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My Occupation “Just Mother”

Something’s gone blooey in the liberation department. In this mass exit out the “Free To Be” door, something’s – somebodies are being left behind. In this drive to be found, to be est-ed and gestalted and meditated and whatevered, we are still losing sight and touch and sound and communication with our planet’s new generation: the children. Lord knows we do think of them. Get terrific non-sexist books for them. And clothes. And toys. And baby- sitters. We’ve got a lot of those. But we don’t seem to have the time for them any more. Nor the patience. And space. We can’t seem to find the room for them in our lives any more. Our own lives are being bombarded daily by a world of tantilizing, mind-growing choices. We no longer are satisfied to be “just” anything. We want to BE! We want to go back to school and find exciting jobs and take intensive seminars and switch roles with our men and grow and grow and grow!

This is as it should be. I’m not knocking creative growth, but I fear it’s taking on “bean stalkian” proportions. We are shouting “I Gotta Be Me” so loud, we can’t hear – are not hearing, are too busy to hear the childish lisp of “…what about me…?”

Look, I’m not merely standing on the soap box and finger pointing. I’m standing in front of the mirror. I am exhausted from being pulled apart by this self-imposed, society induced wrack. I am tired. Tired of spending eternity blank-staring at the threatening, sneering, mocking words found in every questionnaire in every doctor’s office,  ‘OCCUPATION’.

Well, let’s see, I’m a freelance writer. Come on, Cara, when’s the last time you freelance wrote anything…for bread, that is? I think of my dusty portfolio tucked away in that old Toys-R-Us box. Okay, okay, I’m a L.A. Zoo docent! Ta-dahhhhhhh! Big deal, turtle teeth, that’s SALVATION not OCCUPATION. Dreamer of dreams? Unwritten writer of unsung songs? I give up. I confess.

I am – are you ready? just a mother. Wait a minute. Are Ethan and Jesse just Ethan and Jesse? Are they just my two boys? Noooo wayyyyy! I’m confused. I can’t be just a mother because I don’t have just two mind-blowing children. There’s absolutely nothing plain, old just about them. The whole thing’s unjust. I’m getting a headache. And all this quiet head-banging agony over what? OCCUPATION.

“Have you filled it out yet, Mrs. Wilson?”  “Filled it out – what? Oh-oh, the questionnaire…can I make one last phone call?” Why do I feel I must justify myself – feel apologetic because I work at home, take care of a family that I wanted all my life, yet feel so defensive when I’m called a “housewife” and “mother”? I look at my other women friends. They are either in the process of running away from their families, have already made the break, or are doing the ‘head-bang- rock’ at this very moment. All in the name of “liberation”.

It was with these thoughts in mind that Magda (Madge’s real Hungarian name, which she prefers to the Americanized “Madge” version) and I talked.

M: I understand what you are saying, Cara. Basically, you are talking about a trend. A 1970’s trend that everybody is being swept into. And for everybody to do this at once is kind of impossible. Because we are all different from each other – come from different backgrounds. We can’t wear the same clothes, hide behind the same mask. You see, trends are molds for conformity. The more you need these trends, the more insecure an individual you are. The more secure you are within yourself, the less you need these gimmicks. If you have this self-esteem then you can drive any car, live in any neighborhood, etc. With this in view, if one gets to child rearing practices and considers the changes that time has undergone, we can see how a mother establishes her own self-identity from her peer groups. (It used to be the bottle, now it’s the breast. A ‘knocked-out” birth and a prepared, trained, aware one. The examples are endless…)

C: It’s the child-rearing part, that I’m most concerned about, Magda. How do you feel about the role the children are playing today?

M: Well, you know it’s the children who have to comply with these trends. It’s the children who have no choice when a mother does what she must do. Whether they have a 24-hour mother or a part- time mother, the children have to take what there is. I am reminded of a poster that appeared in a Washington, D.C. toy store. It was an excerpt from the book, The Joys and Sorrows of Parenthood:

1910 Spank Them
1920 Deprive Them
1930 Ignore Them
1940 Reason With Them
1950 Love Them
1960 Spank Them Lovingly (“It hurts me more than it hurts you.”)
1970 To Hell With Them

C: That’s it! That’s what I’m talking about! I honestly feel there is a big “to hell with the kids” trend that is the result of this self-satisfying est of ours.

M: True. Like everything, there is always a swing of the pendulum. Today, we have a much more understanding attitude towards the mother’s identity. The danger is that too many mothers rationalize their irresponsibility by saying ,”I’m doing my own thing.” You are rewarded by not being the dutiful mother. All life styles are acceptable. The attitude that prevails is “I live my own life and no child will interfere.” So the mothers who are still trying to make their lives and their families lives work, who get uptight about the conditions of society and yet still don’t give up on the children they brought into it – they are the ones who are either called saint or fool or both or some kind of oddball for trying to stick it out. Look, there is no way out. A parent is a parent is a parent is a responsible human being and should know this before he/she comes a parent! If you blind yourself by saying everything is good for the child as long as I do my own thing, then that’s really sad. Because many times the child ends up more neglected than not. Nobody said it was easy being a parent. Everyone would like to be free without responsibility. And before being a parent there are two major difficulties to consider:

1) The On-Goingness of Being a Parent:
You see, even if the child is not home you never stop being a parent. It is a terrific psychological burden knowing and thinking and feeling that this is my child and I must do something about it. It’s kind of a feeling of un-freeness. Think of how you felt before you were a responsible parent.

2) The Technicality of Being a Parent:
This is the nitty-gritty. The basics, if you will. You have just got to do certain things, go through definite caregiving motions while parenting. Whether you want to stay in bed or not, the child still demands on-going care.
It is these two realities that impinge on the feelings of today. And they don’t have to be so overwhelming if parents have the strong support both of their peers and of society itself. If the parent’s job is recognized as tough and society supports parenthood and its toughness, then the parent feels strong. “It is tough, but I’m doing it well”, that’s a good way to feel about one of the hardest, most challenging jobs in the world.
I’m not talking about glorifying parenthood the way they did a few years back. They hallelujahed parenthood so much and so greatly out of proportion that no one could live up to that false “perfect” image of the devoted parent. That was the pitfall of those times. There was lots of support, but it was terribly guilt-inducing.

C: Magda, it seems to be so much harder to raise children nowadays. If it weren’t for our playgroups and later pre-schools, most of us mothers would be raising our children in a sort of confined and confining monotonous world. We are very isolated from each other. There is no small town, no real community. Our children are as trapped in our worlds as we are in theirs. So how can a mother give her child any sense of autonomy and self-confidence when she, herself, is a slave?

M: Parenting takes time. It’s like any job you train for. You go to school to learn it, you go through a lot of pressure, exams, sweat, second thoughts, but if you want it badly enough, you keep at it. You can’t do your own thing during this job training period. Society expects you to work hard.
After all, it’s a job, right? If we could only think of parenthood in these terms. Realistically, parents must know the consequences of their choices: having a child or not having a child. Accepting a job or not accepting a job. You see? They must mentally plan for this parenting job as well as physically plan for it. They must make room for this child/job in their lives. If the parents decide that, yes, they choose to have a child, then they must accept the responsibility that goes with that choice. They must accept involvement (time, space, emotion), availability, a certain giving up of egotistic needs. They must realize this there is no other way. They must know that there is a certain amount of investment: “I will do this now and later reap the benefits…” And they must really take a good, introspective look at themselves and seriously question: ‘What kind of person am I?” And then also question seriously what a child really needs before you have that child. If parents would think about and really plan for parenthood, there would be a lot happier children and parents. It’s so important for a young child to know about life with her/his own family. Maybe for two two and a half years, the mother must pay this one-to-one price. Because, really, this kind of timely investment is what ultimately produces secure, independent, self-sufficient children. The more you invest in those first early years (before and during) of parenting, the easier your life will be later on. You won’t have to be a slave to a child who has been given this kind of attention. It’s simply the difference between the nagging, neglected (withdrawn, later hospitalized) children and those that will make it in life independently, with strength and self-confidence.

C: Well, what about the single parent, or two working parents who must be away from the child. How can they reap the benefits of that kind of situation?

M: If the mother has to work and the child is still very important to her, then she must find time for that special quality time. (NOTE: Refer to December Issue of AFTER BIRTH for the article covering Quality Time.) Again, the mother must ask herself what sort of solution to her life style would be satisfying to both her and to her child. I believe that if you want something strongly enough, you will find it. I would like to see mothers who can’t be with their children find one other who they all feel confident about; feel warmly towards, and they would pay her to take care of their children. This other would feel she’s a professional, she would take great interest in her job, since she would be doing the most important profession that exists, and the other mothers would still feel good knowing that they had provided the best, most loving and caring possible solution to their situation. I’m sure that if a group of mothers advertized in After Birth for this kind of woman to care for their children, they would most certainly find her.

C: Okay, what about day care centers? How do you feel about them, Magda?

M: Well, I feel a lot of things about them. I know more about day care centers than most because I have been a consultant to many, many of them. I find most of them too expensive. There is a great lipservice on the importance of infants, but in actuality, there is hardly any service that is doing right by the children. The centers are not purposefully cruel, but they are not knowledgeable. The infant carers must get true information on exactly what the child really needs, not just cognitive stimulation or mothering through cuddling or rocking. Infants – all children, need so much more. They need people who are well trained. People who are aware of the individual within the child. The individual that needs growing attention. These kind of trained carers must be well paid. And that’s where the problem starts. In this rich society we are told we don’t have enough money. We simply can’t afford the money for the time and knowledge necessary, for the kind of excellence day care centers really need. So, what do we have now? Children crammed together, usually in some church basement. Terribly neglected. Oh, their very basic needs are being taken care of, but they are missing the essential ingredient: that particular attention we each need to help us understand our own individuality. In so many of these centers I have observed extremely ‘well behaved”, submissive children. It is very upsetting to see. The mischief is missing. The “I am me” quality gone. I see more a group of children acting like a group – there aren’t many “I am me’s” among them. They are merely charges of the people who fragmentally meet their needs, but each child doesn’t get the continuity of a growing self.

C: What about the Loczy Institute, Magda? How much different is it than the day care centers you have observed here?

M: Well, there is an unbelievable amount of knowledge and care to meet all the needs of the children. We have about 8 paid professional people at all times (about 70 infants, not a very high carer to infant ratio.) All the scientific work is recorded down to the smallest detail. Nothing about the growing child goes unnoticed. The contrast to this world is so great…

C: Still, many parents find day care centers their only solution. How can they live with this choice and still feel somewhat okay about it?

M: First, by realizing that the child is still not in the ideal situation. The mother should try not to stay away too long, in fact, she should fight for part-time jobs for the sake of the child. She should try and observe a few centers and watch to see if the children’s needs are being met: Are they fed when not hungry? Put to bed when not sleepy? And then, of course, when the mother and child are back together at the end of the day, there should be totally child-oriented time, even if for an hour. The mother should basically enjoy – savor the child during this time. because it is this joy that is the “vitamin” by which the little person really grows. It is what helps the child love being ME, not one of a group, but one of a kind. A mother may feel guilty for having to be away, but this guilt must not be placed on the child. Once you are together during this peaceful quality time, no “poor baby” attitude should be felt by the child. That’s too heavy. No, a better, freer feeling to try to believe in and convey is, “I am good mother, and now we are together.” Simple. Those first few years – they are so important. I can’t emphasize that enough. They need that extra effort, that double shot of energy and, yes, sacrifice. If something is important enough then it requires great investment. This is how I would hope parents would feel about parenting. If a mother realizes the dignity, the esteem in parenting, if she knows she is doing the most important job in the world, then she won’t be so vulnerable to outside criticism. It’s this deep, inner security that I would like to give to these mothers. Life is so long and getting longer. You can do so many things later. And you can do a lot of things now not far from the child. A little person needn’t be sacrificed to the gods of “Doing My Own Thing”. You can still arrange your life for interests, hobbies, part-time jobs and balance them along with your child. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation being a parent or a person. You can be both.

***

Well, when the talk was over I did seem to see things a little more clearly. I hope that other parents will benefit from this talk as I did. Maybe slow down a bit, stop patting each other on the back for out-distancing the babes. I do believe we can and must balance our lives with creative, stimulating input but, lordy, it doesn’t have to be at the mercy of those little people. Please, fathers reading this article, don’t feel left out. We have directed a great deal of our attention to the mother, to the working woman. We all know how much the child needs a father. Your quality time is as priceless to the child as the mother’s is. Still, for many families the mother is the only parent. There is no father around. And the importance of the mother as a constant in the child’s life is now being more and more fully realized.

Today’s women are putting a great deal of pressure on themselves. As well as laying a lot of pressure on each other. More than ever before we want to be good at everything we seek. We want to be loved as well as loving; to be fulfilled spiritually, creatively, sensually, financially, etc., etc., and to be daring in our strivings. It’s almost overwhelming.

I believe we can do everything we want to do, but we must not lose our perspective in this self-seeking journey. We must not lose sight of our children. I am a mother. And, at this point in my life, I work at home. That’s a fact. Not in the Madison Avenue imagery (hair in curlers, card games, gossip, joy in the birth of a detergent or new, blue toilet deodorant), but in family sense of the word according to Webster: Mother – “a woman having the responsibility and authority of a mother; to acknowledge or admit that one is the mother, author, or originator of…

Please write us, people. We need to hear your thoughts. We would especially like to hear some “quality time” experiences. Until our next talk, stay peaceful and loving…and close to home.

 

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Black and white ink drawing of an infant laying supine and reaching towards an adult hand which is reaching back to the infant

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