If perception is everything, then when it comes to motherhood, perception is a killer, I believe. Way too often the words, “What will people think?” cross Moms’ minds and lips. I’ve found myself saying, “I’ll bet that person thinks I’m a terrible mother.” based on how I treat my kids and how they act in public. The opinion of people who don’t know us, and even loved ones who do weighs heavily.
Probably too much.
Moms aren’t the only people on earth concerned with perception, of course. From what I can tell, though, because of the cultural sacredness of motherhood, the perception bug’s venom is uniquely poisonous to mothers. Oodles of people have an opinion about what makes a “good mother,” and even the most thick-skinned Mom occasionally feels the bite.
For the past two weeks we’ve considered “Mama idols” (first Mary, the mother of Jesus, and second the Proverbs 31 Mama), and how they are just that…idols. Commenters expressed ambivalence. Both of these idols bring comfort and dismay. Personally, I am overwhelmed by these two women. (Some claim that the Proverbs 31 Mama is a prototype or a compilation, and not one real, seemingly perfect woman who once lived. I see that possibility and honor it.) I get that this is my emotional baggage. My spiritual director/counselor and I are working on it.
We would be remiss to move on without discussing what may be the two most pervasive Mama idols – June Cleaver and Super Mom. They might also have the most power over us because of the media’s ubiquitous reach. Ain’t nuthin’ like visual images that spread like wildfire and keep getting recycled to keep a good woman down.
June Cleaver is the poster woman the ideal for post-World War II suburban white woman. What a strange follow-up she is to her predecessor, Rosie the Riveter. Women were the backbone of the United States throughout World War II. Since “our boys” were off defending and dying for freedom (God bless them), women entered the work force and kept the US going (pretty darn well, I might add). Women made weapons and cars, were the life-line of telephone and telegram services, and even kept baseball from becoming a victim of war.
Once the War was finally over, and the surviving soldiers came home, women were thanked for their service (that did happen, right?) and sent back into domesticity “where they belong.” June Cleaver — with her perky joy about staying at home, supporting her husband, keeping her house immaculately clean, and raising her boys – purposed to show women how lovely this return to home and hearth was. Seriously … what woman who once found fulfillment in contributing to freedom through her outside-the-home job wouldn’t now be just as pleased with vacuuming in pearls, dress, and heels?
Thanks to Betty Friedan’s 1963 feminist manifesto The Feminine Mystique, we know how television’s portrayal of domestic bliss via Mrs. Cleaver worked out. Many women found themselves depressed, and feeling hopeless and helpless. “The problem that has no name” took its toll. Turns out that being stuck in one role isn’t heavenly for every woman in America. And these were just the white women. How racism and cultural mores limited mothers of color is a post for another time. (I hate the term “mothers of color” for several reasons, but have no other verbiage presently. Suggestions welcomed. Anyone?)
Super Mom burgeoned out of the second wave of American feminism in the 1960s and 70s. Women marched on Washington, D.C. to garner support for the Equal Rights Amendment and fight for the right to make decisions for their own bodies. They burned their bras as a symbolic gesture of freeing themselves from chauvinism and patriarchy’s definition of who a woman should be, how she should behave, and what she is allowed to do. They held rallies at college campuses across the United States, wisely infecting and empowering the next generation with feminist ideals.
Rally participants shouted “Women can do everything!” And females ate it up. Like mother birds they swallowed the mantra whole and regurgitated it to feed their young, thereby raising their children on feminist nutrients.
Super Mom is the ultimate woman who does everything. She works hard for the money at the factory, restaurant, school, or office. (Maybe both, if she has to work more than one job.) She picks up her kids from school, and patiently helps them with their homework. Super Mom is active in each of her kid’s schools’ Parent/Teachers Association, and attends every performance and game.
She has dinner on the table soon after her husband arrives, and cleans her kitchen spick-and-span before putting her kids to bed with prayers and a bedtime story. Super Mom is the family’s financial guru. She makes sure the bills are paid on time, money is well spent, and investments are well placed for college, weddings, and the like. When the sink leaks, there’s no need to call the plumber. Super Mom is there! Oh, and her spouse need not worry when it’s time for lovin’. Super Mom is always a tiger in the bedroom.
While the 1960s and 70s Women’s Movement sought to obliterate June Cleaver from memory, and the third wave of American feminism rejects Super Mom, these two ladies still have a firm grip on mothers’ expectations of themselves. Even though they are impossible to imitate, and fictional women to boot.
Why do we do this to ourselves? I am honestly asking.
“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/happyworker/4584638397/”>happyworker> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a
- Blogging my book idea: Mama idols – helpful or harmful? Part 1 (revangiem-n.com)
- Motherhood Through The Ages. No Wonder The Mom On Little House On The Prairie Was Always So Patient And Happy. (marriagemotherhoodandmadness.wordpress.com)