Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Mother’s Day (ambivalence file)

I think four items mark a trend, even if two of them are from the Times. The cover story of Sunday’s magazine was about the emerging father’s custody movement. (NPR picked up the story, too.) The often irritating “Modern Love” column in the Styles section was a woman’s account of her husband’s efforts to gain (more) custody of their children, the Mother’s Day episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was about a single father, and this month’s Elle (gym reading—and good, too!--article not online, though, sorry!) has an essay by Bliss Broyard (Anatole’s daughter and the reviewer on Sunday of Happy Booker favorite Roxana Robinson) about forgiving her mother for having been an alcoholic. So, Mother’s Day is a chance to explore our ambivalence? What we’re missing?

Broyard’s essay has a moving and mature point: while her therapists helped her explore her pain, they were not helping her build a bridge back to her mother. What disturbed me and evoked my pity and suspicion was the photograph of Broyard towering over her mother, who looks like what she is: a fragile, bohemian WASP, recovered alcoholic, the widow of a brilliant public intellectual who hid his Creole heritage. Seeing that woman now and then reading about her drunken stupors thirty years ago made me sorry, not inspired.

As for the Modern Love essay, I want to try to write about it without too much Schadenfreude. Chronic infidelity is a difficult problem to understand because I live in a one strike and you’re out universe. Certainly, the woman with three children, and a distant, unfaithful (redundant?) husband, evokes sympathy. The byline, identifying her as the author of a book on attachment parenting, however, unleashed a different set of feelings.

On of the odd truths of parenthood is its ability to evoke simultaneous feelings of passionate expertise and intense insecurity. Hence, we drown in battling advice books. I have tried very hard—still try—to take theories and styles lightly, to remember always that what seems to work today for my family is merely that—today’s solution for us—and not a prescription for motherhood. Thus, no current phrase rankles me more than “attachment parenting.” When I’ve been asked if I’m an “attachment parent” (people ask these things, you’d be surprised), I always counter, “no, we’re detachment parents.” But in fact it hurts, angers, annoys, amuses. So, perhaps you’ll understand the little jolt of “ha!” I felt upon learning of the misfortunes of a proponent of a theory that, in my experience, has only ever been deployed against me.

Mother’s Day is not a big deal to me. The sentimental tripe is as depressing as the barely concealed resentment. Still, there are good mothers out there (I had one and she had one, too), some of whom are also interesting people (mine is and hers was). I would like to have heard about—or from—some of them.


Anonymous said...

What I wonderful post. I am going to try to find a way to link to it--what do you suspect is at it's root of the mother backlash? Have you read Broyard's collection? Daddy-themed to the hilt.
on a personal note: I fully enjoy MD, a holiday that doesn't involve religion, shopping, or cooking. I say, bring on the floral tribute and the flowers and let me sleep late--what's not to like?

Unknown said...

I'm all for a nice floral tribute, too: this year, our daughter "signed" her name: four letters at the bottom, all O's, the only letter-like thing she can draw. Very sweet.

I don't want to get too conspiratorial about the trend. I don't think this is a very happy moment for women in the culture: not a lot of celebrating of our strengths going on. In that downbeat mood, I think it makes sense that a journalist looking for an "angle" on Mother's Day would hit on this one.

But you can be sure that I'm going to be watching, come June and if the same sources start singing the praises of Dad, ooh! I may blow.