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On the proper use of Moleskines and Movable Type

March 3rd, 2005 · 7 Comments

moleskine.jpg

Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety with its recent excerpt in Newsweek ( Mommy Madness) and review in The New York Times(‘Perfect Madness’: The Mommy Trap) generated a range of passionate responses from resonance to revulsion. I experienced two extremes of the spectrum within myself. Warner’s thoughts along with insights from other bloggers led me on a journey from motherhood to Moleskines and Movable Type.(*)

[Of note: Morrie Johnston wrote to let me know of a book, titled Motherguilt by Ita Buttrose and Penny Adams that seems to be addressing some of the same issues in Australia.]

‘women who had surrendered their better selves—and their sanity—to motherhood’

Warner’s theme is that American mothers are living lives of desperation, stressed-out perfectionists painting paper plates in the middle of the night in attempts to meet every imagined need of their progeny .
[New York Times book review]

Warner has two points to make. The first is that, in affluent America, mothering has gone from an art to a cult, with devotees driving themselves to ever more baroque extremes to appease the goddess of perfect motherhood.

[Newsweek book excerpt ]

Once my daughters began school, I was surrounded, it seemed, by women who had surrendered their better selves—and their sanity—to motherhood. Women who pulled all-nighters hand-painting paper plates for a class party. Who obsessed over the most minute details of playground politics. Who—like myself—appeared to be sleep-walking through life in a state of quiet panic.

She wrote of a national epidemic, of competitions for ballet classes and piano teachers, wondering why has this generation of mothers, arguably the most liberated and privileged group of women America has ever seen, driven themselves crazy in the quest for perfect mommy-dom? [Newsweek]

yes, I go bananas

Reading these articles, I had two reactions. First, I confess aspects of Warner’s work resonated with me. No, I’m not painting paper plates in the middle of the night. But sometimes life does seem a little crazy caring for three kids, my husband and myself, managing our home, educating our daughters, building a marriage, shopping for insurance, groceries, and clothing, wearing multiple hats while trying to find time for my own space and identity. Yes, I’ve even been known to go bananas.

moleskinebananas.jpg

I don’t want to focus on fisking Warner’s thesis, contrasting or comparing my experience with those of the women she interviewed.

If what Warner writes is true, who would want to be a mom?

Instead I’d rather focus on the other side of my reaction: who wants to be a mom?! If motherhood is this miserable, why choose children? The portrait painted in Mommy Madness is one of exhausted and sexless women, overwhelmed and overworked. Judith Warner selected an apt title for her book: people who decide to become parents must be insane.

Responding to the New York Times review, Rebecca MacKinnon wrote I won’t apologize for liking my freedom:

But after reading this review of Judith Warner’s ”Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” I wonder even more than usual why so many financially independent American women are in such a hurry to do the marriage-and-children thing.

discussing parenting

The more I discuss parenting, in blog posts or conference sessions, the more I realize what a personal and passionate issue it is. Mothers, fathers and people who aren’t parents often defend decisions with zeal. Identity, experience, emotions, and memories can combine to create intensity.

‘You could buy a Moleskine’

In February I dissected a New York Times piece on mommy bloggers, defending those who blog about their babies. Snappy the Clam (John Mignault) replied: You Could Buy a Moleskine.

‘If you can’t put their best interest ahead of your own, don’t reproduce”

During my session at Northern Voice Derek Miller asked me if I had read Eric Meyer’s post Be a Parent, which was his response to the same NYT article.

If you absolutely must write down your thoughts and feelings about how hard it is to be a parent, do so in a private journal. Fifteen years from now, you can decide whether or not to give it to your child, and if you do, they can decide what to do with it. But don’t throw it out into the world as if it were a list of your favorite movies. That’s unnecessarily cruel.

[...]

You choose in the child’s favor. End of story. If you can’t do that, and especially if you can’t do it without feeling resentful about it, then it’s long past time for you to suck it up, get over yourself, and seriously consider therapy.

Theodicius linked to Eric Meyer:

If you can’t put their best interest ahead of your own, don’t reproduce; we need you out of the gene pool, and I mean now! I’ve given up several of my own dreams because of the little ones entrusted to my care, and while occasionally I’ll spend a few wistful moments wondering “if only…” that’s all they are, idle daydreams. Because I wouldn’t trade one second of what I did with and for my little girls for years of living out whatever that dream was. And that’s what I did. I traded those dreams in for their dreams, because that was the Right Thing To Do. And if you ever resent doing the Right Thing, it’s time to make a reservation in the big house with padded rooms; you’re finished with reality, it’s time to move into that castle in the air you’ve been building.

Certainly parenting involves sacrifice. I agree with some of the sentiment expressed by Eric Meyer and Theodicius. A blog is not the best place to express everthing. Letting the world know that you struggle as a parent may not be wise. It’s hard to know what the future or Google may bring. I don’t believe that people in general, or parents specifically, should reveal all of themselves or their family in a blog.

I also respect what other parents choose for their children. We each have our own perspective and reasons. We all have our own levels of privacy and comfort when interacting with others.

What does it mean to do the Right Thing as a mother?

But after reading these posts I wonder how many parents always know what is best for their children? If I don’t know what is the Right Thing all the time, am I a failure? I’ve never been a mother before, and I’ve never practiced parenting these children. I am learning and growing with them. My daughters’ best interests are not always clear to me in every situation.

Also is it not the Right Thing for my daughters to be part of the blogging community with us? Should they not be making soda flow from Chris Pirillo’s nose? Okay, yes, they should not be making soda come out of his nose. That’s clear. But Ted and I believe in sharing our lives with our daughters, integration, and that includes sharing our family with our blogging friends. Even if that means the girls’ hands become covered with ladybug and heart stamps. To not blog about them at all would be denying the reality of the community they share with us. Our daughters exist in the real world. And they exist in the virtual one too. One of the facets of their identity, as for anyone, is their parents’ view of them.

What I do with my Moleskine and Movable Type

I have a Moleskine. I keep private paper journals where I write about my daughters. But I believe that there is a time and place, with appropriate limitations, for blogging about parenting, for sharing our struggles as mothers and fathers.

One of the many purposes of blogs, I believe, is to debunk modern myths, to counter what the media is producing, to speak truth. Bloggers can correct the portrayal of the Dean Scream or videogamers. Blogs can be our voice, broadcasting far and wide. We can reveal lies. We can come together and support each other. We can plant seeds for change. Using Movable Type (and other blogging software), we can help make things move.

Who wants this madness?

Rebecca MacKinnon is justified in her response to the New York Times book review. Who would want a life of madness? Who wants to be painting paper plates in the middle of the night? Who wants to be so obsessed with children that she becomes sexless and lifeless? What is the appeal of overparenting?

But there are other paths.

If we are willing to blog about parenting, to share pieces of our family life, we can show other examples, alternate options to the craziness magnified around us.

I’m not saying I have it all together. Ted and I have some ideas and principles but we’re also figuring it out as we go. As I read Judith Warner’s piece on competitive mommy-dom I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream the truth: there’s got to be better ways than this!

For example, she claimed simple birthday parties are difficult to do.

[New York Times]

In a society that measures status in consumer goods and hard-to-come-by symbols of achievement — grades, awards, brand-name colleges — the scramble for advantage is bound to propel American upper-middle-class parents into exponentially goofier displays of one-upsmanship. Try giving your 3-year-old an old-fashioned cake-and-balloon birthday party at home, with neither facilitator nor gift bags, and you’ll see that Warner’s onto something, and that it’s harder to opt out than you’d think.

Simple birthday parties are all our kids know. Old-fashioned cake and balloons provide plenty of fun. All you need is love and powdered sugar.

moleskinehippocake.jpg

Here’s another example from Warner’s writing:
[New York Times]

Take the woman who decides to scale back when her baby is born. Her smaller paycheck makes her husband feel that he must bring in a bigger one, or at least make sure not to slip into a lower income bracket.

There are many ways to parent

There are many ways to parent. For example, a couple can scale back from the beginning of their marriage/relationship. Learning to live with less is an option.

If all we read are media reports of parenting, we will think we are trapped. Stuck. Miserable mothers. Our dead-end destiny of diapering.

But if we are willing to talk, willing to write, willing to share, willing to discuss our family lives, with wisdom, we can help each other. We can realize our problems and put them in their proper place as parents. We can grow through our challenges as individuals and as a community. We can make changes in ourselves and in our world.

Lisa Williams , commenting on the book review and Rebecca McKinnon’s post, shared what she has learned as an at-home Mom.

There’s another benefit that’s probably (more) unique to me: growing up in a very achievement-oriented household, it was particularly important for me to learn that not all of my worth was based on worldly achievement which can so easily disappear (cue Eason Jordan). Parenting teaches me not to be so uptight about continuous upward progress.

I appreciated how she painted her mothering with positivity, listing what she has learned and how she has grown as a person while taking time away from employment. I too struggle with addiction to achievement and progress.

Judith Warner discussed the danger of workaholism.

[Newsweek]

It is our own internalized workaholism that threatens to devour us and our children — that, and the increasingly untenable absence of a public infrastructure of care.

[New York Times]

Overparenting has a lot in common with overwork. Both make economists happy, because they lead us to buy more stuff, whether that stuff is baby-wipe warmers or gourmet meals delivered after hours to our offices. Both are powered by fear of a loss of face. But the two also come into conflict, and therein may lie one route to salvation. It is mothers caught between overparenting and overwork who have the strongest incentive to push back against the forces that drive them.

.

We don’t have to buy it all.

We don’t have to buy it. We don’t have to buy more stuff. We don’t have to buy whatever the supposed experts or media are trying to sell us.

We can come together. We can make changes. Although other responses have erupted, I believe Judith Warner has written her book in hopes that women will see their power as educated mothers and push back. We can resist.

What I’ve written here about parenting is true in other situations of daily life. Marriage, for example. Is it like finding a dress to wear to a party, as this New York Times article indicates [via Scheherazade]?

On the radio recently I heard an NPR interview discussing Social Security. One of the main issues in the debate is retirement age. We Americans feel entitled to retirement. We want to know we will have fun at the end of our lives. Why? I suspect it is because we spend much of our lives unhappy, nose to the grindstone at a boring job, treading water, paying bills, punching the clock, counting the days until freedom when we can begin to claim benefits. Work is a four-letter word.

Marriage doesn’t need to be the dance of dress shopping. Motherhood doesn’t need to be competitive and miserable. Our lives don’t need to be spent waiting for the end in order for them to begin.

Blogging can be a tool: If we are willing to share, if we are willing to open ourselves, to be examples, to change our lives, to live in front of each other, to ask questions and reveal distresses, we can help each other find freedom.

There’s got to be a better way to live.

*updated to add one sentence 10:40 am 3/3/05

Tags: family

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mae // Mar 3, 2005 at 8:08 am

    hear hear ! Prov 31:28. God bless your efforts in always finding a better way.

  • 2 Lucy // Mar 3, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    I don’t think its motherhood that makes those women miserable. They’d be miserable no matter what they were doing, never comfortable in their own skin with the confidence to believe “I am important.”

    You can be happy or miserable regardless of the situation.

  • 3 Susan Kitchens // Mar 3, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    Hey there! this is just a shout out to let you know that not only did I read this post, but I appreciate the perspective that you give… finding a middle way, or a way through. (this comment applies to this post and the one about swimming/duty) Don’t have much to say right now (re: work I gotta do: I’m dancing as fast as I can!), but just wanted to say HEY and thumbs up from one corner of the world.

    S

  • 4 ilona // Mar 4, 2005 at 7:38 am

    wow.absolutely wow. You have written a petit thesis here.

    I tend to reduce things. I reduce the drive to be a wife and mother to this: after we have written what we have written, and crafted what we have crafted, and done the many things that we choose to do…. we desire meaning and something that lasts. For most of us that means something that is deep and lasting with other human beings and something that continues to give in an ever widening circle.
    I think building homes and giving of ourselves to build into our childrens lives is what most of us find satisfactory. The tragedy is that we layer on things that work against that initial impetus.

    Being a wife and mother has meaning in and of itself. And you expressed that well.

    oh. btw, you’ve been using alot of four letter words lately;) Keep it up-we all need to hear it.

  • 5 ilona // Mar 4, 2005 at 7:52 am

    ‘just blog this’ hotlinks the pic-if this is a problem I can delete that part.

  • 6 mary // Mar 4, 2005 at 11:08 am

    Julie,

    I was at the NorthernVoice conference and was wowed by your presentation and your willingness to share your experiences, for better and worse, with honesty. Your words stuck with me: “Blogging is a means of finding and communicating with our tribe; it’s an opportunity to be creative, to talk about what is hidden.”

    You see, I believe technology is still largely a patriarchal tool. I’m not saying it doesn’t provide some wonderful opportunities for connection, but as a power tool–a means of dominating the natural–I worry about the natural, communal, arguably feminine aspects that glue a society together that are compromised when we are given the means to be isolated.

    When people say don’t talk about your family or children, I say who does that silence serve? The children? Hmmmm. I think children gain much from a community and shared experiences and a mother (or father) who shows them the world, their place in it, and their responsibility to it. You are showing your children, in a very responsible fashion, the virtual and natural world. You are trying to make the Internet part of the community you live in; you think about your responsibility to neighbours, friends, and family and where they fit in and out of the blogosphere.

    Thank-you for trying to make technology more tribal, more circuitous–more feminine. And beware the voices who tell you to keep this hidden and the master they serve.

  • 7 Arlen // Sep 21, 2005 at 7:05 am

    Sorry it took me so long to find this, Julie.

    You make good points, but if you would permit me (Theodicius) to clarify something:

    If you follow the contextual trail, you’ll see I wasn’t writing about parents who blog about their kids in general. I was writing specifically about those who, in the quote from the NYT article and Eric’s blog, consider they have a right to emabarrass their children in their blogs (one writer called it “payback time”).

    As for the rest, yes, you’re right. None of us, myself included, can be certain of knowing what the Right Thing is. But again, the parents I was writing about weren’t concerned with doing the Right Thing. They were only concerned with Their Thing. I stand by what I wrote, that if, for the brief time the kids are in their care, they can’t put the kids’ best interests first, then they shouldn’t have kids.

    It’s not so much about doing what is, in objective analysis, the Right Thing as it is about trying as hard as you can to do the Right Thing. And telling the world, including your kids, how horrible they’re making your life cannot possibly be justified as even making a half-hearted attempt to do the Right Thing.

    I wasn’t railing against all parents who write about their kids. I’ve done it myself. But I’ve certainly never written anything about them in the spirit of “payback time.”

    If I were to weigh in about the larger issues you’re writing about, I think you’re pretty much on track with my own thoughts. While you and I might see slight differences in where we draw some lines, we seem to agree that the lines need to be drawn.

    And if what I wrote gave Mary the impression I was demanding silence, I apologize. There’s a whole world of alternatives between silence and telling every last detail. Neither the world nor my children need to know what dreams I exchanged for theirs. They don’t need to know the details of the trials and tribulations of being their parent, and neither does anyone else.

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