Are You a “Real” Mom?

Reynolds Ad

OK. I can’t let it go. Both Sarah & Jane have been talking about motherhood for the past two posts, and I was going to move on to a different topic, but I just can’t do it. I can’t do it because there’s a larger issue here..and it’s not just about women.

I often wonder what it means to be a woman. If I’m not a mom, am I still a woman? Women who have lost their breasts, their ovaries, and other parts of the female anatomy–are they still women?

Biologists would argue that two x chromosomes create a female human, and a woman is simply an adult human female, but women know that is not enough of a definition. What about people who were physically born as men but feel that they are women? What makes them women? Are they “real” women?

On the same vein…I think of motherhood. Motherhood is easier to define. (Or is it? I’ll let the mothers hash that out…) For me, I can safely say that I am not a mom. I have no children, but I am sympathetic to the challenges of motherhood and sensitive to how women are portrayed.

This weekend, I was watching one of my favorite cooking channels and a commercial interrupted my program with some pie-baking tips. Normally, I skip the commercials, but I like pie and I like to bake, so I kept it on. Little did I know it would make me angry. The narrator of the commercial stated, “Real moms know how to make it perfect every time.” “It” referred to pie crust. So, basically, the ad stated that real moms make perfect pie crust “every time.”

What exactly is a “real mom”? Is there such thing as a “fake mom”? I suppose if I pretended to be a mom to one of my 23 nieces or nephews, that would make me a fake mom. But what about moms who don’t make the “perfect” pie crust? Are they fake moms? This commercial seems to imply that moms who can’t make perfect pie crusts “every time” are not “real moms.” So, what about my mom? Is she a “real mom”?

I grew up in a dairy-free household. My mom is allergic to dairy products and cannot stand the smell or sight of butter. Despite this, my mom is an excellent cook, and I grew up eating her dairy-free homemade pies, cookies, and other scrumptious meals. However, and I’m sorry mom, but I do not particularly like her pie crusts. I have discovered from making my own pies that butter makes all the difference.

This commercial did show the woman (Emily Lyon–“Reynolds Real Mom”) using butter, so that implies that the “perfect” pie crust contains butter, but since my mom did not use butter, and sometimes even burnt her pie crusts, does that mean she isn’t a “real mom”? Of course not!

I recognize this as hyperbole, but still, words matter–just ask Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. Phrases like this get into our psyches and affect our attitudes. They pick at our over-crowded to-do-listed brain and undermine our self-worth–much like subtle images.

Of course, women are not the only ones being pressured to be “real.” There are plenty of YouTube videos and books about being “real men.” It doesn’t make it better, though…it makes it worse.

We put enough pressure on ourselves to be “perfect” or “real.” We don’t need to add to the pressure. Instead, we need to give each other a break. We need to accept our own and each others’ flaws and be kind. We need to be careful of the words we use because words really do matter.

~ K

Marriage Expectations…They’re not all THAT

women juggle

Recommended Reading:

7 Reasons Why Age Doesn’t Matter in Marriage” by Sasha Brown Worsham

I overheard a conversation the other day that quite offended me: “A family can’t exist without children.” Well, as a child-free woman, I beg to differ.

A family concept is larger than a wife, husband, and child (or more). There are step-families, adopted families, close friends considered as family, pets, and so many other non-traditional families that I can’t even name them all. Family, as well as marriage, should be something defined by those in it, not by outside sources.

It was with this idea that I started reading Sasha Brown Worsham‘s article on “The Stir.” The article is Warsham’s response to Susan Patton’s letter to the women at Princeton University–an article Sarah responded to on this very blog. Worsham claims that people should marry whenever and whomever they want. She states, “It’s not what age you marry. It’s who you marry. Period. End of story.”

These posts, as well as Sheryl Sandberg‘s book Lean In, have me thinking about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. It’s discouraging that women still struggle with their place in our society and continue to fight for equal pay, equal status, and freedom over their own bodies. I thought these battles were fought and won a long time ago. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

On the other hand, we live in a time period where women have more choices than ever before, and perhaps, it’s these choices that cause us to question once again our place in society.

Technically, I’m a newlywed. In June, it will be three years. I say “technically” because I have been with my husband for 13 1/2 years, but we didn’t exchange wedding vows until 2010.

Living together back in 2002 was a difficult decision–one that went against my family’s belief system, but it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

Not having children was another decision we made. Again, it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

I can understand why people want our lives and our roles defined: it can make life easier. If it is a wife’s duty to procreate, clean, and cook, then we know what our husbands expect, and we know what we need to do on a daily basis. Raised in a strict, Christian environment, I struggle with guilt about my “duties” as a wife: I keep thinking that I should do the dishes every day or keep the house spotless. I struggle with guilt that my husband does his own laundry and has household chores like he did growing up in his mother’s house.

At the same time, if I did all of these things on top of my full-time job, I would never have time to spend with my husband. We have our own expectations and our own ideas about how we want to live our lives.

What about the expectations of our own? What about the book I’m trying to write? The 60-hour work week my husband and I keep? Our desire to relax in each other’s company daily–sometimes more than once a day? What about those expectations? Should we ignore our own expectations in order to fulfill society’s expectations?

I don’t think we should, and yet, Patton’s letter and Sandberg’s book set up these expectations, but we do not have to meet them. Marriage is hard enough without bringing in other people’s expectations. Create your own. Live your life. It’s your life, and at the end of the day, you’re the one who chooses your own happiness. This is what Worsham gets right, and HAPPINESS is what feminism is really all about.


Confessions of a New Blogger Part 2: The Reluctant Mommy Blogger

Spring in the Bighorn Mountains

Spring in the Bighorn Mountains

This time of the year I get to leave my office before it gets dark.  Most days I’m on my way out by 4:30, headed to my other job: soccer mom.  I ride my red bike two miles to the soccer field and stand on the sidelines with all of the other parents.  Some of the other soccer moms show up in their work clothes too.  Some come with three or four other kids in tow.  Some arrive with grandparents and spouses.  Some coach or bring snacks.  The dads always look intent and knowledgeable.  I usually roll up fifteen minutes late with my cell phone stuck to my ear and half-graded papers falling out of my bag.  I forget my snack day and my kids never have their water bottles.   I grade papers during second grade practice and send myself Outlook invitations so I won’t forget about the kindergarten round robin.  This working mom juggle is so cliché that I cringe at my own reflection in the mini-van parking lot.

My students know I have children – my boys are still young enough that I cannot always separate their antics from my personality.  And parenting is often a point of connection.  So many of the faces in my classrooms are also tired and worn by hours spent caring for young children.  We all live a sort of crazy half-life:  we bounce between a hopeful cerebral world and the mundane constants of parenting.  My students make time to study in those brief in-between spaces that parents cultivate.  Our brains are fragmented out of necessity – we must toggle between tasks and divide our attention.  It’s exhausting.

I find myself apologizing for divided loyalties.  I’m late to soccer games and distracted by emails.  I don’t always make after-hours work events and I wonder about missed networking opportunities when I’m at basketball practice.  But maybe it is the very fragmentation of parenting that allows me to teach.  I know that I’m a happier, more tolerant mom when I’m working.  The few months that I spent “staying at home” were disastrous (I blame an idle mind for a very crazy 2004). But it also seems possible that I’m a better instructor because I parent.  My boys have taught me to slow down and chill out.  They have shown me how to approach repetitive tasks with enthusiasm and creativity.  I get near constant second chances from my eight year-old.  My youngest son tells grand stories and reminds me that I should always listen.  At the very least, my kids have taught me to be patient with people who are learning new skills.

My boys and I walked downtown in the rain today.  We wore our rubber Wellies and splashed in every puddle for blocks.  We walked to the book store to hear one of my colleagues read from her newest collection of poetry.  The boys were restless.  We were shushed once as I pulled my littlest on to my lap to keep him still. But they sat for half an hour, content to listen to my friend’s voice.  I was proud of their intent stares and curious questions.  They are learning to appreciate my world of words and stories.  My two worlds often collide and it is becoming more apparent that I cannot write an assignment or teach a sonnet without my mommy brain.  It also seems like I can’t be a soccer mom without poetry and classrooms.

– S