Home > motherhood > The Mommy Wars — intergenerational edition

The Mommy Wars — intergenerational edition

I went to visit my mom over the weekend for her birthday. While we were there, I dropped by to chat with my neighbor, Mrs. M.

Mrs. M. is COOL. She’s 80+ years old, holds a Masters in Astronomy, has been teaching high school English for time out of mind and once every three or four years for as long as I’ve known her, the students’ parents all get together and try to get her fired for being “too tough a grader.” When Jennifer Weiner spoke about being a writer, she said that she learned everything she knew from this woman. How’s that for cool? Oh, and in case you didn’t feel like doing the math, she got that masters — in astronomy nonetheless — back in 1940-something.

She’s also loud, very talkative, opinionated, a touch eccentric, and had a house which is held up entirely by books, as far as anyone can tell.

My folks always joked that they didn’t have to live to see me reach 80 years old — they just had to look at Mrs. M. And I took that as a high compliment.

Anyway, Mrs. M hasn’t seen the Child since she was Bjorn sized and so we dropped by to chat and show off the Child. Then my folks wandered off, with The Child, and I stayed talking for a bit. After a few minutes, Mrs. M looked at me and said, “So what are you doing these days?”

I frowned for a second before I got her gist. “Oh!” I smiled and nodded towards the Child. “I’m a mom.”

“You aren’t working?” she said, her voice tinged with… disdain? Disappointment? Something.

“I’m working full time,” I smiled, a little tightly. “For her. I’ve got a part time gig doing advertorial work, but that’s just to pay for her to go to preschool in the fall.”

“You’re not writing?”

“Just the advertorial stuff. Once she starts pre-school, I’m hoping to finish my novel. But right now, it’s all mom, all the time.”

Her lips flattened and she shook her head slightly.

I get that a lot of older women who fought really really hard to pave the way for us younger women are angry that we are “opting out.” I understand that she must have had to kick her feet and grit her teeth and fight every step for that masters degree and she still got stuck in the pink-collar ghetto of English lit. I even understand why she might be disappointed that I — a promising young woman with a bright future — have apparently abandoned all ambition to be a stay at home mom, the very thing she fought against being.

Even with all that intellectual understanding, emotionally, I’m caught between being pissed that she’s judging me me and guilty for not being able to be Super Woman.

I’ve caught shit from other folks — for not working, for taking my husband’s last name, for not wanting a second child, for saying I plan to go to work when The Child is in school, for pretty much every damned decision I’ve made in regards to motherhood — but somehow Mrs. M’s small head shake hurt where very little other criticism has.

I don’t regret my decisions. But I wish Mrs. M would understand why I made them.

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Categories: motherhood
  1. June 6, 2008 at 2:07 am

    I’m glad you’ve expressed this observation about previous generations. I’ve noted it as well in my own mother and some other older adults. I can’t determine if it’s jealousy or lack of respect for the idea. When I told my mother of my decision to stay home and see if I could work part-time from there, she wasn’t entirely approving (trying to frame it in the context of “what would be best for me” — will you make enough money? etc). But when I put my son into daycare part-time so I could get work done, she seemed thrilled. As if it validated her decision to continue working when I was young. I never had a problem with it but now I do. Not because she made the choice but because she’s trying to invalidate the decisions I’ve made which are different from hers (this isn’t the only one). So again, I’m glad you are reflecting on this and have the gumption to say so.

  2. elcynae
    June 7, 2008 at 1:06 am

    I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I had an ‘Aha!’ moment a while ago when I understood why my mom disapproved of some of my attitudes. The people who had to fight for rights, recognition, and respect see women taking these things for granted now… and they also see that the battle isn’t over. And that worries them, a lot. Because if we don’t keep fighting the battle, things will start to shift back. Not the same as before, but perhaps more dangerous because it’ll all be in the background where it’s hard to see. Now for better or for worse, I am not a fighter. I grew up never denied anything for my gender, I’ve gotten only advantages from being female. I know that that’s largely luck, but I can’t find an indignant bone in my body, and I make a very bad feminist. I’m not sure what my solution is really. I suspect it involves making as sure as I can that my daughter never suffers penalties for her gender, and at the same time trying to teach her to recognize injustice and know that it’s there. Something like my solution to knowing that hunger is an important issue and wanting her aware of it in a deeper way than I am, without wanting her to ever be hungry. Except I can take her to volunteer at soup kitchens and such, eventually, and I don’t know of a feminist equivalent that doesn’t involve travel in more dangerous places than I’m willing to take her.
    I just hope always remember that these things are important, and don’t get distracted. I’m easily distractable.

    I’m not totally sure that’s on topic, but I’m not sure it’s off topic either, so please forgive 😉 I just hope it’s coherent!

  1. June 13, 2008 at 5:23 pm

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