Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In Defense of Selflessness

I subscribe to a e-newsletter from a women's blogging network called BlogHer.

A while back, one of the headlines in the email caught my attention, so I clicked the link and read the post. 

I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. 

The post, titled "My Doctor Judged me for Wanting to Have Sex, for not Being a Selfless Mother," bemoans an apparently archaic and anti-feminist female archetype, The Selfless Mother. 

The author/subject of the post  was confronted with her male obstetrician's expectation that she embody this archetype when given the choice between what was most pleasing to her (continuing to have sex with her husband as desired) or what was most beneficial to her growing baby (holding off on sex for several weeks until her low-lying placenta could be re-checked).

The doctor's request infuriated her. 

He told her that "it wasn't just about her" anymore. She felt she was, as she says, ". . .very subtly being criticized for being a mom-to-be with a sex drive."

She continues, "I think American society has a ridiculous notion of what a mother should be. We are sent the message that we should, as the doctor said, forget about ourselves and make it all about the baby. But in doing so, what's the benefit?" 

Earlier in the post she elaborates on the archetype of her frustration:
"Most women (parents or not) are probably familiar with the image of the selfless mother. You might, in fact, be so familiar with it that you don't even think about a mother without automatically assuming how selfless she is. After all, the American ideal seems to scream that we women should think of nothing but our children once they are born."
Her own take on motherhood is a little different:
 "Though I feel all baby-high, awesome, and marvel at my expanding belly, I have also managed to somehow keep my head about me. I still pay attention to my husband, and being a selfless mother has never even crossed my mind because I am a person, too.   . . .Selfless mother? I am not. Nor do I want to be." 
Okay. Deep breath.

I think I get where she is coming from, in a way. As mothers, and even just as women, there are so many ideal images out there that we think we have to live up to. The Donna Reeds of today fill the blogsosphere and various boards of Pinterest with their seemingly perfect homes, crafts, food, parenting wisdom, and uncanny blend of creativity and organizational skills. It's easy to come away from an Internet session feeling like if you don't have the time-management skills to whip up breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch, redecorate your house, and teach your two-year-old how to read the classics before the sun goes down, you don't deserve the mommy badge you so expertly appliqued to your self-crocheted sweater. And what are you doing on the Internet, anyway? Don't you have a homemade diaper-rash cream to whip up before nap-time is over?

Honestly? I love that stuff. The frenzy of inspiration.

I wish I could be half the super-mom I dream of being.

I can't.

No one can.

No one, not even the most pinned, most "liked," most re-tweeted (or non-blogging but seemingly flawless) mom out there has it all together the way she wants to in her head.

And that's fine.

We cannot be perfect, and we cannot be selfless.

But does that mean we shouldn't try?

Recently I've been confronted with the realization that many of the things I do in the name of being a better mom are more selfish than selfless.

I want to make homemade play-dough.

I want to train my daughter to pick up her toys and say please and thank you and obey upon first request.

If she doesn't fuss in public, counts to thirty in Spanish by the time she is three, reads proficiently by the time she is four, and recites the New Testament by the time she is five, look like I know what I am doing, like I deserve that Super-Mom cape.

If I'm spending all that time training my daughter to be intelligent and Godly and well-rounded, seem so selfless.

But my pride will not be denied.

I yell at my daughter.

I get so angry and frustrated.

I set the kind of example I would never let her watch on TV and that I would never want my friends (let alone strangers) to see.

Why? Because it's all about me, of course. Because if she messes up, if she doesn't obey, if she doesn't "get it" when I'm trying to teach her something, I am failing. Hang up the cape and call it a day.

Right now, my daughter is watching Dora and hanging all over me, pulling up my shirt to talk to my enormous baby bump. Incessantly. Her sippy cup is making that slurping sound that means it's running low, so any second now she is going to request that I get her more milk, and I will request that she say please. She woke up early from her nap, and I didn't get my full allotment of "me" time.

I want to tell her to give me some space and let me type.

And maybe that's the more evolved, feminist thing to do.

But I'm going to make an effort to calm my spirit, to invite Jesus into the equation, and remember that the computer will be here later. No one is waiting on this post. It can take all day or all year or stay in draft mode eternally.

But my daughter? She will be in this stage of life for a moment. A fleeting, vanishing moment. And to me, that's worth giving selflessness a shot.

Below is the link to the post I referenced. My post was not meant in any way to be an attack on that one (or on any type of mother for that matter), but just to express additional views on the idea of the Selfless Mother. What are your thoughts?

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