I was picking up my son at school last week when I overheard a pair of moms discussing a marital infraction. The husband had gone out to help a friend move and ended up staying late for pizza and beer afterwards. Mom in question had a baby in a carrier and was pulling a two or three year old in a wagon, and was obviously picking up someone from kindergarten, so I had some immediate sympathy for her.
But then the story unfolded a little more. Husband had called to check before staying late and been given an okay. He had also still been home for bedtime. Mom was venting that she felt she'd been put on the spot during the phone call and hadn't been genuine about believing it was okay. She was also furious when Husband offered to give her an evening out as recompense. She said something which stuck with me. I can't quote exactly but it was to the effect of: how dare he suggest I leave my children, I'm their mother.
As someone who quite enjoys regular evenings away from her children, (not that I don't love them but I also like talking to people over four feet tall) it got me thinking about this expectation we have for undivided maternal attention. I know of several families where the mom didn't spend more than an hour or two away from her child until that kid when to kindergarten.
Where did this image of mothering as an all-consuming lifestyle come from? And we're starting to suck fathers into the mix as well, so we may end up with both genders being equally trapped on this one.
For most of human history, survival was the most important gift you could give your kids. It still is for a larger proportion of the world than I like to think about. Providing food and shelter trumped any worries about self-esteem and modelling good relationship dynamics.
Even in the great idyllic era of the nuclear family, the 1950s, when a stay-at-home mom was a guaranteed right for every child, parenting wasn't all encompassing. This is the same era where kids were shooed out the door after breakfast and told to be home for dinner. Whole hours of unsupervised time and activities. And those moms weren't considered neglectful. In fact, a mom who kept her children with her all the time was considered the unhealthy one.
Maybe it's a backlash from our parents (always a convenient target). Growing up as latchkey kids with two working parents, the next generation overcompensates. It's possible. Or maybe it's a marketing conspiracy, to get parents anxious about the dangers of the world so they shell out for monitoring devices. Maybe it's growing up as a "protected" generation and having internalized the message that the world is a dangerous place and can't be trusted.
I'm suspicious of a parent who claims to be satisfied exclusively being a parent. No other pesky dreams or ambitions, just being a parent 24/7 365. It strikes me as obsessive and I wonder how that parent will cope with their child's increasing levels of independence. Will they sabotage their child and then wonder why their forty year old is still living in the basement and doesn't have a job?
I can't know. Maybe they're happy and fulfilled. But for me, while I love my children and really like being home for them, I still want more out of my life. And I'm cool with that.