Proposed: The primary reason so many of today’s mothers are so very stressed by child rearing — something their grandmothers, for the most part, approached fairly nonchalantly — is because they do something their grandmothers did not do: they read parenting columns, magazines, and books. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony here.
Men, with very rare exception, do not read parenting materials. There are no men’s groups that meet to discuss the latest issue of a certain parenting magazine, for example. Men do not get on the phone with one another and talk about one of its articles. Because they do not expose themselves to the potential toxicity of professional parenting advice, men think about their kids but do not obsess about them.
The more women read, the more inclined they become to join what I call the Good Mommy Club. Membership in the GMC compels a woman to feel that she must clear, on a daily basis, the Good Mommy Bar — representing the post-1960s standard of maternal achievement. Written on this figurative bar are the requirements for attaining Good Mommy-hood, the most prominent of which is “The Good Mommy pays as much attention to and does as much for her child as possible.” (Fascinating, that. My mother made it clear that it was my job to pay attention to her, which is why I did.) Other Good Mommy necessities include “The GM drives her child to as many developmentally-, socially-, and neurologically-enriching after-school activities as possible” and “The GM makes sure her child’s homework goes back to school with no mistakes.”
Of this there is no doubt: The mother who allows herself to be captured by the GMC and feels thus compelled to clear the Good Mommy Bar will begin to experience the raising of children as stressful and anxiety-filled. Dealt with properly, children are not stressful. History provides the proof. Sixty-plus years ago a woman raising ten children experienced less stress than does a mom today who is raising two. But then, no previous generation of mothers ever thought raising children was a BIG DEAL. Thinking of something as an important responsibility and thinking of it as a BIG DEAL are two entirely different things, with two entirely different outcomes. In other words, the stress and anxiety that so many of today’s moms associate with child rearing have nothing to do with children and everything to do with membership in the Good Mommy Club.
The stress and anxiety is made worse by the fact that the Good Mommy Bar keeps being ratcheted up. To bring this discussion full circle, what was good enough mothering according to last month’s parenting magazine is not quite good enough according to this month’s.
I ask women, “After you read (a parenting magazine), do you feel reassured that you are doing a good enough job as things stand, or do you feel that you now have three or four more Good Mommy assignments?”
Every single time I have asked this question of a mother, she stares blankly at me for a few seconds and then says words to this effect: “I never would have put that together, John, but now that you’ve caused me to think about it, the answer is yes.”
“So what do you think about doing yourself a great favor and never read it again?”
That is a first step toward resigning from the Good Mommy Club, which I highly recommend to all of its members. This is one women’s liberation movement I think all men can cheer on.