In the course I am taking about mothering and motherhood, as students we are asked to write journal entries after our readings. This particular entry is based on the Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It and readings in Maternal Theory Essential Readings edited by my professor Andrea O’Reilly.
During lecture, on November 9, Andrea O’Reilly tells the class she does not know how humans have continued to survive. The amount of work that goes on in preserving children’s lives – catching them before they fall, get hit by a car, open bottles, break child locks – seems to outweigh the number of moms out there doing this. Yet, somehow, we continue to live. In addition to basic survival, we humans like our capitalism. This means the best toys, parenting books, and gadgets. These products are valued so much that they actually devalue a mother’s instinct and intelligence.
What makes a mother seen as “good” changes with time; “We now assume that a good mother should dutifully drag around her child’s ‘security’ blanket.’ Never mind that granny regards it as unhygienic and would have summarily thrown it out. Her children managed to survive the loss, just as ours survive the germs,” writes Shari Thurer. “Your grandmother may have bottle-fed your father on a rigid schedule and started his toilet training when he was the tender age of three months, practices generally regarded as ridiculous today. Yet he managed to grow up. Youngsters tend to survive their parents bungled efforts on their behalf.” It is socially acceptable now for women to work, as it is seen as a necessary evil. However, we have not completely left behind the “problem that has no name,” an issue writer Betty Friedan wrote about in the 1950s. Maybe this is why we, as mothers, see the confirmation of our children’s grandparents as a way of being socially rewarded.
Childcare is an example of how good mothering is regulated, according to the times. As mentioned before, work now is seen as something a mother does only out of necessity. Nannies are no longer seen as the chipper Mary Poppins, but something to be punished for, like in the 1992 film The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. Interestingly, throughout Allison Pearson’s novel, whenever Kate Reddy is feeling as though her role as mother is being threatened, Mary Poppins is playing, or she is thinking of the movie itself. And though daycare may be seen as a modern evil, it can be flipped so that daycare is a nccesity. As Thurer writes, mothers are taught to worry about their children being socialized properly.
Really, there is no winning. There never has been. “Our particular idea of what constitutes a good mother is only that, an idea, not an eternal verity,” writes Thurer. “But the current standards for good mothering are so formidable, self-denying, elusive, changeable, and contradictory that they are unattainable.”