In last Thursday’s edition of The Globe and Mail online, author Katrina Onstad summed up what she thought 2012 meant to motherhood: conflict. In her article, Onstad served up more than a half dozen news items about the state of motherhood, each one more depressing than the last.
- Work-life balance (no, you can’t have it)
- Attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding (weird and creepy in mainstream media)
- National day care programs like the laissez-faire French moms have (so that moms can have a life)
- Old-fashioned notions of what life as a stay-at-home mom is like (a political lightning rod in the US election)
- Struggles to find adequate health care for parents who struggle with mental illness (the viral “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” blog post)
A new mom or mom-to-be reading this list would not be faulted for barricading herself in her nursery and padding the walls with organic cloth diapers. Indeed, reading about what mothers are up against in the world would have many moms agreeing with Onstad that they need help.
I disagree that today’s mothers are helpless — but I do see where Onstad is coming from.
After the birth of our daughter, I wanted to do everything “right.” This included quitting my full-time marketing job to be a stay-at-home mom, moving to a sprawling farmhouse, cloth diapering, extended breastfeeding, cooking organic homemade meals and putting my best face forward despite my own mental health challenges.
For a short time, it was the picture perfect life that I’d dreamed of living. But what I can tell you is that those feelings eventually fast-track to resentment and jealousy towards parents who have full-time jobs and parent “wrong” — at least according to fashionable parenting trends. We all want to do right by our spouses and children, but if the payoff is bankruptcy due to childcare costs and dreaming of the convenience of disposable diapers, who actually wins in the end? It’s not mothers — and that is where the cry for help comes from.
Halfway through 2012 I realized that being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t as advertised. I’d bought the retro cookie-baking-and-picnic storyline and when I wrote about feeling disappointed and angry, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Many of you felt the same way and offered your own tips to get through the nitty-gritty child-rearing years where you seem to be endlessly wiping bums and noses. When I flipped the thinking from I need help to I can help, my perspective on parenting changed and I was happier.
This brings me back to why I disagree with Onstad — because mothers in North America have more opportunities than ever.
- The choice to work or stay-at-home
- Options for types of daycare
- Access to a safe and low cost food system
- Laws which protect our reproductive choices
- Access to health professionals and a system that puts patients first (even though the system isn’t perfect)
The big picture is that Canadian parents are the luckiest parents in the world — and they can help help more than they think they can (and I don’t mean by volunteering to bake 300 allergen-free snacks for pre-school).
Just as the seemingly endless decisions in day-to-day parenting can add up to making the most level-headed mom want to lock themselves in the bathroom (disposable-or-organic-or-bottle-or-Montessori?), little acts of kindness that we offer each day can lighten the load of other moms. Offer to take a pals kids for the day so she and her spouse can go on a date, make an extra meal and deliver it to a mom new to the neighbourhood or buy craft supplies for your youth group. It sets a good example for our children and makes our community a nicer place to live. Think small, live with less and I guarantee you will not feel helpless — it’s a very powerful feeling.
If 2012 was about needing help, then let’s make 2013 about offering help.