When moms were just that

Beth Cooper Howell looks back at the days when being a mother seemed to be enough


A client and I were on a rare call last week.
Mostly, it’s e-mail these days – but with the advent of WhatsApp, my business is slip-sliding back into good old peopling, where voice connection adds value to effective, but clinical, laptop-driven relationship.
One of the reasons I find neighbourly, real-time communication so effective, is because it reminds me that I’m not a miserable human, bereft of minor ability, and that other careerists-cum-moms are scrambling as frenetically against the tide as I am.
We talked about the work, and we talked about our week.
And it’s a funny thing, those added extras we carry invisibly – the things that mould us as people; the reasons why we’re still playing this money gig in the first place. Both she and I were treadmilling a deadline long past.
While catching up, and trying to be superlatively professional at every turn, we discovered that flu, a child’s illness, tech glitches, social engagements and responsibility were the secret burning coals that we negotiated and pronked against almost daily.
The pleasure of knowing this about each other was the liberation of loneliness – I’m doing my best and it’s tough and you are too and it’s also tough for you.
The addition of parenting seems to up-the-ante for many of us.
I put it to you that life was a helluva lot simpler before 21st-century parenting.
More “wing it” than “know-it-all”, true, but sometimes – and certainly in this case – ignorance was bliss.
Back then, you were simply “mom”; you weren’t assigned a totem animal name by modern psychiatry and expected to live by it.
I came across the trendy “parenting style” methodology by accident recently, while researching something else (how to pack a protein-weighted lunchbox – honest to God).
Helicopter parenting I’d heard of, as our generation has begun to champ at the bit against that one, which essentially involves parents who hover too much, filling their precious children’s lives with too much “parent” and not enough “call me when you get there”.
But psychiatrist Shimi Kang says the rise of a pioneering parenting age – riding its wave of technology, instant information, dog-eat-dog materialism and global competitiveness – means we have within our ranks a variety of different types of parent.
Tiger, Jellyfish, Dolphin and now even Panda moms – new maternal animal moms who know too much and are, thus, exhausted and confused.
Added to this mommy soup, is the golden age of egalitarianism, where we’re supposed to have, know, and do it all. Multi-tasking is all the liquid energy we need to be better, stronger, faster.
My friend Podge, with her clutch of grown-up kids and a handful of grandlings, laughs at me, as she most often does.
“Babe,” Podge says, ignoring her Oz-emigrated daughter’s text message for the umpteenth time and pouring a G&T, “there’s only one type of mom every kid wants growing up. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, but momma bear gotta be the only thing she needs to be – boring”.
And somehow, that struck me as ridiculously appropriate for any human hamster on the treadmill, parent or not.
We put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves to be “all that we can be”, when mostly, just “to be”, is enough.

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