How Did I Become A Worrying Mother?

This week I have another guest blog post up at Free Range Kids. You probably first heard of Lenore Skenazy when she wrote a column for the New York Sun a few years ago on how she let her then nine-year-old son ride the subway by himself. Two days later she was being called “America’s Worst Mom” on the Today Show and Fox News. Lenore has become the face of the “Free Range Kids” movement, which posits that we don’t have limit our children’s lives based on fear of some wildly remote danger. We can let them have childhoods more like the ones we enjoyed.

The essay I wrote for Free Range Kids is below, but please go check it out on Lenore’s site as well. There is a lively discussion in the comments section.

How Did I Become a Worrying Mother? By Amy Wilson
I did not think that I would be a worrying mother.
I thought motherhood would be when I finally relaxed.
As the oldest of six kids– and one of 25 grandchildren — I started changing diapers and loading dishwashers before I could write my name in cursive.  So I was pretty sure that motherhood would be second nature for me. And it was—or should I say, it could have been.
It was only when I listened too carefully to the “experts” that I lost my way.

I listened to the experts who told me that the doctors and nurses at the hospital were the enemy, out to sabotage my “better” childbirth unless I educated them on how to provide superior care.
I listened to the experts who told me that if I let anyone give my newborn a bottle, EVEN ONCE, I was doomed to fail as a nursing mother.
I listened to the experts who told me that gaining more than 35 pounds while pregnant was both risky and lazy, that my child should be walking by 12 months or else a specialist should be summoned, and that any television before two was dooming my toddler to a lifetime of pudding-brains.
I found every such absolute thrust upon today’s mothers impossible to achieve, and therefore spent a unreasonable portion of my early years as a mother feeling bad about myself, and worrying about how my children might suffer thanks to my sub-par parenting choices. I was a sucker for all the messages of self-doubt that mothers receive from every corner: advertising, the Internet, scary news stories, other mothers with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove.
Seven years and three children later, I know better. (Most of the time.)   Now I get mad when I see something out there designed to make mothers hysterical, only so our society can then make fun of those same mothers because they are hysterical. The New York Times printed a story two weeks ago saying that fat babies are on a “obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they’re in kindergarten.” Nowhere in the article was there a voice of reason, saying that by “fat babies” they of course did not mean the typically delicious thigh rolls of an eight-month old.  Next month, however, there will probably be another article, snorting with derision at the crazy and destructive mothers who are rationing their perfectly healthy babies’ rice cereal so they won’t be fat.
I think mothers have to stand up to this fearmongering when we see it. We need to be honest with one another about the realities of our lives, and about how far they are from these silly standards.  Sometimes I think that laid-back mothering can only be earned by experience, and not learned. But if the more Free-Range among us can call out the scare tactics for the nonsense that they are, we might save some other mothers out there a whole lot of worrying—and help them have more fun along the way.

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Luisa April 24, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Great insight Amy! Foucault wrote continuously about the struggle between the public and private space. Fear mongering is a mechanism of social control that takes away individual empowerment. Sounds like the pendulum is swinging from the hovering parent to the more daring again. Good news for my 15 month old twin girls who wear overalls and have yet to discover Disney anything… Of course, I have a whole theory on the Princess/Bratz phenomenon….

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