PITNB‘S NEW popCULTURE CLUB: theoretically putting the “culture” back in “pop culture,” one post at a time…
Last week many of us wrote about the packaging of the one Ms. Nicki Minaj—how she is presented, how she presents herself and whether or not any of that is a reflection of whoever she really is. One question we asked ourselves (and each other) was, If Nicki’s not just a slut/Barbie/weirdo/gimmick/good rapper/bad rapper then what the hell are we looking at? I guess this is theory: the act or art of looking really closely at the things that are right in front of us. And then looking a little closer. Now I’m thinking and asking about the “packaging,” of motherhood—how we make it look, how the media makes it look and what it really is when we look at it closely… then closer…. then scary-close.
This piece was almost called, “When Attachment Parenting Went Pop: And Other Travesties of Social Motherhood.” But the more I read, the less I felt like it (the negative and positive conversations dubbed “Mommy Wars”) was a travesty. Instead I started thinking, no. This is ok.
It’s okay that the conversation about Attachment Parenting went Pop. It’s okay that TIME magazine used a time-honored (and kinda cheap) trick to generate discussion, controversy, and sales: a woman with her breast[s] out. It’s okay, because that’s partly what pop culture is about—taking big ideas like attachment theory and attachment parenting (which PITNBr Stephanie smartly pointed out on Trent‘s Alanis Morissette post, are two very different things), and turning them into bite-sized, readily-devoured morsels. It’s called “packaging,” and it’s okay. In fact, we all occasionally like our food packaged that way, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
The 1990 Atlantic cover story on Attachment Theory. Note the focus on the child; the mother exists as a silhouette in the background.
Furthermore, it’s okay that celebrities like Alanis Morissette and ummm Jason Biggs weighed in. Yes, we mainly want them to do the things that they’re famous for doing—we want them to sing and act and entertain us. But occasionally celebs (like real people!) have opinions that they want and need to share. And that’s okay. A little weird, but okay.
And although many writers have come forward and asked for an end to certain elements of this discussion, I’ve decided that it’s okay that pop culture calls these open conversations the “Mommy Wars.”
Why has this concept bothered so many of us? Like that question on the cover of TIME: “Are you Mom Enough?” Yeah, I’m still pissed about that one, let me work through it… But, seriously. If it’s meant to pit woman against woman, it must be a reflection of a certain competitive energy that already exists. The Mommy Wars are not creating the “Are You Mom Enough?” mentality; these headlines reflect the physical headlines in out own minds. And yes, it’s kind of weak that they are playing off on it, but we know that this is what magazine’s do. Still, isn’t there a way for parents interested in this conversation to respectfully disagree with each other and talk about it openly?
In a way I guess I’m asking, “Can we actually have Mommy Wars in a real way, please?” (we can change the name). If nothing else, can we be supportive of the idea that we’re not always going to support what every mother is doing and if and when a mother chooses to share her parental stylings, we all have a right to talk about it? That means all parents, and even people without children (gasp!), and perhaps even children themselves(gasp!) get to contribute to the discussion, because that’s what social mothering means.
Ultimately, I liked the TIME cover. My first reaction when I saw it was, Yes. And a smile. Because if nothing else, I knew it would make us hyper-aware of another parental category. And some people don’t like that– that there are categories for the way we raise children. But as humans we like to categorize things. This can lead to very bad happenings as well as very good discoveries. The Mommy Wars are, perhaps, a result of our societal (maybe biological) need for categorization: working Moms v. stay-at-home Moms v. work-from-home Moms, v. attachment Moms etc. And why not? Why not categorize and theorize and discuss and challenege and re-wrok and re-think motherhood? Why not war, theoretically speaking? Because we’re Moms and people are talking about how much we do or do not love our children and that hurts our feelings? Fuck that, I say! We should be able to talk about all these facets of child-rearing and self-rearing (which makes up a good deal of child-rearing, I think). Maybe we will be judged. No, we definitely will be judged. But I think people can smell insecurity and dishonesty when we ladies doth protest too much. For example, when we claim that what we do is solely for our children, when we pretend that whatever method we’ve chosen is absolutely without a doubt the best method and has nothing to do with what our own mothers did and did not do– that’s what makes people attack, I think. Because it’s not completely honest. And then some people are just douchebags, but let that not get in the way of good, honest (like, really, creepy honest) talk.
Here is one of my favorite, honest comments on this issue. It comes from an article called, What Everyone Is Missing In The Attachment Parenting Debate:
My son was in college when he commented, “Mom, YOU WERE NEVER THERE when I was little.” I said I home schooled him. “No Mom, YOU WERE ALWAYS OFF IN YOUR HEAD SOMEWHERE.” I’d nursed him until he stopped at 3, kept him by my side at night, held him in my arms or in a body sling and never owned a stroller. I tried to engage with my kids like their father had (who died…), but I didn’t see that it was their father’s warmth, laughter, and conversation with them – it’s not the quantity or definition of what we do with our kids!!…
Come on, quit the defining, the qualifying and the counting! Catch your kid’s smiles and take your cues from there!
When friends or family members would applaud me for staying at home with my boys or for breastfeeding around the clock I would always laugh and think about how it probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference to them. How they’d probably end up, at some point or another, telling a friend (or a therapist) how they’re mother was always there but still didn’t quite _______ (fill in the blank). I’ll spend much of the next few years trying to convince my kids that I worked really hard to get a job that lets me work from home and they’ll know it’s part bullshit because it partly is! I always wanted to be a writer and I never really liked working for other people or around a bunch of people, so here I am!
If we are going to have open, honest Mommy Wars or whatever we’re calling it now, we have to stop pretending that we do it all for the kids. I cringe when I hear that lie, whether it’s coming from myself or coming from another dishonest mother: “I want to do it because I think it’s what’s best for my baby,” “I went back to school for my baby,” “I work so that my son can….” “I stay at home so that my children and I can…” I’m calling bullshit. We do it for ourselves, we parent for ourselves, we parent in reaction to how we were or were not raised AND THAT’S OKAY… as long as we are hyper-aware of when and why we’re doing this!
Now I was very scared to say these horrible Mom-unfriendly things until I found some back-up via Judith Warner at TIME: Ideas. Last month she penned the article, Parents Do What’s Right for Them, Not for the Kids which is actually based on the controversial TIME article on the doctors who “invented” attachment parenting. Like all people and all critical thinkers, many of their ideas stemmed largely from their personal lives and their childhoods. And guess what? That’s okay!
Everyone wanted to be supportive of me when I went back to school four weeks after Jovelle (now almost two!) was born. They’d say, Well, you’re doing it for the baby… you’re graduating so you can be a good mother. I knew what they meant, but I tried not to participate in that lie. I’m going back to school for me, I would say.I would have felt like a loser if I didn’t finish; not because I wouldn’t have a degree but because I was notorious for not completing a task. For me, I wanted to follow through with Sarah Lawrence. Did completing that task make me a better person and in turn, a better mother? I’d like to think so, but I’m not going to lie and say I did it allll for my kids. And I’m not going to lie and say that I breastfed Jonovan for 13 (maybe 15) months for his benefit alone. I enjoyed breastfeeding– not every single time, and thank God for Lanolin nipple cream– but most of time I enjoyed it! But if I hadn’t enjoyed it, or if my mother hadn’t breastfed me, or if the people around me did not fully support me (and sometimes they didn’t), maybe I wouldn’t have been a breastfeeding mother.
Let’s stop pretending that pure, unadulterated love informs all of our decisions as parents. As parents we are still products of our environments, products of our races, classes, and cultures. We are lots of other things (products of books we’ve read, movies we’ve watched, friends we have), but we are very much products of our environment, and VERY much products of our parents; we define ourselves with or against them. We might love our children to infinity and beyond (Buzz Lightyear voice) but that is not what always informs our every-day decisions about them. Humans don’t function like that, and neither do mothers—super-humans that we are!
Ultimately I love the idea of a maternal pop culture theory, if we could all handle it. Are we Mom enough to admit that we are selfish human beings who also love our children? Are we Mom enough to stop defending our decisions long enough to think openly about the act or art of mothering? Even more to the point, are we Mom enough to stop worrying about the definition of motherhood long enough to focus on the art of helping another human being (the ones we mother) define and navigate through their childhood?
Motherhood (like womanhood, like manhood, or personhood) is about coming to terms with things, even as you love the ish out of your kids. You love them by strapping them to your body, you love them while you’re in the office, you love them while staring into a Mac screen, you love the ish out of them consciously and subconsciously. And if you’re a good Mom, maybe you try to come to terms with things in spaces other than your child’s subconscious. Maybe you find a way to deal with your issues (because that’s what we’re all doing, most of the time), in a safe space that doesn’t directly affect him/her. If that space even exists. I’ll try to make one for myself right now:
It’s okay that my birth mother did not, could not, or chose not to raise me. And it’s okay that I lost an amazing, adoptive mother to bullshit breast cancer that can go fuck itself (yeah.. still coming to terms with that one). And it’s okay that I became a mother partly (okay… largely) in reaction to these things. And anything anyone else has to say about these things is okay too, because I’m putting it out here in the name of maternal pop culture theory… or something. It’s okay because I know that the only real Mommy War is the one inside my head. The only other Mother I have to answer to is the one I’ve created in my psyche who is the Holy Ghost of Mothers. Don’t ask me to explain that fully. I just know that she’s there and she’s mysterious and the idea of her is comepletely and utterly cray. How she loves and blogs and mothers and takes care of home simultaneously is beyond me. Although, when I think about it, it’s probably a lot like how I do it, with some variation. And in that variation, we wage our Mommy War. And that’s okay too.
Words, phrases, and thoughts made possible (and impossible) by Jonovan & Jovelle (who are much bigger now)
Possible alternatives to the phrase ‘Mommy Wars’:
Ummm, that’s all I got for now. Help me out in the comments.
And please share open, honest, or recklessly dishonest thoughts in the the comments. Also feel free to share your It’s okay/coming to terms with/It’s not my fault (a la Good Will Hunting ) moment as well.
It’s Not Your Fault