Thursday, October 30, 2003

Gobs of Guilt

Are things better or worse for women today? Something I have been kicking around for the past couple of days. It's probably a mixed bag, but one thing that the 50s housewife didn't have was gobs of guilt thrown at her by child development experts. I curse those evil bastards.

It starts when you're pregnant. Or even before you know you're pregnant.

I didn't find out I was pregnant with Jonah until I was four weeks pregnant. This is the time of all the crucial brain stem development. And this was the time that I sauntered over to the Algonquin Hotel with some buddies and slurped up an extra large gin and tonic. Soon after, I downed several large glasses of red wine at an APSA reception. Good lord, women! What have you done to your fetus?

I spent the entire nine months of my pregnancy obsessing about those stupid cocktails and other minor discretions. To this day, whenever my kid does something less than perfect, I blame the extra large gin and tonic at the Algonquin.

After the test strip shows a plus, the first thing a woman does is go out and buy
What to Expect When You're Expecting
and 12 other books like it. You are sternly instructed about how you have to change your habits. Eat more protein, stay away from salmon, practice your Kegels, learn to breathe properly, avoid second hand smoke, shun caffeine, play classical music. Even brie cheese could have some bacteria that could cause harm to the unborn.

The 50s housewife dealt with the boredom of pregnancy by smoking a pack of cigarette and pouring herself a martini.

Afterwards, we're given another library of books on how to raise the smartest kids. You simply must breast feed on demand for at least a year. Babies shouldn't cry in their cribs for a moment. Black and white mobiles must dangle before them. Playpens are a no-no. There are music classes, exercise classes, dance classes all for babies too young to hold up their own heads. (Having a phobia of group happiness, I skipped all those classes.) Eating disorders have to be avoided, so if junior doesn't like bean burritoes, make him a separate meal. Even Elmo is evil.

These brain stimulation activities and self-esteem builders are recent inventions. Almost every mother I know, whether they work or not, confides that she is a bad mother, because it's too much work to stimulate and build all day. I blame the child development experts for excessive parental guilt.

I'm done with the blog for the week. Tomorrow is jam packed with candy and Halloween parades. I leave you with a quote from Betty, because it cracked me up:

In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture window, depositing their stationwagonful of children at school, and smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their children's clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers running all day. They changed the sheets on the beds twice a week instead of once, took the rug-hooking class in adult education, and pitied their poor frustrated mothers, who had dreamed of having a career. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a perfect house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: "Occupation: housewife."

UPDATE: The Invisible Adjunct stopped reading parenting manuals. She wrote an eloquent post on the guilt and parenthood and catastrophe-- a must read.

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