Defending Motherhood Choices Online
She is completely naked. She is young and attractive -- slim, with a pretty face. The video camera capturing her efforts is hidden from her. But the camera she is trying to maneuver is sitting on top of a dresser, or perhaps it's on a high chair. She is in a very modest bedroom, and she is trying to videotape herself dancing erotically. From what I can tell, she is trying to launch a career as either an exotic dancer or a Internet porn star. But every time she gets it all set up -- the music playing, the camera rolling and herself in position, bent over with her derriere turned to the camera -- the filming is interrupted by her very young, bottle-wielding toddler, who wanders onto the scene and gets between her naked ass and the camera. The baby begins to dance and pose for the camera, too.
Repeatedly and patiently she has to stop mid-booty shake and move the baby out of the way. Each time she lovingly says in her highest, sweetest mommy-voice, "Move, Baby. Mommy is trying to do something."
I discovered this video clip on a Web site that showcases bad parenting. It is supposed to be funny. It's supposed to make you laugh and shake your head at the sheer ridiculousness of it. But it is one of the saddest things I have ever seen. My initial thoughts are to judge this young mother's poor parenting decisions. Was she making this video for money? Was she trying to please a lover? Was that video destined for the Internet? If so, the wrong video made it on.
The witnessing of this young mother's life moment is the final blow to the work/life balance ideal for me. Because even though her actions, as caught on film, are inexplicable to me, in an odd and surprising way, I can connect with her struggle. Is she a bad mom because she wants to film her own booty-shake? Or is she culpable because she is exposing her child to live, soft porn? Couldn't she do this when baby is asleep? Couldn't she just get a babysitter? Couldn't she find a real job? Only she knows the answers to these questions. I have never been in her shoes.
I've never taken any action close to this mother's. Mostly, probably, because I have never had to. If I were in a place where I thought my only chance to make some desperately needed money was to sell explicit videos of myself to the world or even to just one person, would I? If the only way to accomplish this was to video my naked rear in front of my child, would I? I think no way! But I have never had to make such a choice.
All of us mothers do, however, have to make tough choices all of the time ... and we are judged severely for them. The world judges us. We judge each other. This is why, I believe, a recent Blogher Family Connections forum post hit such a chord with so many. Maria Young asked, "How can you possibly have time to blog/tweet about being a mom if you're actually, you know- being a mom?" In the forum she asks:
I think we've all observed or even been confronted with it: those outside of the loop that assume because we have blogs and twitter accounts and whatever else that we're at the computer all day long, pushing our kids away with one arm as they beg for food ... What do you say to these folks?"
Lots of women in the BlogHer community responded via comments reflecting the commonly encountered perception that we mom bloggers are making poor parenting choices with our online business and social activities. We are not just grappling with how to deal with the difficult choices we have to make in our busy and demanding lives, but also how to deal with the judgment and negative portrayals of us as Internet-obsessed and negligent parents.
Misadventures of Modern Parenting expresses this mothering dilemma beautifully in her newest post, Choices. She talks about the irony of how her decision to stay at home has been judged as harshly as her mother's decision to join the workforce so many decades prior:
In 1996, I was a "femi-nazi," lecturing my lunch table on the pride I had in my mother for choosing not to stay at home, but by 2009, I was a stay at home mom...My mom was judged harshly for not staying at home; she could not have envisioned a day when her daughter would be criticized for staying home...
BSJ discusses the challenge of dealing with her own and others' judgment:
[E]very time I hear of a woman's success, I am programmed to feel embarrassed to be a stay at home mom. My father, the liberal, highly educated, former(?) hippie cannot understand my conflict; "why in this day and age are people still judging?" is his question, but I have no answer. What I do know is that in this "modern age" I am a highly educated woman who is made to feel boring and brainless for electing to stay home and raise my children.
She is right on when she says:
What I had to come to terms with (more like "still working to come to terms") is that my working mother did not blaze the path for me to be a working mother, instead she created the option.
But this reality does not diminish the overwhelming feelings of guilt and inadequacy that many of us feel no matter what side of the employment line we are on. Laura McKenna was posting about this no-win feeling five years ago on her blog, Apt.11d.com:
I've had a tough day. Ian had four accidents (after two weeks dry), Jonah's neighborhood buddies stepped on the wet paint on the porch, the cat escaped, and I've been going since 6am without a break. Good for them that I'm home, but I could have been in a pee-pee free environment where they called me professor and where I surfed on the computer and called it work. I don't feel like a better human being after my day of child rearing. I can't say that changing wet underwear over and over was fun...I'm far from an ideal mother. The kids drove me to pop open a bottle of wine at 5 today. I have no clue where to draw the line between their happiness and mine. Sometimes it feels like a tug of war. Their needs and mine. Other times, we're all having fun marching through the nature preserve together on a cool summer morning, and I'm sure as hell not complaining about missing out on grading midterms. It's just that the planets don't always align that neatly. Sometimes there's a tradeoff.
In response to Laura's statement in her post that: "It is a myth, you know, that whatever makes the parent happy, makes the kids happy," Erica made this insightful comment:
A myth, maybe, but our myths reveal truths, and serve as lessons. Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, our myth that 'happy parents make happy children' is a reminder not to sacrifice too much blood to the alter of parenthood, lest your own unhappiness bleed into the lives of your children. In our present day culture that demands so much of mothers, that judges their behavior and sacrifice so harshly, we probably need a myth to remind women that the conditions that destroy the happiness of a parent can also destroy children; that unhappy parents interact poorly with their children; that we need to hang on to ourselves at least a little. Mothers and martyrs are not quite the same things, one hopes, after all.
When we mothers are in the work force, we constantly feel pressed to balance our work needs with our family needs. We know that right now we are fortunate to have jobs and an income, but we don't feel fortunate when we are in the throes of stress and guilt for being unavailable to our loved ones or absent from important milestones and events. And when we are at home all day, endlessly working on business or household chores or both, sometimes it takes an act of bravery and defiance to steal away a moment to ourselves to blog or bathe or take in a short run.
We are tired of hearing ourselves lament the work/life balance ideal. We think we want it. But we don't know what it is other than a club we keep beating ourselves over the head with. And it would be so much easier if we were left to ourselves to sort it out without being subjected to the ever-changing, yet never-quieting opinions of others pressing down on us about the decisions we make. How and where we work, how and where we blog and tweet, even how and where we videotape our own booty shake really ought not be within the realm of others' judgment. Perhaps if we mothers shift our own critical eyes away from each other, we can help liberate and empower each other to do what is best for ourselves.
Am I the only one ready to transcend the ever-revolving rehash of the Work/Life Balance Trap? Talk about it in the Family Connections Group now.