mom on a hook

Mom on a Hook

from Womankind (1973). Society places unfair burdens on mothers and then blames them when their children don't "measure up". from Womankind

(Editors Note: This article is from Womankind of September 1973. A mother points out the unfair burdens moms are forced to carry by a society that gives them little support or respect.)

Ever since I became a mother, I am a sucker for anything written about children. I won't always believe it but I'll read it. And I know I'm influenced -- badly. Articles about other topics which disagree with my better judgment are no problem. I don't read them again and again. But why this undue interest in articles about children?

The answer became clear today when a friend caught me with this issue of Life magazine in my hand with the word CHILDREN written loud and clear on the cover. She's a mother, too, and for ten minutes, she begged me for the issue, wanting to make a special date, asking if I owned or had just borrowed the copy, etc.; I recognized it immediately -- the same syndrome: THE INSECURE MOTHER DISEASE. It is because of THE INSECURE MOTHER DISEASE (TIMD) that we all want to read articles written by anyone. From reading the articles, we get worse cases of TIMD.

I am trying to conquer the disease in myself and other women. The article, called "A Child's Mind Is Shaped Before Age 2", Life, Dec. 17, 1971, is not the worst article I have read, but its points are made within a framework which oppresses me, in particular, and women, in general.

The article says that there is a period in a child's life, between ten and eighteen months of age, which is critical for developing certain social and intellectual skills, like being able to ask for help, being able to get attention, anticipating consequences, planning, understanding and the like. What "critical" means is that starting at eighteen months old; you can divide children (if that's your bag) into the ones that have the skills (called in the article "A children") and the ones that don't (called "C children"). Research shows that the children with the skills at eighteen months still have them at six years, and the ones who don't, don’t at six. The other point the article makes is that guess who is responsible for producing an A child or a C child. You guessed it, Mom.

That mothers are held solely responsible for the outcome of their child’s personality is what causes TIMD. And we will always be the only people responsible for their outcome if we are the only ones responsible for their childcare. It's probably true that the mother has an enormous effect on the child, since she's the only one who's with the child. Being home with our children is the ideal, we're told, for mother. Women who work feel bad about leaving their children "unmothered," but, why SHOULD mothers be with their children so disproportionately to everyone else that we alone are the people influencing, the child's personality?

We shouldn’t. Who wants or should have so much control over some one's life? No one. Really, it’s that awful feeling that WE make so much difference that gets us, worried and uptight in the first place. Besides being uptight, most of my friends find it boring to be with their children all the time. They miss doing other things, and although they love their children, need to have other things in their lives. I enjoy my children more when I have some time away from them. Not being able to get away makes us get into a bad trip with our children: we love the child, but we don't want to be with her 24 hours a day, and we can't help taking it out on her yet we don’t want to and doing it makes us feel even worse, so we do it again and again out of even more frustration, building a not-so-great relationship with the child which makes us feel Awful and Inadequate.

The tremendous influence of Mom is no inborn thing about ideal motherhood. It’s a big mistake and it's due to the lack of any SHARED RESPONSIBILITY. Fathers can and should share childcare with others. Women should be prepared to work in good jobs with possibilities for promotion, so they, too, have the power to be breadwinners, Even in families where women work full time, she both finds and provides the childcare. Families can live in larger groups so there will be a pooling of children and adults, with plenty of love to go around, and less childcare for each adult.

There can and should be free childcare centers in each community, paid for by the state, and staffed by people who really care about children and who are relieved often enough so as not to go crazy at the job themselves. But the article doesn't say any of this. It just tells us how to be better mothers.

In one way, the article makes a pretense of being "liberated". It say says that A mothers turned out to spend less not more, time with their children than did the C mothers. This is undoubtedly accurate and even encouraging, but it is not liberating. For the point is that YOU should be at home with your child most of the time so that at appropriate moments you can give a few words of encouragement, that reassuring smile, etc. What you apparently shouldn't do is hover over “him”. This puts us in the situation of having to master some kind of delicate balance of being with, but not “with” our children, while we're still basically trapped at home without enough time or space to do much of anything else. Also, the article makes it appear that how much we're with our children is up to us, which it's not. How can we spend less time with our children, and do other things, if we can't afford or don't want to hire baby-sitters -- if there's no good alternative for the child. By not addressing itself to anyone but mothers, the article doesn't say that all people should see children as part of their lives. It just says that mothers should be trying to meet the standards of an A mother. "The mother is right on the hook, just where Freud put her," one of the researchers is quoted as saying. This clearly makes us feel MORE responsible not less. Instead of concentrating on our right to insist on shared responsibility, we feel guilty about not being A mothers.

Although Mom may be the major person influencing the child, she is certainly not the only influence. What is really influencing the child is the same as what's influencing Mom. Mom is just as much a victim of the forces as baby is a victim of Mom. Really, the children are the victims of social and economic conditions, not of mothers and mothers are the struggling middle-men (hanging on a hook). Poor people can’t provide the "rich environment of toys" suggested, and rich people can. Stuck right in the centerfold of. this issue of Life was an entire catalogue for Creative Playthings. Creative Playthings is probably the most expensive toy manufacturer in the country. Most people can't afford this. If these toys are necessary for A children, most children will be C. In our country, it seems to be an accepted fact that some people will have money and others won't. Most of us won't. And then we are made to feel like bad mothers because we can't afford toys.

Women who work, on top of having basically lousy jobs, have an almost impossible time making satisfactory childcare arrangements. Private baby-sitters are too expensive for some women, and they are underpaid, anyway. Children (and people) who live in overcrowd conditions, who are hungry, who don't receive adequate medical care who go to overcrowded schools with racist teachers, will never be A. It has nothing to do with mothers. What's "critical", more than how mother behaves, is that if you don't have money, you can't produce a child (or a mother) who has all the advantages the article describes. Mothers have no more control over the most powerful force that influence hers and the child’s life than does the child.

The article says: "The researchers weren't particularly interested in the family's race, income, education or residence -- the kind of information which some social scientists think explains everything -- but in the experiences which actually make up the small child's work ..." (meaning how the mother interacts with the child.) What scapegoating! We, the mothers, are made to shoulder the blame for a social and economic system which makes the lives of most people a real struggle. You can't keep people poor and women in the house and expect A mothers and A children.

The little suggestions given in the article about being positive and enthusiastic with your child are sure difficult to carry out if you're not feeling positive and enthusiastic yourself. And nothing makes a mother less positive and less enthusiastic than feeling that she is to blame for everything that goes wrong with her children. The feeling that you're not doing everything you should be doing, even though you're worrying about it all the time and trying your hardest, is THE INSECURE MOTHER DISEASE, promoted in LIFE by putting Mom on the hook.