Parenting issues seem to be more on my mind these days. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it is because Mrs. Geek and I are surrounded by other couples who either have kids, couples who are currently expecting a child, or are talking about having children (though not seriously) ourselves.
In any case, when both crazedparent and harri3tspy both mentioned Judith Warner's new book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, I was immediately curious about what all the hubbub was about. After a glance at the New York Times Book Review and MSNBC articles mentioned by these fellow diarists, I see that young mothers are slowly going insane. Raised on the notion that women can be both effective mothers and powerful, persuasive professionals at the same time, Ms. Warner points out that women themselves are too tired and over-taxed by assuming both these roles to do anything but be swallowed up by the chaos of it all. There are many reasons for this, she goes on to say. Chief among them: the lack of state support for cheap day care and other services (available in Europe) that would make a professional life for a young mother much easier to bear. The competitive nature of modern mothering is not far behind she also says. She lists a myriad of examples: no four year old's birthday party is complete without a professional party planner and engraved invitations, not just any ballet class for your daughter will do, if getting into the best pre-school requires camping out in the school parking lot at 5am so be it, and no child can be intelligent unless they have a vocabulary of at least 50 words in each of three languages spoken outside the home by the age of five. (Well, ok... maybe not that last one, but close.)
I fear that modern life as it has developed in the last half of the 20th century has significantly changed what it means to be a parent and have a home. We've changed from the largely agrarian society of 100-150 years ago where life in the home was absolutely central to the daily routine to one where a home serves two communal purposes: to sleep and store stuff. Everything else seems to have become secondary through eating on the go, violin lessons here, soccer practice there, spinning class at the gym, and long hours at the office. We live in a largely urban society that seems (in some ways) to be more headquartered out of our SUVs than our homes. It is therefore somewhat ironic and only makes matters worse that real estate prices in most urban areas are so high that housing is only affordable if both parents work.
I fear that we've also become far too competitive and shallow. We don't belong to as many communities or organizations as a collective anymore. Now, we must compete at everything: our careers, the sizes of our houses, and the accomplishments of our children. Appearance and materialism is the goal; one need look no further than the celebrities of the moment to see that deeper spiritual qualities are unnecessary. You've just got to be young looking and rich. Actually, you just have to be rich -- the appearance of youth and beauty can be created if you have enough money to spare.
It's a mess, logistically and emotionally. In their particularly divided lives as both care giver and career woman, mothers must feel like deer caught in a particularly bright set of headlights. The only ray of hope that I can see is that Ms. Warner notes that we men are doing our part -- increases in the average amount of time spent with a parent per day are largely due to fathers spending more time with their children.
I think that in order to truly resolve the situation, something must change. Either cheap, reliable childcare for all must be made into a reality, or we must abandon some of our ideas about being able to have both a family and a career.
I would love to see true equality between the sexes in that change. Let women be free of stigma if they chose to forgo children in favor of a career. Let there be both "Daddy" and "Mommy" career tracks. Mostly, I think we need to intrinsically recognize that the important thing about families is the time we spend together and the bonds we develop with each other. To live in a house that's worth half as much money but to have twice as much love, that is to be rich indeed.
on 2005-02-22 at 12:42 p.m.
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