Perfect Madness.

By alison March 2, 2006 21 Comments 6 Min Read

Mumandson_1

In a recent interview with The Daily Telegraph, Judith Warner,  talking about her new book, Perfect Madness, implied that  women today are  "sacrificing all on the altar of parenthood"- that our  relationships are suffering because our children are the be all and end all of our lives, and all of our energy is invested in creating perfect lives for them to the degree that we have no time for ourselves, our partners or our sex lives…

"American Mothers have lost their sexuality and individuality, scarificing all on the altar of parenthood. These women are in a worse place than ever before, she argues; even the 1950’s housewife understood the fundamentals of keeping a relationship going. "It meant keeping yourself sexually attractive. it meant knowing how to create a mood conducive to romance. It meant letting a man feel, when he came home in the evening, as though he wasn’t in for a second shift as "mummy"."

Maybe i’m reading this wrong: but what I am hearing is-  You are not  doing enough. You are not all you could beYour instincts are wrong.

Consider this:

"Weirdest of  all for Warner was that the domestic "control freaks" she interviewed were her own generation:  women who had  grown up with an unprecedented level of freedom, education and equality. Yet on becoming Mothers, these women were caught up in "mindless and self-belittling pursuits". As she says "Never before in America- not even in the much maligned 1950’s – has Motherhood been concieved in this totalising, self-annihalating, utterly ridiculous  way"

But this isn’t my experience of the very women Warner is talking about. Perhaps I am not intelligent enough to analyse this to the degree that Warner does, but I know what I see: women at my Mums and Tot’s groups who after the first harrowing year of Motherhood have become strong, beautiful and confident in their new and life-changing roles. Women everywhere embracing the new domesticity and learning that far from chaining you to the kitchen sink, taking control free’s you to pursue more creative avenues. My own HouseKeepers, one by one,  creating businesses from their kitchen tables. Businesses that sustain them financially and more important, emotionally, while they bring up their children. 

This is a media backlash. It is other women taking our lives at face value. Seeing our obsession with Cath Kidstons frilly aprons and truly imagining that we have bought into the dream of an era that never existed. We are not given our proper due as intelligent, capable women because we gave that right up when we professed to care about our tea-towels.   And it worries me because it makes me question myself constantly: to no longer rely upon my instinctive urge to make Finn’s life as wonderful as I am capable of making it. At any cost. It worries me that somewhere along the line I have been duped into  this lovely life and I am too stupid to recognise it.It scares me because it makes me feel somewhat dim: as if by making the choice to put my babba first I have hopped over the fence into idiocy. The pressure on us  increases by the day. And it isn’t helped by a government intent on undermining women who stay at home with their kids. Because make no mistake, as Judith Warner states, this is a political issue. In this country
New Labour makes it dramatically clear that they are keen to subsidise
women who choose to work, but do very little for women in the home.
Life is hard for us because they make it so. SAHM’s aren’t recognised
as valuable and all the policies make that very, very clear. And what does
that say to the women who do work? To the media, all too quick to sex
up the woman in the business suit and annihalate the drudge in the
pinny? 


Says Warner: "The revived ideal of  a woman’s life work  comforted those  uncomfortable  with their decision (by choice or by default) to stay home  with their children  or to  downgrade their workplace  ambitions"

True. My workplace ambitions have all but been abandoned in favour of something that is satisfying me on so many levels and yes I am peddling a life revolving around domesticity and Motherhood: but it is my choice, and I am fully aware that going back into the workplace is a viable option, but life as it is suits us as a family. We  are  a team, both fully aware of the roles we play, and if I’m honest I consider myself to be the winner…
I suspect I have said this many times to my lovely  Gayla,  but from
the moment Finley was  born it seemed to me that our family unit
consisted of Finley and I + Mark. Not because Mark loves Finley any
less than I do . Or because he is a bad Father. He’s wonderful. But
because something told me that Finley was still a part of me in a way
he could never be a part of Mark: that I would always, always be able
to pre-empt his needs in a way that men often are either incapable, or
more truthfully don’t offer the mind space for. Is that a terrible thing to say?

I enjoy being a Mummy. I like the creative freedom it has given me. The rewards come thick and fast from a child who’s life isn’t filled to the brim with activities. Yes I know the kind of SAHM’s who fill every minute of every day with an activity for their toddler. Who turn motherhood into a harried, demented job. Who worry if there isn’t some kind of group  to go to on a Wednesday morning. Of course I  do: we  all know women like that, but   no-one shouts  louder than me in favour of not  filling our childrens days. I, like Judith Warner, hate seeing exhausted kids dragged of to activity after activity, never being allowed to have their imaginations  wander free.  But I hate it because it isn’t good for them, not because I believe that they are stealing our precious time with their tumble tots and ballet classes. 

Here’s the thing: for whatever reason, if we are  at home with our children, we  owe it to them to make their lives as fulfilling as possible. Children aren’t accessories we should squeeze into our lives like one more sofa. Sacrifices are a given we should have acknowledged before our babba’s were conceived. So if we have to make sacrifices of our time, energy or indeed commitment to our marriages then so be it. Our children matter more.

Yes I am exhausted. Absolutely, bloody exhausted by a bright, happy, relentless two year old. But then I  was exhausted  when  I ran a business, when I worked in a hairdressers, when I climbed ladders painting pictures on other peoples walls. Anything we choose to do well emotionally and physically drains us. No there isn’t as much energy for sex as their used to be. And sometimes I forget to hug Mark in favour of a snuggle with my babba.  But the truth is that if a relationship is precarious enough to be damaged by this, then it need’s  work. And if a man is offended by the sight of a woman who hasn’t  got  round to pedicuring her  toes,  then he isn’t  worth having. Strong relationships ride the storm of early parenthood.

Our children matter more. Don’t they?

***

Related Links:

PerfectMadness.net.
The Daddy Dilemma

Other Things To Do At BrocanteHome

21 Comments

  1. Kristy says:

    I totally agree with you Alison.I think that the freedom people talk about is confused so often with the right to judge other peoples life choices.I am very open with the fact that I have no desire to ever return to conventional employment.I will be there for my children as long as I am needed.I still need my mum now!You see as much as they need me I need them.Just as a career womens desire to do well drives her,so my desire for my children to be the best they can be drives me.That doesn't mean I am not a person in my own right but that my career choice is to be the best mother I can be.Obviously that includes looking after my children, but also mine and my husbands needs.For happy children need a happy home.As for 'sacrificing all on the altar of motherhood'.Then count me in because as far as I can see the more you give the more you will receive.I made an intelligant,informed decision after my second daughter was born.I didn't fall blindly into motherhood I embraced it with both arms and came home!I realise that this isn't the case for everybody but motherhood can be the most rewarding career ever!

  2. Shannon says:

    Well stated, Allison!
    This discussion always interests and worries me. I think Kristy is correct when she says that Woman's "Freedom of Choice" has become more about "Freedom to Judge" than anything else. I personally have had a working mom come to me and say that by staying home with my daughter I was spoiling her and that I was not preparing her for the 'real world'. Her suggestion was to put my Peanut in daycare, where she belonged, and go out and get a job so that I could be productive.
    Mind, this woman was a very casual aquaintance, yet she felt no qualms about loudly proclaiming the wrongness of my choice to stay home. In fact, she made it into a general discussion with the other moms in the room, who all save one, were 'working mothers' also.
    The funny thing is, I would never have done something like this. As much as I feel that staying home with your children is the best thing that you can do for them, I do not go out and try to gather converts to my cause. I feel that every woman has to look at her own situation and make the choice.

  3. Shannon says:

    Well stated, Allison!
    This discussion always interests and worries me. I think Kristy is correct when she says that Woman's "Freedom of Choice" has become more about "Freedom to Judge" than anything else. I personally have had a working mom come to me and say that by staying home with my daughter I was spoiling her and that I was not preparing her for the 'real world'. Her suggestion was to put my Peanut in daycare, where she belonged, and go out and get a job so that I could be productive.
    Mind, this woman was a very casual aquaintance, yet she felt no qualms about loudly proclaiming the wrongness of my choice to stay home. In fact, she made it into a general discussion with the other moms in the room, who all save one, were 'working mothers' also.
    The funny thing is, I would never have done something like this. As much as I feel that staying home with your children is the best thing that you can do for them, I do not go out and try to gather converts to my cause. I feel that every woman has to look at her own situation and make the choice.

  4. Amanda says:

    My oh my! Why is there so often the assumption that you cannot be happy/fulfilled as a SAHM unless you are intellectually challenged. Before having children I worked in the IT department at ICL. I can honestly say that I don't ever remember any women raving about how fulfilled they felt with their job. I certainly remember lots of whingeing though. It's the same whingers who now question how I could spend all day at home. I do it because it makes me happy – simple as that. I sometimes get the feeling nobody believes me though.

  5. Amanda says:

    My oh my! Why is there so often the assumption that you cannot be happy/fulfilled as a SAHM unless you are intellectually challenged. Before having children I worked in the IT department at ICL. I can honestly say that I don't ever remember any women raving about how fulfilled they felt with their job. I certainly remember lots of whingeing though. It's the same whingers who now question how I could spend all day at home. I do it because it makes me happy – simple as that. I sometimes get the feeling nobody believes me though.

  6. Joy says:

    I shouldn't really speak to this, as I don't yet have children. But what I find disturbing in American society is the women who put the children's needs before ANYONE else, even at the sake of their own marriage. I can't even imagine how difficult it is to try to balance everything as a mother, that's one of the reasons I still don't have children. But I do agree that my marriage and my own BEING have to be taken into consideration, even if I do become a mother someday. On the other hand, of course, I don't want to be a self-absorbed mother who leaves the kids here and there and everywhere to get manicures, massages or go shopping. (not that this isn't a lovely and deserved treat once in awhile!) I'm reminded of a show that Oprah did by a woman journalist who wrote a very inflammatory article for a big newspaper titled something like "I love my husband more than my kids" or something like that. I was horrified when I heard it, I mean it just sounds, well…mean! But when she described her position, it made a lot of sense to me. That my marriage has to come first in order to give my (future) kids a sense of security and a feeling of stability.
    I am definitely no expert on this topic, and I don't agree with what Judith Warner says in full, however I do see so many mothers overdoing it to make sure that their kids lives are perfectly complete (i.e. too many activities, too much guilt buying, etc.) but I think that this can happen just as easily, if not MORE frequently in mothers who choose to work outside the home.
    The looking-down-upon mothers who choose to stay at home with their kids is epidemic here in the US…but it does seem like more and more people are trying to change that. I hope that changes to happen in this area.
    Thanks for the interesting article and post Alison, it made me really think this morning.

  7. Joy says:

    I shouldn't really speak to this, as I don't yet have children. But what I find disturbing in American society is the women who put the children's needs before ANYONE else, even at the sake of their own marriage. I can't even imagine how difficult it is to try to balance everything as a mother, that's one of the reasons I still don't have children. But I do agree that my marriage and my own BEING have to be taken into consideration, even if I do become a mother someday. On the other hand, of course, I don't want to be a self-absorbed mother who leaves the kids here and there and everywhere to get manicures, massages or go shopping. (not that this isn't a lovely and deserved treat once in awhile!) I'm reminded of a show that Oprah did by a woman journalist who wrote a very inflammatory article for a big newspaper titled something like "I love my husband more than my kids" or something like that. I was horrified when I heard it, I mean it just sounds, well…mean! But when she described her position, it made a lot of sense to me. That my marriage has to come first in order to give my (future) kids a sense of security and a feeling of stability.
    I am definitely no expert on this topic, and I don't agree with what Judith Warner says in full, however I do see so many mothers overdoing it to make sure that their kids lives are perfectly complete (i.e. too many activities, too much guilt buying, etc.) but I think that this can happen just as easily, if not MORE frequently in mothers who choose to work outside the home.
    The looking-down-upon mothers who choose to stay at home with their kids is epidemic here in the US…but it does seem like more and more people are trying to change that. I hope that changes to happen in this area.
    Thanks for the interesting article and post Alison, it made me really think this morning.

  8. Theresa says:

    Oh my Goodness, I have been reading your Brocante Home Chronicles for a couple of weeks. I am so enjoying you. But today , I thought I must respond. This speaks so closely to my heart. Being a SAHM , I couldn't imagine it any other way. But I recently had a woman tell me ' I am just too much of a go-getter to be a SAHM'. What? Does that mean I am not a go-getter? Wow, I was so insulted. I would like to say , look out into nature, which animal creature leaves it's young to a another to raise and care for the animals basic needs. Only humans do this. You know I never said anything to this 'working mom' about her choice, maybe she felt guilt? Frankly, I don't care about her decisions on how she and her husband are going to raise there children. But, leave me alone, don't insult me or my supposid lack of 'go-getter' spirit! I have a 'go-getter' spirit, and motherhood calls, may I leave you as a woman who has heard her calling and answered it!

  9. Theresa says:

    Oh my Goodness, I have been reading your Brocante Home Chronicles for a couple of weeks. I am so enjoying you. But today , I thought I must respond. This speaks so closely to my heart. Being a SAHM , I couldn't imagine it any other way. But I recently had a woman tell me ' I am just too much of a go-getter to be a SAHM'. What? Does that mean I am not a go-getter? Wow, I was so insulted. I would like to say , look out into nature, which animal creature leaves it's young to a another to raise and care for the animals basic needs. Only humans do this. You know I never said anything to this 'working mom' about her choice, maybe she felt guilt? Frankly, I don't care about her decisions on how she and her husband are going to raise there children. But, leave me alone, don't insult me or my supposid lack of 'go-getter' spirit! I have a 'go-getter' spirit, and motherhood calls, may I leave you as a woman who has heard her calling and answered it!

  10. Paola says:

    I haven't read the book, but I think I understand a bit where Warner is coming from.
    Thinking back to my own childhood my mother was under much less pressure to 'perform' than I feel we are nowadays.
    Now I come to think of it I have very few memories of actually PLAYING with my mother. Yes, we would do housework together very enjoyably – even as young child I would 'help' to make the beds and do the cooking, but mostly I would read alone or play for endless hours out in the garden with my brother and sister or the boy next door.
    This is in no way intended as a criticism of my mother – she brought up three children very nicely thank you on very little money and very little help from my father… but she certainly didn't worry whether she was spending enough 'quality time' with us; food was of the fish fingers, burgers and biscuits variety; activities and play dates were only organised as a means of getting us out from under her feet; and she didn't fret about providing anything other than the most basic contributions to school fetes or costumes for fancy dress parties.
    On the other hand I don't think of myself as a manic 'Alpha mum' but here I am worrying about how much I'm reading to and talking to my baby; analysing every mouthful she eats for additives and sugar; fretting about the cleanliness of my floors; organising tons of playdates so she doesn't feel like a neglected only child etc. etc.
    There IS pressure now that I don't think existed when I was growing up. Then mothers seemed more content to 'muddle through' whereas nowadays we are all striving so hard to create the best lives possible for our little ones. Sometimes I just have to remind myself that if she's alive, comparatively clean, warm and not hungry or thirsty then I'm doing an OK job…

  11. Paola says:

    I haven't read the book, but I think I understand a bit where Warner is coming from.
    Thinking back to my own childhood my mother was under much less pressure to 'perform' than I feel we are nowadays.
    Now I come to think of it I have very few memories of actually PLAYING with my mother. Yes, we would do housework together very enjoyably – even as young child I would 'help' to make the beds and do the cooking, but mostly I would read alone or play for endless hours out in the garden with my brother and sister or the boy next door.
    This is in no way intended as a criticism of my mother – she brought up three children very nicely thank you on very little money and very little help from my father… but she certainly didn't worry whether she was spending enough 'quality time' with us; food was of the fish fingers, burgers and biscuits variety; activities and play dates were only organised as a means of getting us out from under her feet; and she didn't fret about providing anything other than the most basic contributions to school fetes or costumes for fancy dress parties.
    On the other hand I don't think of myself as a manic 'Alpha mum' but here I am worrying about how much I'm reading to and talking to my baby; analysing every mouthful she eats for additives and sugar; fretting about the cleanliness of my floors; organising tons of playdates so she doesn't feel like a neglected only child etc. etc.
    There IS pressure now that I don't think existed when I was growing up. Then mothers seemed more content to 'muddle through' whereas nowadays we are all striving so hard to create the best lives possible for our little ones. Sometimes I just have to remind myself that if she's alive, comparatively clean, warm and not hungry or thirsty then I'm doing an OK job…

  12. Paola says:

    Oh forgot to say that I think the woman in the photo is just beautiful.

  13. Paola says:

    Oh forgot to say that I think the woman in the photo is just beautiful.

  14. ms*robyn says:

    I agree in part to this – we bought our children into the world for whatever reason and we do owe it to them to bring them up in the best way we can but I don't believe that means to pander to their every whim. I have been a stay at home mum for 31 years now and wouldn't have it anyother way but they come second to my husband because: years ago when my second marriage ended and I was left with two children to bring up, I threw myself dementedly into them. Then I met Joe who really is my soul mate, my other half – and I hesitated at first until a lady of 80 years old gave me this advice: grab happiness with both hands, it doesn't come often and even though your children are here now, they will leave the nest you have made and you will be left alone. Your man will be the one who is next to you forever. and I know I am one of the lucky ones in that she was right – I love my children but Joe is my rock. I guess we are all different in our opinions and not all will agree with me. Alison – you are doing a wonderful job and if you are happy & satisfied then its right for you xoxo

  15. ms*robyn says:

    I agree in part to this – we bought our children into the world for whatever reason and we do owe it to them to bring them up in the best way we can but I don't believe that means to pander to their every whim. I have been a stay at home mum for 31 years now and wouldn't have it anyother way but they come second to my husband because: years ago when my second marriage ended and I was left with two children to bring up, I threw myself dementedly into them. Then I met Joe who really is my soul mate, my other half – and I hesitated at first until a lady of 80 years old gave me this advice: grab happiness with both hands, it doesn't come often and even though your children are here now, they will leave the nest you have made and you will be left alone. Your man will be the one who is next to you forever. and I know I am one of the lucky ones in that she was right – I love my children but Joe is my rock. I guess we are all different in our opinions and not all will agree with me. Alison – you are doing a wonderful job and if you are happy & satisfied then its right for you xoxo

  16. Suzie says:

    Personally, I agree with the school of thought that you need to have a strong relationship with your partner first and then the kids come next. Sounds harsh I know, but believe me, I haven't always been this way, and I have seen first hand what a break up does to children.
    I am a SAHM, and if I don't ensure my relationship is great (and lets face it, it's always up to the woman to do these things), then I am under stress, and it affects the whole household. And I am in a different situation as my partner is not the father of my children. But he goes out to work extremely hard to make sure we are all comfortable and taken care of financially. The last thing he wants is to come home to a messy home, and a cranky woman, demanding he do this or do that. I make his life as pleasing as possible, because he is the reason I can be home with my kids. If not for him, what would I be doing? I'd be working outside the home. And my kids would be latch-key children.
    I think in a way it's all interrelated. But we need to take care of our relationships with our husbands, because our children need a stable base, and a happy home, and good role models. That is our job as parents.

  17. Suzie says:

    Personally, I agree with the school of thought that you need to have a strong relationship with your partner first and then the kids come next. Sounds harsh I know, but believe me, I haven't always been this way, and I have seen first hand what a break up does to children.
    I am a SAHM, and if I don't ensure my relationship is great (and lets face it, it's always up to the woman to do these things), then I am under stress, and it affects the whole household. And I am in a different situation as my partner is not the father of my children. But he goes out to work extremely hard to make sure we are all comfortable and taken care of financially. The last thing he wants is to come home to a messy home, and a cranky woman, demanding he do this or do that. I make his life as pleasing as possible, because he is the reason I can be home with my kids. If not for him, what would I be doing? I'd be working outside the home. And my kids would be latch-key children.
    I think in a way it's all interrelated. But we need to take care of our relationships with our husbands, because our children need a stable base, and a happy home, and good role models. That is our job as parents.

  18. mum says:

    Alison,I'm a little confused with this discussion (I know Whats New?) Surely everybody's relationship with their partner is different, but the one thing they should have in common, if they decide to have children, is that their children come first ALWAYS. Then no matter whatever else happens in their individual lives, the bond of their family will never be broken and consequently the bond of their relationship. I realise that this sounds quite naive but isn't that what we are all searching for- the security of family?As for the working/ non-working debate, the very fact of having a choice, which lots of mothers right up to the 1970's very often didn't have, is the one thing both sides should appreciate.

  19. mum says:

    Alison,I'm a little confused with this discussion (I know Whats New?) Surely everybody's relationship with their partner is different, but the one thing they should have in common, if they decide to have children, is that their children come first ALWAYS. Then no matter whatever else happens in their individual lives, the bond of their family will never be broken and consequently the bond of their relationship. I realise that this sounds quite naive but isn't that what we are all searching for- the security of family?As for the working/ non-working debate, the very fact of having a choice, which lots of mothers right up to the 1970's very often didn't have, is the one thing both sides should appreciate.

  20. Kerry says:

    I always wonder why it has to be a case of 'who's first' … like it's a competition.
    Let's face it … for the most part it's the woman/the mother who holds a family together … who gives it the foundation to be strong. And as a SAHM I see my role as recognising the needs of each individual (including my own) on a day to day basis and working out what I need to do about it…if anything at all. Not 'who's first?' on a constant basis. But a rotating podium, if you get my drift.
    I'm a single SAHM now. (As some of you know me and are probably sick of hearing me refer to ~ but it's changed my life and outlook in so many ways ~ wonderful; humbling; terrifying) … My eldest boy has CP; associated intellectual impairment and epilepsy. When he was born, I followed my instincts and threw all my energy into him … physiotherapy; occupational therapy; watching worrying watching him because he does not come out of his seizures and requires urgent medication. Despite all my diligence (I was positively demented), my husband and his family accused me of neglecting my marriage. And this is how, for a long time, he managed to control me … to make me feel that I was being lesser of a mother; lesser of a wife than other women.
    I was right to put the role of 'mother' first at that time. I believe that with all my heart but it took me a long time to realise that I was right all along to follow my instincts. It was an exceptional situation, I know that, but we were both adults and there was our baby needing all the love and help in the world. He had to come first. And, if my husband thought he was feeling neglected, perhaps he should have considered how his frazzled and terrified wife may have been feeling; and perhaps it should have been he who stepped in on behalf of the marriage; found little ways (without expecting me to mercilessly sever the umbilibal cord I understandably clung to) to maintain our relationship; put me on his 'who's first?' podium instead of himself.
    Is that too idealistic?

  21. Kerry says:

    I always wonder why it has to be a case of 'who's first' … like it's a competition.
    Let's face it … for the most part it's the woman/the mother who holds a family together … who gives it the foundation to be strong. And as a SAHM I see my role as recognising the needs of each individual (including my own) on a day to day basis and working out what I need to do about it…if anything at all. Not 'who's first?' on a constant basis. But a rotating podium, if you get my drift.
    I'm a single SAHM now. (As some of you know me and are probably sick of hearing me refer to ~ but it's changed my life and outlook in so many ways ~ wonderful; humbling; terrifying) … My eldest boy has CP; associated intellectual impairment and epilepsy. When he was born, I followed my instincts and threw all my energy into him … physiotherapy; occupational therapy; watching worrying watching him because he does not come out of his seizures and requires urgent medication. Despite all my diligence (I was positively demented), my husband and his family accused me of neglecting my marriage. And this is how, for a long time, he managed to control me … to make me feel that I was being lesser of a mother; lesser of a wife than other women.
    I was right to put the role of 'mother' first at that time. I believe that with all my heart but it took me a long time to realise that I was right all along to follow my instincts. It was an exceptional situation, I know that, but we were both adults and there was our baby needing all the love and help in the world. He had to come first. And, if my husband thought he was feeling neglected, perhaps he should have considered how his frazzled and terrified wife may have been feeling; and perhaps it should have been he who stepped in on behalf of the marriage; found little ways (without expecting me to mercilessly sever the umbilibal cord I understandably clung to) to maintain our relationship; put me on his 'who's first?' podium instead of himself.
    Is that too idealistic?

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