I’m in a stage of my life where I am wanting mothering to have been one of the things I’ve done but not the only thing or even, maybe, the most important thing. Part of my wanting to get out from under the mothering mantle is its constant evaluative dimension. Maybe one doesn’t get tired of being a mother. Maybe one gets tired of being judged as a mother.
Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted that one day she was the world’s greatest mother and the next day the worst mother who ever lived. It sounded to me as if one of her kids was issuing these labels, if I had to bet, I would guess it was her daughter.
I responded to her by saying eventually you’ll end up somewhere in the middle and added “I’m still waiting.”
The pendulum swings about my mothering performance are no longer day to day. The intervals get longer, happily, as my role in my children’s lives becomes less and less central. In this case, the more I am marginalized, the better. I say that only partially tongue in cheek.
This comes after forty years of mediocre grades, notations that Janice isn’t applying herself, that she fails to listen, and doesn’t check her work carefully. But interspersed in her mothering career are moments of extraordinariness, just enough to raise the overall grade from its bumping along the bottom average. She has the potential, the grader says, for greatness if only she would show consistent effort. Which, of course, she doesn’t or didn’t.
I’m not alone here. I’ve met up with other moms in study hall and compared notes. There’s a lot of disappointing grades, a lot of unfairness and frustration being felt. ‘I tried, I really tried, don’t I get credit for trying?’
The judging seems too all encompassing to come from just one source but it pretty much does. We are always, constantly, grading ourselves, comparing ourselves to our own mothers, our friends, Michelle Obama, the mothers on TV, the mother we thought we would be, the mother other people think we are, the mother we should be, the mother our kids say other mothers are like. We constantly adjust our rating, little ladies holding babies on a massive slide rule, zoom to one end when our kid seems headed to Harvard, zoom to the other when jail is in sight. All of this is day to day, very constant, very prickly. A hair shirt that comes with the bounty of motherhood, children who love you and who you love.
Mothers, I think, go through their entire lives with a giant stripe painted down one side of their bodies. And the stripe is there and visible no matter what they are wearing or what they are doing with their lives. I don’t think fathers have a stripe like that. But maybe I am underestimating fathers. Maybe they think about their fathering a lot more than I suspect. I don’t think so. I think they just do it, they raise their children, for better or for worse, and move on. They distance themselves. They don’t walk around with their stripe forever. If they ever had one.
Because they seem free of thinking constantly about being a father, I don’t think most men have any idea how much weight women carry with them with regard to their mothering, they don’t get how immutable the stripe is. It’s impossible to explain. I’ve tried. It just doesn’t make sense to anyone without the stripe.
I know it is a peculiar thing to have been exceptionally blessed with children, to be proud of them and glad they are alive and well and also want to be out from under all of it, to be rid of my stripe.
I want to just be a person in the world.
That will make sense to some people. Not all, but some.