When I first heard the uproar about
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I did what I usually do when yet another mothering storm breaks. I went for a walk with my friend, Betsy, around Lady Bird Lake, both of us semi-gloating, semi-thank-the-gods relieved that our own kids are pretty much grown and it’s too late for us to do anything or berate ourselves for our obvious shortcomings.
In case you haven’t heard about Tiger Mother, it’s basically the story of a mother who mercilessly drives her two daughters to perfection in the academic and classical music worlds. She doesn’t praise them, she looms over them like a beacon of perfectionism, she won’t let them do sleepovers or take up sports. An A-minus is unacceptable, as was the homemade birthday card one of her kids gave her, which Tiger Mom labeled as “garbage.”
Neither Betsy nor I had read the book, but since when was that a prerequisite to mouthing off about it as we took one of our loud walks. Tiger Mom would have gotten apoplectic just looking at us (badly dressed, as usual) as we screamed our way along the hike and bike trail.
“If we’re not Tiger Moms, what are we?”
“Roll over and play dead and hope it will all pass Moms?”
Personally, I preferred the term laissez-faire moms, since it’s always better to stick in a gratuitous foreign phrase in the hopes no one will know what you’re talking about. Besides, it sounded better than other alternatives like Deadbeat Moms.
The point is there’s always some new tsunami of mother thought designed to send you into a shame spiral about what you’ve failed to do or have done irremediably wrong. (It used to be that, once you gave birth, you became immediately guilty; these days, all you have to do is think about getting pregnant and you’re already failing your future kid in some hopeless way. That is not my idea of progress.)
I read about or listen to the latest mantras of Mom Perfectionism — the organic diets, the endless intellectual and cultural stimulation, the constantly hovering protectionism — and I go into a swivet thinking about my husband’s and my kids’ deplorably haphazard childhoods. We ate junk food sometimes! We watched The Sopranos together! They went to day care! We sometimes reacted inappropriately! (Told our middle-school age son had dialed 1-800-SPANKME on a school phone and was now cooling his heels in the principal’s office, I struggled to keep a straight face, all the while twitching unattractively. My husband and I spent the rest of the evening overcome by hysterical laughter.)
Oh, God, I don’t know. My main complaint is that there’s no one perfect way to bring up kids that assures success (assuming we could agree, in the first place, what “success” is; my own definition would include spawning kids with a great sense of humor — and I can tell you we succeeded on that one just fine). We all do our best, we’re all well-meaning, even if some of us like Betsy and me are total, unapologetic slobs.
I’m sick and tired of the neverending Mom Guilt Trip. Hasn’t it occurred to some people that — now and then and whenever you can manage it — you’re supposed to have a little fun with your kids?
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read another post about asserting myself through birthday cake