Wonder Momism: a study in acceptance and recovery
By Kelley Cunningham
We all know burned-out, achievement-oriented women who have left high-powered careers in order to experience the joy of staying home to raise their children. They figure if they can run things at the office efficiently, surely the challenges of running a home should be a piece of cake. But in no time at all they are on their knees searching for the lost pacifier, smashing wayward Cheerios in the process, as the squalling toddler topples out of the high chair. Before long they would rather take a beating than play another game of Candy Land. This was not as they pictured it.
Of course not. You cannot compare the working life to staying at home with children. At least in the office there is some semblance of logic and order, however strained at times. Most likely you will not have to deal with someone who insists on being nude all day. Usually your co-workers will be able to speak when they want something instead of pointing at the air, wetting themselves and screaming.
But these earnest mothers donít understand they are dealing with a completely logic-free paradigm, to quote an over-used management term. They just try harder to impose order upon the shifting sands. Consciously or not, desperately in need of a challenge, they make the decision to become the best stay-at-home moms ever.
They set impossible goals. They see themselves dancing around a sparkling home wearing lipstick and heels. The childrenís scrapbooks will be arranged chronologically in the polished bookcase, and of course there will always be organic carob-chip cookies in the oven.
Sisters, itís the fast lane to the Funny Farm, and weíve all been there.
All of us stay-at-homes have fallen prey to this mentality to some degree. We compare ourselves endlessly to other mothers. This one has three kids who have won early-acceptance to Princeton. That one brings her kids to Guatemala to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. God, whatís wrong with us? We canít even remember to put the wet laundry in the dryer before it starts aístinkiní.
So we try harder. We hit the craft stores and stock up on pipe cleaners and Elmerís glue so our children can have the tools at hand to become the next Calder. We read The Canterbury Tales to the toddlers instead of Stop Picking Your Nose, Elmo! We spend hours planning and decorating the perfect nursery that our kids wonít even remember.
We donít recognize that we are on the slippery slope to Wonder Momism until itís too late. One day we find we canít stop reading Penelope Leach once we start. We begin lying about the mountain of educational computer games we purchased for our kids. We start to hide the cartons of toilet paper cores weíre saving for craft projects. Itís time to wake up and smell the DiaperGenie.
At this point every mother has to take a long look in the mirror. Alone. No playgroup can help you now.
Admit that you turn to putty before fear-producing books like Incredibly Tedious Kitchen Counter-Staining Crafts You Should Be Doing With Your Kids Or Else Theyíll Wind Up Living In Your Basement Until Theyíre Forty. Accept that the notices jonesing for field trip chaperones will always be sent home in the backpacks, but you must find a way to fight the urge within you to always say yes I said yes I will Yes!
Once you realize that you are a Wonder Mom wannabe you will be in recovery for the rest of your life. Take it one day at a time.
As with other obsessive, addictive diseases, you have to hit rock bottom before you can climb your way back to sobriety. Rock bottom for me was my frugal phase. I read somewhere that I could save a quarter every time I hung the wash to dry instead of using the dryer. So what if the towels dried in this manner could stand up by themselves and shred skin. I kept thinking of the quarters! Thatís when I knew I needed help.
Luckily I went through the twelve steps successfully. Step Three was the toughest. Thatís the one where I had to get store-bought valentines instead of making them with my kids. Step Six was bad too. I had to throw away every masterpiece sent home from preschool, layer by layer, until I could see my refrigerator again. And Step Nine, whew, that sucked. I had to say no to three separate Girl Scouts hawking Thin Mints. When I got to Step Twelve and let somebody else be the class parent for the year, I knew I could stick with the program even though I was a sweaty, shaking mess.
Itís easy to see how Wonder Momism develops. We see Mothering as a new career. But itís not a career. Itís just living. Most of us have a lot less training for that. Iím reading right out of the recovery manual now, can you tell?
The awful thing all Wonder Moms must eventually face is that kids donít necessarily need or want constant planned activity. They donít want you in their faces all day. Once theyíre past a certain age they just want to know you are there for speedy snack delivery or to recover their favorite Hot Wheels car from underneath the sofa where it had gone to die in peace. It got to the point where my guys would groan pitifully and shuffle into the kitchen whenever I announced a new craft project in my ďIím a Sunny MommyĒ voice.
Please join me in recovery. Itís a freeing feeling when you stop trying to be Wonder Mom. We have a great time at the meetings. We feed the kids an occasional nugget of processed food and no one gasps in disbelief. We often tell the children to stop interrupting the grown-ups and go find something else to do. If one of us says ďNo, I will not read Goodnight, Moon again. Just go to sleep already,Ē cheers and huzzahs are heard.
Weíve stopped pretending that playing Hi-Ho Cherry-O is a Kodak moment. If you wanted to cry the last time you spun the empty bucket, thereby prolonging the game another 25 minutes, youíre one of us. But if you thought, ďgreat, more time to practice our numeration skills!Ē you may not be ready for the twelve steps just yet.
Recovering Wonder Moms like to be alone once in awhile. Weíre here for you, darlings, but we just want to pee by ourselves. The door is locked because we donít want to let you into the bathroom anymore. We donít want to seize the moment to talk about why girls donít have penises but can still pee. And we sure as heck donít want a photo of that in a custom-designed scrapbook.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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