, personal appearance pressure, post-maternity female disenfranchisement, etc. has been so exclusively class based that I haven’t even been able to finish reading it. I gave up trying to find a coherent and well-reasoned commentary on this a few years ago when I realised that I was being ridiculous for finding my life difficult (because of these choices) because I am fucking swimming in privilege.

    Finding life difficult because of these issues *is* a relative phenomenon. I have lots of privilege and that gives me lots of choice. If I let those choices make me neurotic then that’s my own damn fault, not the fault of a society that perpetrates some notion of how making one choice over another is more efficacious as far as my own status. That’s CERTAINLY not to say that I am impervious to the social pressures because I am affected, deeply affected. I have to consciously rid myself of my insecurities around these issues and many a time I fail and join right in the perpetuation of these pressures. (BTW, it bears mentioning that these choices are false choices, they are effectively consumer choices, not choices which are meaningful in wider society or have true agency for women, that is, they do not effect real change in the lives of women, they only give the illusion of doing so.)

    I want to be clear here, I am talking about choices like leaving a baby to cry it out, co-sleeping, private education vs. state education, boy’s school or co-ed, drama classes or chess club, gluten free or dairy free, etc. I’m not talking about being a parent who abuses a child or neglects a child, etc.

    I see women at the school gate (I live in the UK and the school gate is the meeting place of mothers) with the tell tale signs of bulimia and disordered eating. At coffee mornings with other mothers when the cake is passed around it inevitably opens a discussion about who is dieting and who isn’t, there are discussions of other mothers who are loosing weight, etc. These discussions and related decisions dominate the lives of the women around me and in many cases serve to consume their lives to the exclusion of any more meaningful pursuits. It absolutely depletes my mind that these women who have so much privilege often squander that privilege in the pursuit of perfection in their own tiny worlds.

    I don’t feel guilty for my privilege (ok maybe I do a little but it’s really self-indulgent to do so) but with my privilege comes a responsibility. What I see in the pursuit of these microcosms of attainment in the lives of affluent women (including myself) is the relinquishment of much of that responsibility. I have no doubt that this is not a conscious relinquishment; most of society is so disenfranchised from themselves that this type of social responsibility eludes them. These phenomena are nothing new, they are merely a new form of social snobbery that serve to galvanise the class systems that function as oppressive mechanisms in many societies.

    I would really welcome challenges to what I have written to help me to clarify these ideas. This is central to my life and I haven’t really ever spoken to another woman about these things.

    I will close with a favourite quote of mine which is at the heart of what I am attempting to convey here: “ ‘Choice’ is for women with social, cultural, and economic capital. The discourse of choice is not about women’s empowerment or advancement – it neglects those lacking both.”

Comments are closed.