The arduous task of nudging, pushing and dragging five children into adulthood has bestowed on me a title I wear with a good deal of reservation.
Veteran Mother. As in being an expert on the fine art of parenting.
Yet, the older I get and the longer I have to review my record, the more I recognize how much I left undone — but also how lucky I was. Every time I read about a child who’s gone off the rails, I whisper to myself: There but for the grace of God go I.
We are in the throes of another Mother’s Day extravaganza, which means several things in my world: The flower vendors are out in full force on the streets, store sales are blasting along and restaurants are advertising their brunch specials.
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Mother’s Day now seems to be a bigger event than ever, the celebrations more elaborate, the expectations more demanding. Surely this is a reflection of the way we increasingly view motherhood. Like so many other things in our lives (politics, namely), mothering has become a full-contact sport. A continuous competition. An incessant battle.
Yes, the Mommy Wars have been around for decades, a back-biting, infantile struggle pitting groups that should’ve been supporting each other instead. This war is not unlike those playground spats where alliances were always changing and mean boys and meaner girls lorded over the rest of us.
But now, with the help of social media and an alarming holier-than-thou attitude, mom-shaming has reached the shrill heights of absurdity. Invariably the clashes tend to be fought by younger mothers, those with precious little perspective on a job that is more marathon than 50-yard sprint. Far removed from the relentless toil of childrearing, I’m amazed at the pettiness of these exchanges.
The latest victim is model Chrissy Teigen, who was bombarded with nasty online comments — and "advice" — after paparazzi photos were released of her and her husband, singer John Legend, going out a week after their baby was born. Well, good for Teigen. A week after labor, I had dark circles under my eyes, my hair was a greasy knotted ball, and I felt like a dairy cow dozing off in the barn. I pretty much despised everybody, the children’s father especially.
It’s easy to hate on the internet, easier to pass judgment on sisters who are usually trying to do the best they can. Maybe these barbed comments are a way of justifying our own choices, private decisions we secretly doubt but will publicly defend to the death.
About three years ago I sat in the living room of a new mother who expounded on everything from breastfeeding to working outside the home to the traditional vaccination schedule. In quick succession, she criticized mothers who formula fed, mothers who left their babies in day care, and mothers who blithely submitted their infants to the evils of western medicine. This from a woman who had a grand total of six weeks of practice in a job that no one — not a single parent — has ever perfected.
I was tempted to slap her but decided that, under the circumstances, it was best to excuse ignorance. I knew the unforgiving wand of experience would work its own magic on her arrogance.
Raising children is exhausting, and difficult, and thankless. We learn on the job, by the seat of our pants, but never do master it. So wouldn’t it be better if, on this Mother’s Day, we forget the vitriol and give each other an encouraging high five instead?