Recently, I was just told that women who place their children in the gym’s nursery for two hours so that they can work out are “substandard” mothers. Needless to say, I lashed out at the person with the venom and rage allotted to all women with hormones and children. Although I place my son, who is much older, in the gym’s “nursery,” (it’s not really a nursery for him since he is older and plays basketball or on the computers), I do not put my three-year old daughter in there. I tried it once or twice, and I could not do it; not to mention, my husband has issues with it, and I wouldn’t go against his wishes with our children for the same reasons that I wouldn’t want him to do with them what I am opposed to. And even though I do not put my kids in there while I work out, I have no problems defending the women that do.
Honestly, when I see moms and dads with their kids at the gym, I am a little envious. They have a certain kind of freedom that I lack. While I spend my entire day with my children, or at least one of my children, since my son does go to half-day camp during the summer break, anything that I want to do for myself, (say go to the gym, go to the movies, write, work on my syllabus, send out queries to agents), all has to be done after Joe gets home from work, and more times than none, after the kids go to sleep. I attended classes and worked on my PhD in the evenings, and I wrote my books in the evening. It is no wonder that I go to bed after one in the morning – from nine to 1 am, that time is mine – and even then I am too tired or self-defeated to do anything more constructive than watch boring TV and eat gummi bears until my belly of ineptitude as a mother, a writer, and an unsuccessful individual is full of self-loathing.
Times have changed since the fifties when women were completely home-isolated because of their station as mothers. They suffocated inside their homes and within the confines of their restrictive roles as wives and mothers. They cared for everyone outside of themselves, existing in a state of “otherness,” vacant receptacles filled over the rim with everyone’s needs but their own. Today’s mothers are contemporary, and even though most of them who can afford to tuck away their Master’s degrees in file cabinets and give up their careers for the sake of motherhood, they find a balance that seems to offer them independence, self-reliance, and a sense of identity outside their roles of mothers and wives. They volunteer at their children’s schools, join the PTO/PTA, (which is like a full-time, non-paying job), become freelance writers for internet businesses, find part-time paying work that gives them some time away and a small paycheck, or assume consulting titles in their fields. They even have time to go to the gym. And what this means is that they may have to pay for part-time babysitters, nannies, mothers helpers, or pre-schools for their small children. Or they swap play dates with neighbors, as I did with my neighbor when I had to volunteer for my son’s kindergarten lunches. But they find ways to allow themselves moments of reprieve from their children – from the demands of motherhood. And this does not make them selfish; it does not mean they love their children less – it makes them resourceful, and it makes them real.
Today’s mothers are not the self-sacrificing mothers of the past, existing for the needs of their husbands and children while quietly drowning in silence, in abject invisibility, in a secondary stasis of otherness. Today’s mother finds venues available to her so that she can enjoy her place as mother to her children without feeling negated, stripped of identity, and chastised for needing more. To call her selfish, to call her a “substandard” mother because she does not subjugate her self and her needs for her children is downright mean-spirited and obtuse. Being a mother does not mean that we need to sacrifice our selves, our own needs, our aspirations or ambitions. Why can’t we do both? Why does motherhood have to be about being selfless, needless, impoverished of an identity outside of the home and family? It is not selfish or “substandard” to need an hour or two away from motherhood a day, every other day, or a few times a week. The average working dad gets at least three hours to spend with his kids, if he is not crashing on the couch after dinner and a full day of work – why isn’t he sub-standard? Why is he held to a different standard than mothers? Is it because we opt to stay home with our children? And because we choose to stay home with our kids, does that mean we have to give up everything else? If we don’t give up all of ourselves, we’re selfish, we’re substandard? And who set this standard for mothers and motherhood anyway? It wasn’t women. It wasn’t mothers. It wasn’t me.
Indian spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh says, “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never.” Motherhood is a new experience for every woman, and no woman really knows what kind of mother she will be to her children until she is faced with the challenge of motherhood. We are all different as women and as mothers. We all have different thresholds of tolerance, patience, and self-sacrifice. We cannot hold each other to our personal standards, or look down upon one another because we don’t meet each other’s expectations. No one has a right to tell us how to mother our children, or to what extent we should mother them.
This is a new day, and we are doing the best that we can do without having to be ridiculed by contentious and self-righteous people who do not understand the extent of our sacrifices – for motherhood comes hand-in-hand with sacrifice, whereas fatherhood hardly experiences a dent upon the valued foundation of its esteemed brotherhood. In marriage and in motherhood, women have to sacrifice; it is expected of them. To top it off, they must be perfect. Nothing more is expected of men. If they don’t spend time with their kids – well, they’re men. If they cheat, they’re men. If they golf, play video games, or have to watch football/baseball/soccer/and whatever other ridiculous boy-toy belongs to the club of men – leniency is expected, demanded even, because they’re men. Men don’t give up anything when they become fathers – women have to give up careers, degrees, money, independence, selfishness, anger, vices, complaints, etc. They are not allowed to want or desire more than their biology – their God-given, Adam-ribbed right to bear children and provide man with an heir.
On a personal note, I refuse to give up myself for my kids, my husband, society’s expectations for my gender, and for anyone else who thinks I should be a “specific” kind of mother. I am a rebellious mother, and I have yet to find my balance. I make a lot of mistakes, and I am the kind of person who loses sleep over her mistakes and missteps, careless words and reckless actions, but I try as hard as I can to make it right. I am a Green Mom for whom mothering does not come easily or selflessly. Wanting more than motherhood does not make me a substandard mother or a selfish one. I have learned the hard way that I need more than motherhood and children to make me happy, to make me feel complete and full of self-respect. I may not place my kids in the gym’s nursery while I work out, but while being a mother, I have worked towards a PhD, written two books and six articles, and have become a College Instructor. And yes, now I blog, but it’s the only chance I get to write these days. I have done this because I need more, but my kids have not suffered because of my goals. As a matter of fact, my goals make me a better mother. When I am happy, my kids are happy. When I feel like crap, diminished and unsuccessful, unproductive and sacrificed, I am a terrible mother with a dark and self-deprecating cloud overshadowing my mothering. I need work the way I need freedom, intellect, love, and my children. And this makes me a better candidate as a mother – not “substandard.”
Copyright© 2010 by Marina DelVecchio. All Rights Reserved.