The Washington Post
As a culture, we’re unhealthily obsessed with our mothers.
For the past several months, I have been deluged with e-mails wanting to know if I have made plans yet for Mother’s Day.
Only a few of these have been from my mother.
For the most part, they are from the Maternal Industrial Complex, which rivals in scope its more bellicose counterpart. It wants me to buy flowers. It wants me to buy cards and massage coupons and scented candles and bath salts (not the kind the kids inhale these days) and hand sanitizer (not the kind the kids distill into hard liquor these days) and hire small parades to walk past my mother’s place of work proclaiming my filial devotion.
Mother’s Day comes but once a year, but the Maternal Industrial Complex continues year-round, churning out books about How To Mother and How Not To Mother and blogs about How I’m Mothering Right Now and fueling the plot engines of everything from Broadway shows to MTV’s “16 and Pregnant.” It sets Twitter abuzz: Was Ann Romney mother enough? Was Amy Chua? And don’t forget the new Time Magazine cover, which is generating all sorts of buzz by asking us: Are you MOM enough?
Mo mommy, more problems, as Oedipus used to say.
We are freakishly obsessed with motherhood. Babies are no longer something you leave on stoops or abandon on hillsides. That is so gauche. Instead, you abandon them at soccer practice. Or maybe you never abandon them, like Mrs. Bates.
Parenting is, generally speaking, impossible.
Attachment parenting? Detachment parenting? Who knows! Certainly not parents.
Hence our almost pornographic fascination. We want to watch you do it. We want to see pictures and videos and read blog posts. Just don’t ask us to try. From the looks of it, most of us have no idea how it works.
Just look at Google, where people are constantly typing in queries like “Is it okay to put my baby in a hot tub” and “may I please for the love of pete let my infant cry himself to sleep?”
What I am trying to say is that motherhood is generally a thankless task, and I doubt a brunch and thoughtful card will cut it when it comes to making amends.
But it didn’t used to be this way. It used to be, you could waddle down to the ocean and lay thousands of eggs and then waddle back up, and hopefully one or two of them would survive and grow into sea turtles.
Now you have to read all kinds of parenting books and attend lectures, and if you just dump your offspring into the sea immediately after birth, people start passing remarks.
There are Tiger Mothers and Mommy Bloggers and Helicopter Parents of every stripe. There are Octomoms and the Duggars and Bristol Palin and Casey Anthony running amok.
Try sending your child to a workhouse to provide for the family, like all those mothers in Victorian days! You can’t even take your kid tanning.
Some species eat their young. I am not advising this, but one can understand the temptation.
You used to churn out kids and hope that one or two out of eight survived the plague and passed the genes along. Now look at us. We have a whole complex set up to squint nervously at other people’s parenting habits. The way we scrutinize mothers is comparable to nothing else under the sun. Are you Mom enough: Who asks that?
It’s not just the practitioners of attachment parenting. We’re all unhealthily fixated. Concentrate your reproductive energy into fewer and fewer offspring, and you have to be certain to Get It Absolutely Right. And if you turn out wrong, well, just blame Mom. She didn’t read the right parenting guides.
Why are we celebrating Mother’s Day? It just feeds into this whole obsession and results in things like Time magazine putting a mother breastfeeding her 3-year-old on its cover! We need to stop fixating like this, before it’s too late! I’ll protest - and I think my mother will agree that I am right.
What I mean to say is, “Sorry, Mom, I didn’t manage to get us a reservation.”
Also, thank you.