March 6, 2013

Katie Couric, You're Not Helping

Yesterday, a woman that I admire and respect was on Katie Couric's talk show. It was kind of surreal to see a real person in the place that the green, black, and white button I usually picture in my head, but 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.


  1. Wow. This is so, so, so very good. Thank you.

  2. I love the honesty here.

    I rarely drink in front of my girls (who just turned four), but that's because -- in my current state -- it just makes me tired. :) Hubby and I do enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with dinner sometimes, though, and I am proud that our girls know what that is...see us partaking responsibly...and know that it's for when they're "much, much, much, much older".

    Whether it's having a drink...or Mommy going to coffee with some friends...or Mommy enjoying some alone time at the grocery store...I think it's important that my children know that I need time to myself, too. We all need that time...that release...whether you're four, or forty. It's a healthy thing, and I think it's vital to model it in some form or fashion.

  3. Thank God somebody else says this too! People look at me like I have two heads when I confess that sometimes... SOMETIMES... I hate being a stay-at-home mom. Why? Because it's EXHAUSTING and you never get a break. Sometimes I envy my brother who sends his daughter and stepson to the "other parent's" every other weekend. Then they jet off to Vegas or go to a car show or out to a concert. ARRRGGGHH! I would kill to have every other weekend to job hunt, relax, have a life, see friends, or just have some PEACE and QUIET! I have an amazing husband who does a lot and works full-time to keep us fed. Then he helps me after a long day at work! And both of us agree... by 9PM when the boys are in bed, we are strung out and sapped of energy. And more often than not, we still have dishes and laundry to do and clothes to iron and lunches to pack and emails to return and full-time work to look for (for me!)- our work NEVER ends. We're parents to boys - ages 2 and 5. And we. are. fried.

    I've had parents with grown kids tell me "aren't you ready to fall in bed by 9pm?! How do you DO it?" Then they tell me that you just "survive" the years when you're kids are young. They assure me it gets easier. But they are right... I feel like everyday I am just battling to survive. Overworked, broke, and stressed does not even begin to cover my life!

  4. Do I love my boys? YES! They are the best thing in my world. But the reality of our situation is that we have NO money to go out. We can't even afford to eat a dinner out, much less hire a babysitter. Our "non-kid" friends don't understand why we can't come out to the bar for 1-2 drinks and some karaoke. Because we're too broke and exhausted! So... the only option to have a "life" is invite our kid-having friends over! We have had a GREAT time getting several couples and their kids together at each others' homes - in summer we bust out the sprinkler and squirt guns and kid toys and the kids all play while the parents have some beers/wine coolers and talk together or do the bag toss game. We all help each other wrangle the kids when we see one doing something they shouldn't. It's a community. The kids are kids, and the adults can have some adult time that is also family time. YES we have some booze. We need to unwind like anyone else. Frankly, it makes us more fun, relaxed, and better parents. So long as you don't "overdo" it or drink and drive... having my kids see me drink is not going to scar them for life.

    I remember vividly my dad and uncles and grandfather having several Blatz beers while playing poker at Grandma's house. The women talked in the other room, and us kids would play. We had fun swiping Beer Nuts and chips out of the bowls on the poker table. The guys would tickle us if we got "caught". Grandma spoiled us with ice cream. Everyone in my family was relaxing and having FUN. It is one of the nicest memories I have of my family before my grandparents died. I hardly think it scarred me because there was beer present. (HELLO- we live in MILWAUKEE! There is always beer present!)

    Some nights when my husband is stuck in traffic, its 6pm, I'm cooking dinner and the kids are going NUTS begging for snacks and fighting over toys and generally hanging off my ankles - SOME nights when I am very stressed and feel like I want to yell - I pour myself a glass of wine while I cook dinner. It helps me laugh off the kids' craziness and takes the edge off. I can more calmly break up fights, or dole out sippy cups of water. Some nights I need another with dinner too. Haha.

    I'm tired of mothers expecting to be perfect saints in our own right. We should be supermoms, soccer moms, PTA moms, working moms, have the perfect home and perfect kids and perfect LIFE. Yeah right! My 5yo has a spectrum disorder and still has problems with potty training. I swear my house will never stop smelling like little boy pee. I currently have 12 loads of laundry piled up. I leave my toddler for 5 minutes to watch Sesame Street so I can get the pee pee pants washed. Because there is NO ONE ELSE to do it. We are moms, but we can't do and be all that society expects us.

    While I'm typing this, I have been entertaining the toddler by putting a solo cup on my head, and tipping it off onto the floor. He was in uproarious laughter. He doesn't care that I still haven't showered and I'm in yoga pants. Let society think what they want. My boys love me. And they think I'm the greatest mom in the world.

  5. Well all the adults in my family drank while they cared for us. Some of them had a drinking problem, some didn't. I drink while caring for my kids. And I'm ok with admitting it.
    I'm not being facetious when I take your meaningful comment farther and suggest we consider the use of the word mother to describe a woman. Because it is a relational term. We could consider what it means to say "a woman who cares for children." Then it becomes a job and not so much a role imbued with preconceived notions. It's an interesting concept for me to explore. Others may not be keen on it.

  6. Great post, couldn't agree more. Having children doesn't mean you should erase yourself and put the children above anything. Being happy and relaxed will do your children more good than running around like a headless chicken. Sometimes you need a drink to relax or have a night out and have the children stay with a sitter or family. It won't scar the children. I often saw my parents have a drink in the evening in front of the tv, as an adult I enjoy this too, without going crazy with it. Never ever did I think as a child there was anything wrong with this, and I was well aware alcohol was for adults.
    I think people are much better parents if they take care of their own needs too.
    I hate always hearing about how awfully tiring being a parent is and how you'll never sleep or have time for yourself again. That just isn't true.
    In Europe though the judging is not as extreme as in the US, nobody cares if you have a drink when the kids are round, nobody cares if you work full time or if you go out and leave the kids with the grandparents or a sitter. Of course some people take it a too far, but most people can handle parenting fine whilst still being able to do adult things.

  7. I'm fairly torn about this post. I agree with you, mostly, but on the other hand I'm unsettled about some of it. I will drink wine or beer while taking care of my child. I'm a stay at home mom, my husband works full time. I tend to get stressed very easy, and being stressed makes me really tired. So I agree, mom's are not super human. (well.. they are.. haha, but not THAT super human!) We need breaks too, we can't be perfect all the time, and we need to alleviate stress.

    What I feel is missing here is that there are other ways to alleviate stress and to break up the mundane and the crazy and the exhausting than drinking or popping meds or drugs.
    Way back then, families used to stick together. All the generations, this was because they all needed to help each other. Mothers could help their daughters raise there children when there just was too much to do. And eldest daughters would help their mother's and so on. I realize we live in a different culture now, but for this reason exactly my husband and I chose to stay living in the same city both his parents and my parents live in. Free babysitters! And we have worked very hard to maintain a great relationship with them for many reasons, but also this reason.
    Also, there are the options of swapping date nights with another family/couple .. the family's take turns watching each others kids to get nights off.
    Nap/quiet times. I'm a FIRM believer in quiet times until kids are WAY old. Each kid, to its bed/room/designated couch to play quietly for a set amount of time. During this time mom gets to do whatever the hell she feels like! I force myself to leave the dishes, leave the cleaning and relax for this time. It helps SO MUCH.
    And then there is early bed times or scheduled bed times. I would go mad if my daughter chose when she went to bed every night. She goes to bed at 8pm on the clock. Sometimes she reads books in bed for another half hour or hour. But I know, at 8pm.. mom gets to be her own woman again!

  8. Anyway, there are a whole slew of things that can be done to help. Still, some days you just don't have any patience. And I understand this. I just remember to drink enough water, get enough sleep (if possible), and take brief moments to myself and all seems to be better. Maybe I'll feel differently when I have a few more kiddos running around. But I just think that more than a glass of wine or a bottle of beer is excessive while "on the job". I host parties a lot and my husband and I have been to a lot of parties/gatherings where there is a lot of alcohol. I choose not to bring my kids, and I cringe while watching parents bellow at there kids while in a drunken state or cuss or talk about vulgar things. Keep it clean, keep it mellow, and all is good.

    1. There are some WONDERFUL suggestions you've put out there for other alternatives, but they're simply not available to everyone. Have you read my thoughts on nap time? I'm with you- MOST IMPORTANT THING EVEAR. (

      I also wish that my parents or my in-laws (or even other friends with kids- we only know 2 couples in the city with children!) could babysit for free for us, but it's just not an option. :(

      I also wish I had it in my to give myself a "time out" of sorts and meditate when things get crazy. Maybe when the kids are all bigger. Three year olds seem deceptively self-sufficient, but you turn your back and suddenly your living room is covered in nail polish.

      And some days, I'm better at coping with stress than others. And some days, I feel like a maniac who shouldn't be around kids in the first place.

      But the most important thing is that, as a responsible adult, I am entitled to relax in an effective way. I don't think that being a parent should mean that I have to justify myself if I need to take a xanax or have a dirty martini once in a while. Being an adult justifies that, doesn't it?

      That's pretty much what I was hoping to get at with this post.

  9. Loved this post. Really. I am a stay/work at home mother - I have an etsy shop, a great husband and I am a writer. I learned firsthand in a devastating way that if you don't prioritize yourself (the best way you can) your world can come crashing down. There is no way to maintain caring for everyone else except for yourself. So until you figure it out to schedule yourself into your life - that dirty martini may be the only thing to look forward to. Or you may have to get that prescription so that you can remain emotionally balanced. Take it from me, when you break - you are no good to anyone. The danger with the drugs and alcohol is when you can't function without them.

  10. Totally agree, SO MUCH. I am medicated, and when I wasn't I would lock myself in my room so that I wouldn't do something I would regret. I got help when I realized that my child deserved a better mom. And now, things are still hard, but it's heaven compared to what it used to be. When the meds started working, my son asked me more than once, why I was being so nice. I almost cried. Well, I did when I was alone, but because I was happy and because I was sad that it took me until he was 6 to get my act together. At least I know he will probably only remember the happy nice me, and not the evil dragon lady. And when it's been a hard day, I have a glass of wine, although it makes me crash, but it also HELPS me crash....
    People need to get off of their high horses, and remember "mothers little helpers" have been around for a while.
    Thank you for the post :-) And popping by from Honest Voices

  11. I didn't see that peice but I've heard a bit about it now. What I always think of is that parenting didn't used to be such a production. Kids were just in families, they weren't a woman's whole identity like they are now.

  12. Thought everything was very well said, good thoughtful comments. Of course, here in my corner of the world, all I could think of was: "...and this is for the non-single moms!"

    1. I can't even imagine the struggles single moms face. My single mom friends inspire me daily.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Vote for me!

Visit Top Mommy Blogs To Vote For Me!