Motherhood: Put Up or Shut Up?

Judith Warner, in the last Sunday NY Times, wrote a column about the socioeconomic stresses on parenthood. She references Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s lead essay in the “State of Our Unions” report, released recently by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

The gist of Whitehead’s essay was that today’s parents are stressed out, anxious and depressed, in part because they were spoiled by their child-free years of fun, business achievements and disposable incomes.

Oh, OK. Before I had kids, I worked as a supervisor in a health insurance call center. Talk about stygian. I was always stressed out and depressed, because I HATED my well-paying successful job. I never looked back once I quit that job and count my lucky stars that we can survive on one income. So, if I have problems now, it’s because I miss all that glamour??

Warner continues:

…to assert that mothers and fathers who express something other than Hallmark card sentiments about life with children somehow have issues with parenthood, is profoundly unfair. But it isn’t new. For at least five years now, ever since “mommy lit” emerged as a best-selling book genre, there have been stolid folk who have been using words like “whiners” and “spoiled” to get parents — and educated mothers in particular — to put up or shut up. And the way they most commonly do this is to recast big social problems as the little personal problems of those who “complain” about them….The situation is the worst among — Guess who? — highly educated professional women….

It does seem that in our society we expect black and white opinions. Parenting is either exalted or stygian. If I describe how frustrating my toddlers are, apparently that makes me a spoiled overeducated whiner.

On the contrary, earth to Rutgers: toddlers have always been frustrating and challenging. It’s the nature of the little beasts. Perhaps the advent of mommy lit and blogs has simply facilitated the widespread expression of these feelings.

Warner continues:

Yet “the rising chorus of complaint” that Whitehead and other critics decry is based upon rock-solid reality. The depression and anxiety and angst and guilt they see — and trivialize — aren’t due to parents’ cravings for bigger cars or better clothes; they’re due to the fact that life for most parents is really hard. It’s expensive and competitive and stressful and fatiguing, for reasons that have nothing to do with having a bad attitude toward the challenges — and pleasures — of child-rearing.


Talking about these problems isn’t a condemnation of parenthood; it’s a condemnation of the way parenthood is being lived, in our culture, at this particular time…[these problems] require social change — a new attitude toward collective responsibility, a new of infusion of meaning into debates about our nation’s values.

If we are going to cast mothers into a madonna/complaining ungrateful shrew paradigm, then let’s provide for mothers to live like madonnas. Let’s provide ways for women to find good child care if they choose to work. Let’s provide affordable health care so parents don’t make decisions out of fear for their children’s physical well-being. Let’s help ensure economic stability to families so that parenthood doesn’t equal poverty.


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