not mom of the year

A couple of friends sent me this awesome video for Mother’s Day: “Tina Fetner Announced as 2009 Mother of the Year.” Don’t I have the sweetest friends? And for the last couple of weeks, I have been feeling like mother of the year. I even drafted a couple of blog posts about it, but then it all came crashing down with about three motherFAILs in a row, and I realized that I was just faking it, living far above my mothering means. I will never be mother of the year, at least not as the position is currently defined in the social world around me.

It all started when a friend of Kid moved into the house just around the corner. Kid’s friend is great, his whole family is really nice, and I loved the idea that we could carpool to Kid’s Montessori school, which is about a 15-minute drive away (yes, I am taking down the ice caps, but it’s for the children). Friend has two younger brothers and an awesome stay-at-home mom who somehow manages to keep her sense of humour even though she has the toughest job in the world.

Stay-at-home moms may be rare in most social circles these days, but in Kid’s social world at the private Montessori school, they are in the majority. And from the perspective of us work-for-pay moms, this is the clique at the top of our social hierarchy. They pick up their kids at the correct time of 3:30pm, and in doing so, they get to meet each other every day to chat and form a community. We leave our kids to languish until 4:30 or 5pm and pick them up individually. They iron professionally made labels into their kid’s clothes. We hand-write our kids’ names with a marker. They pack litterless lunches with a protein, a green veg, an orange veg, a grain, a fruit and a treat – no nuts! We thank the stars for the chance to pay $5/day for a hot lunch we don’t have to make.

The stay-at-home moms also organize the social lives of their children, arranging playdates and helping each other out by watching each other’s kids. They watch our kids, too, but the exchange becomes lopsided very quickly. I need help all the time, and it is rare when I can pay it back. So even though my family time is often taken up with hosting playdates, I still can’t do anything more than once every couple of weeks. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear one of my Kid’s friends tell him that he wasn’t allowed to invite him over for any more playdates until he got invited over to our house. And, he added, not realizing he was twisting the knife he had jammed into my heart, that our new neighbor’s kid was “the only one” to invite him for playdates regularly. I was just as crushed as way more crushed than Kid, well aware that this was another item on my long list of failings as a mom.

When the new family moved in, I thought I saw my chance for redemption. Classes were finished, after all, and I can pick up my Kid at 3:30pm, can’t I? I can invite the other kids over for playdates, and I can invite the moms over for tea, and play in the park, and do all the things that the stay-at-home moms do. I can take my kid to soccer twice a week after school, I can organize fun weekend trips to museums and hiking trails and everything! I can have it all! And I did have it all, for two glorious weeks. Two weeks of carpooling, of conflict-ridden playdates with best friends who turn out to behave really badly with each other, of nice chats with my still-awesome stay-at-home mom friend.

But then again, I couldn’t get the grocery shopping done. And I haven’t cooked a real meal in two weeks. And four loads of laundry are piled up. And my hockey gear is in a smelly heap in the living room where it has been airing out since Saturday night. I didn’t realize that I was building up a time debt with this spending spree on Kid, but that is exactly how I managed the two weeks. It wasn’t until I started failing that I realized this. Like yesterday, when I had a late meeting at work. I had planned to leave Kid in the aftercare program, but I forgot to tell my carpool pal, who picked up Kid on time and then was stuck with caring for him for an extra hour before I showed up. Yesterday was the second week in a row when this happened. Add into this forgotten car seat transfers, forgotten snacks into backpacks and a general grouchy mood due to sleep deprivation, and I had to reassess my situation.

And here I am, sitting in my running clothes, blogging instead of running. Coat draped over a chair, toys strewn about the living room, hockey gear still not picked up. Is that a bag of wet towels and swimsuits over there in the corner? I am afraid to look. And I am done with my little experiment of trying to be mom of the year. I realize now that it wasn’t for Kid that I tried it–it was about me climbing the social mom ladder. Kid is perfectly happy playing in aftercare. He is just fine eating hot lunch, and if we plan out a modest schedule for playdates, he can have his friends over every once in a while, and that will have to be good enough. We can carpool in the mornings, but not in the afternoons, and I can have my extra hour back each day to get my work done. And that is the best I can do.

14 thoughts on “not mom of the year”

  1. Amen, sister. These divisions in children’s social worlds depending on the employment of their mothers* are brutal. I have also noticed that smart, achievement-oriented women who stop out with children express their competitiveness through their children, at the same time they are worried about feeling exploited by the “paid job” moms. As you say, all we can do is what we can do. But in my experience, there are plenty of opportunities for feeling guilty, no matter what you do. The “standards” for work and home in the professional class are just set too high for anybody to be able to do well at both.

    *Not parents, mothers, and yes that is meant as a social critique.

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  2. Tina will answer for herself. I answered for myself long ago (where part of the answer was “traveling,” and the rest of the answer was “around and doing a lot”). But none of that has anything at all to do with the “mom competition.” Stay-at-home Dads talk about how they tend to get cut out of the super-mom networks, too. Some super-moms have really involved partners as well. This stuff isn’t just about time (although it is a lot about time), it is about the gendered cultural standards and practices of the affluent classes with special reference to parenting. Men just don’t judge themselves and each other about how good they are at being super dads in the way women do about being a super mom.

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  3. I have to agree with OW. It’s about gendered expectations, not about how willing dads are to participate in the child rearing. In a less-serious (and quite silly) example of this…I don’t have children yet, but I still was periodically upset last night and part of today after receiving the news from the vet that our cats need to lose 2-3 pounds each. My husband consoled me that I am, indeed, a good “cat mom,” but I felt completely responsible, despite the fact that we both feed the little (big?) critters. The gendered “shoulds” are already well-entrenched in my head, and I know it’s going to be that much more difficult to quell them once I am a “real” mom.

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  4. There are many things I might have done differently, things I wish I had done when my kid was still living here. But doing the laundry more frequently is not one of them.

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  5. Jamy, I’m so glad some others piped in, as I didn’t quite know how to answer that question without sounding like a jerk. OW and PI have it right that class and gender are organizing my social experiences (and race, too, I am well aware). It’s no secret around this blog that Husband is an executive in the digital music industry, which makes us incredibly lucky and allows us the privilege of sending Kid to a modest private school. This has two important effects for the current story: an over-representation of stay-at-home moms among the parents I encounter, and a partner who works 70-80 hours/week and travels regularly. While I certainly don’t want to complain about his job, which is among the most awesome jobs in the world, it leaves us a major time shortage and a gender imbalance in parenting, despite our shared preference for gender equality.

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  6. Jay, the only thing I dislike more than doing the laundry is not having the laundry done. Ditto: dishes and tidying the living room.

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  7. I tell this story partly in the hope that someone can track down the original Doonesbury cartoon, which I’m pretty sure was published in June of 1987 as I’m pretty sure I first saw it the week my son was born. It goes something like this. Joanie and Rick are talking in bed. She says:”I don’t understand. Both of us have jobs, we both spend the same time with our son, but I feel guilty and inadequate as a mother all the time, while it does not seem to bother you. He says: “It is really very simple. I compare myself to my father, who did nothing, and feel good about my fathering by comparison. You compare yourself to your mother and feel bad because you cannot do as much as she did.” They look at each other in the third panel. In the fourth she hits him with a pillow.

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  8. Tina, I could have written this post. I rush to pick up my son at daycare at what I deem a ‘reasonable hour’, usually 4pm — when as often as not he fusses because he is not ready to leave, and I could really use another hour in the office. This is all part of the guilt. I also overcompensate with packed lunches (bento, organic, homemade bread, etc.), because there is this whole cult about what kids have in their lunches among the moms at older kid’s school, and I can’t. not. compete. Anyway. All this to say, I feel you. And p.s. I have a partner who does at least 50% of housework and child-rearing, and who also thinks I am crazy with the over-compensating. I don’t think it goes away with a 50-50 partner (or at least, not for me!) due to these gendered expectations.

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  9. Thanks for patiently answering my question. I guess I don’t suffer from feeling like an inadequate “cat mommy” even though my cat is overweight too–but I can see how with all the pressure to be a perfect mom and all the gendered expectations out there, the fathers are left out of a lot of this. Even if they don’t want to be…

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  10. first of all — I WON THAT AWARD!! I have the video to prove it! Second, wait til PTA starts. It’s all gendered expectations and I am married to a stay-home-dad and we can;t get all this stuff done! It has to work for you and your family. And if that means hiring people to do some of the work or just choosing to be the one who brings store bought goodies, you gotta know that your kids are getting something else — a mom who loves her job. A mom who loves learning and teaching.

    finally — as someone who called on two friends today to help when hubby fell ill – become real friends with a few of these families you really like at a deeper level. Through church, through fun times, whatever. Real friends don’t count playdates or think of it as a burden when you need a little extra support.

    Plus, I guarantee your shoes kick those other mommies’ shoes’ asses. (that sentence was apostrophe hell)

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  11. #1) we get our kid(s) at the LAST SPLIT second of available care, so you’re doing well by our standards.

    #2) No offense to the awesome stay-at-home mothers @ your school, but if I got to go parent shopping @ parents r us, I might very well pick rad hockey-playing sociology professor mom and wicked cool music guy over every other available option (presuming that the chocolatiers are already sold out).

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