Honest Mom was... well... honest. She really impressed me.
Not so Katie Couric.
You see, the conversation was about moms who use drugs or alcohol to be better parents.
And that's where I started getting upset.
Yes, it's important to be a good mom. To be a great mom. But as I've always said, the most important thing that you can do to be a good parent is to be a happy and healthy human being.
Over and over and over again, Katie squeezed in occasional remarks about how "weird" it was that moms drink together, or how hazardous antidepressants can be to natural brain chemistry. Not once did she discuss what it is like to be a human being under constant pressure.
You see, our culture has utterly fetishized motherhood. I've written about it before, here, but it's much deeper than that. In the last decade or so, motherhood has been elevated to heights in our social consciousness that are frankly unreasonable.
Seventy five years ago, child abuse (as we know it today) was incredibly common. It was standard practice- if you were bad, your parents would hit you. And slowly, that has changed.
But when child abuse (as we know it today) was so mundane, the expectations on mothers were entirely different. The mother was part of the economic unit- and that meant work. It meant laundry and dishes and food preparation in a way that we simply don't understand it now, culturally. It meant actually knowing what to do with lye, it meant knowing how to can produce, it meant putting the laundry on the line and taking it down every day, no matter how much snow was on the ground. It meant walking to the market and carrying your food home without a fancy stroller with baskets or cupholders.
And when you have to do all of that, and one of your many children is hampering your progress, stopping you from doing what you need to do, you react as you would if anyone was threatening your domestic peace. Sometimes that meant yelling. Sometimes hitting. But things still needed to be done.
Now, we live in a very different world. It's full of electric dishwashers and clothes dryers and bread machines and two cars in every garage.
And now, we're "enlightened" about child rearing. And we've idealized our grandmothers- fetishized their accomplishments.
And here's the thing, they weren't bad parents. They sometimes hit their children, they left their children home alone- seven year olds in charge of infants- because they had to if they needed to leave the house. They didn't put babies in car seats. Their cars didn't have seat belts at all. they sometimes drank. They sometimes yelled. And they were not bad parents because of this.
There have always been drunks who have kids. There have always been mentally ill people who have kids. And that made them what they'd always been- people. Perhaps flawed, but still. People.
Now, we as mothers have these expectations. We're expected to look like we've never popped out a baby. We're expected to be full time moms- even if we work outside the home, we're expected to be constantly thinking about our kids. We're expected to have jobs- even unpaid, volunteer or temporary jobs- if we ARE full-time stay-at-home moms. We're expected to have Etsy shops, or make all our holiday cards by hand, or constantly be baking, or sewing, or something. We're expected to ensure that our kids are always well groomed, always well behaved. And we're expected to be super-wives as well. Always with dinner ready for our husbands, or to be super-cool about guys-weekend. We're supposed to have our homes decorated appropriately, with different shams for our throw pillows so that they can rotated seasonally to match the shifting and carefully arranged holiday or season specific decorations.
AND we're supposed to have hobbies. Like running, or salsa dancing, or scrap-booking. Hobbies that take time and energy, and give us something to show for it when we're all done.
And then, after all of those expectations, we're told that if we need to relax, we have to do it on our time. That if we're going to have a drink or two, it has to be out of the house, at a restaurant or something, with our friends.
Which means that if we want to relax with a drink, we need to a) pay three times what the alcohol is worth, and b) get a sitter.
In short, we are expected to treat our homes as though we are merely guests in them, as though they are places where we are not entitled to relax and enjoy ourselves. If we need to relax for ten minutes in our own homes, we're supposed to grab a book and read a chapter and a half, and laugh about how long it's been since we took a nice long bath by ourselves.
Because the worst part of the whole thing might be that it's a running joke that moms just want to sit down for five minutes once in a while.
The truth is that having kids isn't like any other endeavor on this planet. The fact is, when you are home with kids you cannot do anything without having your kids around. And you know what? It's exhausting. And it's frustrating.
And sometimes, although we are NEVER supposed to admit it, we just don't feel like we like our kids very much. Love, always, but like?
It's okay for a married person to have a day where they're just sort of pissed off at their spouse. It's expected. Cohabitation is hard. But cohabitation with children is harder.
They need you to do everything for them. Put their cereal in their bowls, clean all their spills, explain to them over and over again why you wear a bra, let them "help" with every chore that interests them.
You spend every waking second interacting with them at their pace. And kids? They set a manic pace. It's constant running from A to B to W and there's no stopping.
Seventy five years ago, if your kids bugged you incessantly while you were trying to make sure that the family was taken care of, you'd probably hit or yell at your kid. It's what people did. Now, when your kids won't let you fulfill all of your constant, varied, and unreasonable expectations, you don't hit them. You don't yell. Instead, you refer to your child-rearing technique of choice, have a conversation about it, breathe deep and remember to communicate with them on their level because they're just children who don't understand the world.
And so, instead of brushing them off and going going going, you slow down and you have yet another emotionally taxing conversation with no logic to it and no sense of direction. And yes, it's amazing. And it keeps you young. And it keeps you laughing because you can't imagine a world where the most logical explanation about why something like a fork isn't scary is, "It doesn't have legs." And so yes, being a mom (or a dad) is incredible.
But it is hard. It is frustrating. And sometimes, you need to do something to change the way you're looking at things.
Sometimes, you need to have a drink. And you know why? Because you've been working 24/7 since the moment your kid was born, and you will never get to stop, and you need to do something that reminds you that you are still in possession of your own being. That you're not a slave, that this is your home. YOUR HOME. That you can do the things that help you relax, AND be a parent at the same time.
Katie talked to women who used Adderall, meth, Prozac, and alcohol. And she very carefully divided them into two categories. Women who legitimately have some sort of problem that permits them some tools, and women who are at risk of having a problem.
If a woman had a job caring for a house full of somebody else's kids, and then went home to their own home, and had a few drinks with some other nannies? No big deal. Because they're not the mom. We, as a society, have elevated the importance of motherhood so high that as soon as you're a mom, you don't get to do the things that help you relax anymore. (There's some great discussion about it in this TED talk.)
Is it so traumatic to a child if a mommy waits until dinner time, when all that's left is bath and bed, and has a drink? Is it so horrible if that mom took a few puffs of marijuana? Is it so bad if she pops a Xanax? No. Because what she's doing is finding a way to let her stress go. To remain a happy, healthy person.
The fact that she's a mom is irrelevant. There have been moms since the dawn of humanity And none of them have ever been perfect, because all of them are human. But now, now that we've put motherhood on this outrageous pedestal, we all believe we have to be perfect. And we judge each other. And we shame ourselves.
And that is a hell of a lot worse than getting a bit silly when you've been up to your elbows in somebody else's feces all day. Being a little silly can even help you relate to them when you're too wrapped up in your adult responsibilities to remember what is really important in the mind of a child. And they appreciate it. They enjoy playing with you. And sometimes, relaxing involves a little help.
And that's okay, for other people. It's okay if a guy needs a little "liquid courage" when he's introducing himself to people at a company party. It's okay if an adult woman has a beer or two when their friends are celebrating a birthday. It's okay when old friends on vacation sit by the pool drinking margaritas all day for a week.
So long as they don't have kids. So long as their kids aren't there. The minute a child is in sight, somebody must have a problem. Somebody must be making bad choices.
Is it a good thing when the only responsible adults in a child's life are so drunk, or so high, or so sedated, that they can't usher their family to safety if the house burned down? No. That's bad. That's not what most of Katie's guests were doing, though. Even the "drunk" mommy, she realized she'd had too much to drink before driving her kids home, and never drank again.
Is that the lesson to give our kids? That if you make a mistake, and you realize that you've made a mistake, you never get a second chance? Or do you teach your kids that they can relax, they can socialize with friends, and they can still make good choices?
I remember my parents' parties from when I was a kid. I remember a kiddie pool in the back yard, filled with ice and turned into a cooler for bottles of beer. I remember a dozen Passover seders, my parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents getting sillier as their drank their fourth glasses of wine. I remember my mother, at a backyard party of some friends, having a drink and then breaking her wrist on a pogo stick.
These aren't bad memories. These are memories of responsible adults who behaved responsibly with liquor. My mom wasn't a drunk who went pogoing into traffic. My dad's friend in the gorilla costume wasn't some pedaphile, leering at kids while chugging beer from a kiddie pool. My grandmother wasn't suddenly angry or abusive. They were all adults, acting like adults. Not like they were suddenly the wardens of my innocence, keeping all exposure to the potential hazards of foreign substances at bay.
I don't want to teach my children that their lives have to end when they have kids. That the things they used to do to relax will be forever off limits. Because there are always choices that you can make.
Me? I choose to get a little loose at the end of the day, instead of running a bath and putting myself in a position where I can't see or hear what's going on in the house. Available mommy with a martini shaker is a lot more useful than other-end-of-the-house underwater mommy.
Happy mommy who maybe got a bit silly and LOVES watching Care Bears is a lot more involved and engaged than the mom who just doesn't have the energy to explain for the tenth time in a day why the dirty silverware doesn't get put into the clean drawers.
And is it really so bad if, even once or twice a week, a parent wants to just sit down and not do all that stuff- the cooking and cleaning and crafting and working and phone-tree-ing and school-play-costuming and piano-practice enforcement and yoga and laundry and baking and tweezing and PINNING and just have a freakin' drink?
Why on earth should somebody have to justify themselves to anybody for that?
And Katie Couric, who undoubtedly means well, all she did was point out how very, very, very careful us mommies have to be. Because if we're not careful, we'll be terrible mommies. If we're not legitimately in need of antidepressants or what-have-you, we're walking a slippery slope.
Katie Couric, like so many other talking heads these days, is telling us that now that we're mothers, we have to abandon all our flaws as people. All our pre-parenthood coping mechanisms. From now on, it's not our home. It's their home. We're just maids and cooks inside of these houses, and any freedom must be bought.
Katie, let's have a conversation about motherhood. Let's have a conversation about why women are only referred to as "wives, daughters, and mothers," instead of as "hardworking Americans" or "brave citizens." Let's talk about how mothers are just people, like any other person, and how conversations like this- conversations that make the standard use of anti-depressants or the occasional drink a big freakin' deal because the person in question is a mom- let's talk about how those conversations are hurting us as a culture.
Katie, let's have a conversation about how failing to teach children what responsible use looks like might be the cause of American problems like binge drinking in college, of cataclysmic declines into drug use in teenagers. We might talk about how those sorts of problems only exist in the periphery in countries where alcohol and drugs aren't put on a pedestal until kids don't even know how to comprehend them.
Let's have that conversation. That would be something new.
This? This is just more fuel to the fire.