Gather Round Women: So You Need Some Help With Your ‘Mommy Problem’

With an impish look on his face my husband innocently asked if I’d read The New York Times opinion section recently.

Minutes later — with the requisite cartoon steam coming out of my ears — I was harrumphing my way through Our ‘Mommy Problem.’  I could also be heard grumbling and exclaiming loudly:

Finally figured out what I’ve been writing about since 2007 did you…?

Besides both having nearly unpronounceable last names, the op-ed author, Heather Havrilesky, and I do not share a lot in common with our current ways of life. What we clearly do agree on is how irritating the “M” word can be in the wrong context, as she wrote with this statement:

Why does this word [Mom or Mommy] irritate me when the wrong person says it?

Word, Heather! This ‘problem’ is one I’ve been writing about from the other side for quite some time. A spin through some of my previous blog posts illuminates the issue further. This cultural phenomenon has been picking up momentum for the past decade.

The Positioning Exercise  (September 2007)

Momzilla Alert (February 2007)

Where did it begin? Look no further than many of the self-proclaimed Soccer Moms, Tiger Moms and Mom’s Club banner wavers who proclaimed their mom-itude loudly and often, which not surprisingly, caught the attention of marketers, who, reinforced by armies of Mommy Bloggers and those with Twitter handles who establish their mom status right up front, established entire campaigns aimed at “the Moms.” And the pendulum embracing all things mother has swung pretty far since the modern women’s movement. The organizers from the 1960s and 1970s would be hard pressed to reconcile today’s cultural shift as I made clear in this post:

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45 Years After Rossi, Mommies Propagate Prejudice (November 2009 via Open Salon Editor’s Pick)

If you think it’s irritating to be addressed with this label by the wrong person, try being the only non-mom in a room full of smug moms starting sentences self-righteously with “As a Mom…”

Yep, not so fun to be marginalized or condescended to, is it?

As I made clear in this post, The Unintended Consequences of Placing ‘Moms” on Pedestals, which coincidentally came together after listening to political convention speakers invoking their parental superiority (ala Michelle Obama and Ann Romney), the damage goes far beyond simple annoyance or an eye role. The calling out or elevation of parental status not only creates divides it can often imply unequal value for those who don’t count parenting among their day-to-day responsibilities but contribute a great deal to society in many other meaningful ways.

It’s the rare but happy occurrence now when I meet a woman for the first time and only discover — well into a business or social conversation on any number of varied topics — that she might have a relation that calls her mom, mother or ma.

You’ll never hear me referring to anyone as my “mom friends” (or my “infertile friends” for that matter) because to me they are simply friends. I’m not alone in thinking this way. One friend — who happens to be raising children — like Heather, can’t abide hearing women incessantly dropping the “m” word.

On more than one occasion we’ve each found ourselves stepping in, like referees, to keep the mom-itude in check.  Let’s just say we’ve seen more than our fair share of fouls and penalties in recent years.

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Moms: We Hear You Loud and Clear (November 2009)

So dear readers, do you see this ‘mommy problem’ getting better or worse these days?

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4 thoughts on “Gather Round Women: So You Need Some Help With Your ‘Mommy Problem’

  1. So let me get this straight….The premise of the NYT article is that women want to be elevated on to some kind of pedestal when they have children but they also get to complain when they get unwanted attention for being a mother? Apparently “mom” or “mommy” can be both the greatest term of endearment and the foulest of curse words? That must be tough! (Just so we’re clear, that was said with as much sarcasm as I can muster before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee.)

    I think the ‘mommy problem’ is getting worse, and truthfully I think that social media and is a huge contributor to the divide. There’s always been an effort to keep up with Joneses but I think that social media has taken this to a whole new level. Now, instead of trying to keep up with family, friends, and neighbors, people are trying to keep up with people that you don’t even really know like that girl that you had one class with in your freshman year of college. The instant nature of social media makes it so easy to compare your life with that of others (I’m guilty of it myself).

    I also think that media’s portrayal of parenthood is part of the problem. I mean, how often do we see stories about non-parents or even stories about parents where the fact that they are parents isn’t mentioned at all or not as a primary theme of the news story? I remember when Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo. The news didn’t focus on all of the awesome things that she’s done or the credibility she as to succeed in the position, no, it focused on the fact that she was pregnant.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      I did finding myself saying, “huh? seriously?” … bit of whiplash trying to sort out which, uh, camp wants what.

  2. Glad to see you writing about this! :) I saw the NYT article too (& a related Motherlode blog post — see http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/our-real-mommy-and-daddy-problem-your-children-are-your-problem/ ) & thought it was amusing that at least some moms themselves appear to be “mommied out. ” I thought the writer made some good points about how “The current culture demands that every mother be all in, all the time.” But I think it’s important to make the point that “woman” does not necessarily always equal “mother.” And thankfully, there were at least a couple of comments along the lines of “If YOU’RE tired of hearing about mommies, imagine what it’s like for those of us who don’t have children??”

    I wouldn’t say things are worse than they were before — but I wouldn’t say they’re a whole lot better either. We still have a long way to go. But the fact that moms themselves are starting to rebel, even a little, against the ubiquitous mommy label and culture, is a good & hopeful sign — not to mention the growing strength of our own childless/free voices.

  3. I certainly have friends who are mothers who would hate being referred to as a “mommy” (or, as the case may be, “mum” or “mummy”). I can think of one in particular, a currently-serving NZ Ambassador, who would skewer any man for suggesting she was ‘just’ a “mum.” I’d love to see them try! I’m having two friends over tonight for an evening of food and discussion – they’re both mothers, but you can guarantee the discussion won’t be all about their children. (That’s why we’re friends!)

    I guess I feel we’re all in this together – mothers who don’t want to be categorised as mothers and nothing else, regardless of their achievements, and those of us who aren’t mothers and want to be seen for who we are. I wonder how much of it has to do with the changing nature of feminism, the lack of understanding (as I see it) or different understanding (as they probably see it) of younger generations towards feminism, idealisation of motherhood and the place of women in society. I think it’s getting worse myself – I really do believe that in many ways women 20 years ago had more freedom than they do today.

    (And now I’m going to have to go read all those posts of yours that I missed in the past – or at least, save them to Pocket for weekend reading.)

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