By Jill Coody Smits, Contributor
Monday, 12th October 2009
It was Saturday afternoon in Parentville, and the bounce house was beginning to sag in the sweaty, mosquito-infested backyard. Twenty-three parents were watching 14 toddlers engaged in parallel play while nibbling on a rubbery pile of Costco croissant sandwiches. It was pretty much par for the course on the two-year-old birthday party circuit, so it was no wonder everyone needed a drink. Homemade mojitos – a welcome bright spot for a crowd with only a daycare facility in common.
One child, dressed like an updated version of Little Lord Fauntleroy in baby-blue smocked jumper, monogrammed socks and white leather shoes, was tearing around the yard, throwing rocks and building a monster pile of croquet balls he was barely able to heft. He was called Liam or Finn or Aiden…one of those names that might have been unique if slews of others had not seen that season of Sex and the City, or heard the news of Julia Roberts’ twins.
In between swills of rum laced with sugar and crushed mint, the young liege's parents were arguing about who would be responsible for taking care of him the next day. They were typical of all those gathered here – well-educated, dual income, reasonably successful. But the mother, a doctor, clearly resented her husband’s job, which, I gleaned from their terse conversation, required that he travel Monday through Thursday.
“He’s yours tomorrow – I’m going to see Mamma Mia,” she said to her spouse, and the rest of us lingering around the mojito station.
Averting his wife’s hostile gaze, the husband glanced around at the group of innocent bystanders privy to the pronouncement and shuffled his feet. I, too, was afraid to look this perfect stranger in the eye, and tried to become one with the brick wall I leaned against. While wishing myself invisible, though, it dawned on me that I’d met this woman, or a version of her, before. She was Bitter Mom – an alarming specimen who seems to be turning up more and more often in the Petri dish of Parentville.
Bitter Mom comes in many forms, though I’ve come to recognize a few stereotypical models. There is, for example, the woman who thought she’d married a progressive man, only to discover that his ideas about equality reverted a few decades when children entered the picture. Tired of the double standard, she has difficulty reconciling the fact that he views diaper changing as “woman’s work” when a traditional family model is nowhere near the realm of possibility.
And then there’s the former career woman who chose to leave the workforce when her first child was born, but blames everyone but herself for the realities associated with that decision. Clearly uncomfortable with all things domestic, she misses the mental stimulation, financial autonomy and professional self-satisfaction that come with work, and considers herself a martyr for doing “what’s best” for the children.
Perhaps the saddest case of all, though, is the woman who wants to be a stay-at-home Mom, but can’t afford to give up her paycheck. She feels cheated out of her female birthright, and blames her husband for his inability to be The Provider. Pity the man who is married to this woman, for he will be subjected to a lifetime of emasculating and belittling one-liners.
Mommy and More
The woman with dreams of decompressing with Meryl Streep and ABBA covers seemed to be one of the first variety – known in my advanced-maternal-age circle as the “Enjoli Backlash Bitter Mom.” Like the woman in the 1970s perfume commercial, she brought home the bacon and fried it up in a pan, but resented being their child’s primary caregiver when she was also the primary earner. She was grappling with an irritation so pervasive that she invited perfect strangers into her inspiring display of passive aggression. “He said he would change his diaper a little while ago,“ she said to no one in particular. “But he didn’t – it’s still dirty.”
With that remark, the mojito crowd scattered, and I began a weeks-long reflection on my own family dynamics, and my reaction to the daily trials of parenting. Was it reasonable to get annoyed because my husband always relied on me to pack our daughter’s to-go bag? Was it justified when I had that third glass of wine after flying solo on a particularly frustrating day with our nearly-potty-trained daughter? Or was I in the early stages of Bitter Momdom, harboring a deep-seated anger that would one day unleash itself on embarrassed acquaintances?
I concluded that occasional frustrations and irritations are simply the price you pay for the pure joy that comes with being a mother, and that a tough or unexpected road does not necessarily cause a parent to become negativity personified. On the contrary, many mothers and fathers find themselves in situations they didn’t choose or didn’t want, and find a way to “get right” with their circumstances.
I also concluded that early parenthood is either a honeymoon or a wake. With the amazing, magical experience of childbirth, and the subsequent amazing, magical, tedious and all-consuming responsibilities of child rearing, lives are overtaken, gender roles redefined and relationships challenged. Some marriages swell and rise with the added love of a child, some are crushed by the weight of the to-do list and others just plod along, releasing an occasional toxic burp to suggest all is not well in Parentville.
Jill Coody Smits is a local writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by: madsmom100
10-14-2009 , 13:50
I've never read an article more in sync with today's Mom and her mindset - great article!