For a long time I have remained silent on this issue; not meaning to offend and not wanting to seem judgmental of others who have chosen different paths than I have. Yet, in this rainy, water-soaked 2011, I feel somewhat like the poor, overloaded dams near my home. Either the flood-waters of this ridiculous socially acceptable abdication have got to stop pressing upon me for approbation, or I’ve got to open the gates and let some of this festering frustration out. Since I don’t think the former will be occurring anytime soon, watch out! This post may seem like Niagara Falls to readers who don’t know me.
Once again, it’s school vacation time. Apparently, for a vast majority of parents, ’tis NOT the season to be jolly… When I hear a parent whine about having to have their kids home for the summer, or over winter break, I am astonished. No… that’s not really the right word for the sick feeling that comes. I feel dismayed, and somewhat sickened to hear murmurings of Mt. Sinai proportions such as:
“<<SIGH!!>> I have to cook ALL the meals now.”
“She’s driving me crazy, so I’m sending her to __________. (Fill-in-the-blank with an event or activity that sends kid away from parents presence for hours, days, weeks, months.)”
“With them constantly around, I don’t have my free time anymore”
“The house is such a mess, I can’t stand it”
“I need some ME time.”
“I can’t BREATHE, they’re ON me all the TIME!”
“The kids are home and they’re driving me NUTS!”
“I can’t wait until school starts again, and they’ve only been home a week!”
It’s not when the kids are coming home that I hear the happy carols of fa-la-la-la-la... or read the online posts of parents romping their halls with joy. No. It’s when the children are leaving for school again. It’s when the door is shut and silent behind them. It’s when the house again stands still and empty… THIS is when we breathe the sigh of relief? THIS is when we rejoice?! THIS is when parents are “able to return to normal” ? What exactly is meant by normal?
Do we listen to ourselves? Do we step outside ourselves for even a minute and consider what we are saying to our children and to society about how we view the role of child-rearing and whose responsibility – in our heart of hearts – that we really think it is? Though we can all say the pretty, doting words to and about our children, do our actions belie the undying love and devotion we profess to have for them? Have we as parents handed over our sense of duty and stewardship to someone else – anybody else – in favor of “The Easy Button”? In this age of Me and Self , could it be that this easy button has a mirrored surface that reflects only our own faces of self-seeking, self-serving and selfish concern? It alarms me when I observe that many of us parents have not only lost the desire to selflessly sacrifice for something beyond ourselves, but have also begun to console and congratulate ourselves for having to do the slightest bit of it, as if that were some kind of virtue. Even more disturbing to me is wondering if our act of abdication is unconscious, or if, in truth, was and is being made deliberately, with our eyes determinedly squeezed shut and our fingers jammed stubbornly into our ears.
Parents, do NOT ask me to feel sorry for you for having to momentarily re-assume the role you originally took on with what I presume was wholehearted joy and thanksgiving! (God help your child if it was not!) When the puppy was still cute and new and chewing on the furniture, people patted our backs understandably as we adjusted to the growing pains of becoming a new parent. Then, just as others did with me in my moments of weakness, I could put up with your whining over the negatives of raising infants instead of your rejoicing in those precious early moments. You had not yet learned how fleeting they were. But please! Spare me the kvetching now, when you have to take care of your own dog for a few weeks because the workers at the Pound dared to take a break and close it temporarily.
I have found myself astonished at this realization that something intrinsic has been lost in society’s view of the role of parenting. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch the very first episode of The Andy Griffith Show. It featured the arrival of Aunt Bea. I was shocked to learn that after having already raised the Sheriff and a passel of other kids, she came to Mayberry fully intent on spending decades more of her life raising young Opie. Certainly nobody expected the Sheriff to raise Opie by himself as a single father, including the Sheriff. Everyone in society rather naturally accepted that the Sheriff could not replace the traditional role of a woman in Opie’s life, nor ought he be expected to do so. I have seen the body language and looks on the faces of grandparents in our day, as they speak about the unanticipated task of raising their grandchildren in their older years. I guess I was expecting the same heavy-laden aura to hang on Aunt Bea when she arrived. I was wrong. With broken voice and tears of joy she thanked him for the chance to have something worthwhile to do with herself. She thanked him for the opportunity to raise another child into adulthood. A reaction of gratitude? Chastened, I asked myself why I had expected anything but that.
At the current time, I have the chance to work online, on a one-to-one basis with South Korean men and women between the ages of 10 and 60. South Korea’s population is experiencing negative growth, with most couples choosing to have only one child; two children at most. Because of compulsory military service and higher education, most young adults pass their reproductive Prime Time by, marrying somewhere near their thirties. Even more disturbing is the trend I’ve noticed in the rising generation of women. They want urban-American Sex In the City lives full of travel, nice clothes, professional success and plenty of social time with friends and lovers. Many want no children at all. Some don’t even want marriage.
When I asked one of my young students why she had no desire for marriage or children, she frankly told me the truth, “I have no desire to sacrifice my life for anybody else. I want to enjoy my life. I don’t want to waste it, like my mother has, serving others.” I wish some American parents could be as honest. Korean author, Kyung-sook Shin examined the value of maternal sacrifice in her New York Times Bestselling book, Please Look After Mom. I am not sure if others who read the book will be able to discern its message. The value of motherhood does not come from whether or not your children appreciate your sacrifices, (and if mothers look there for their validation they will most likely be sorely disappointed.) No, the value of motherhood lies within the true mother, living and growing there like a seed into a tree. It is what happens to her, inside her own soul; it is what she becomes because of her free choice to spend her life nurturing and sustaining the breath of life in others.
Too many women are no longer like Aunt Bea: grateful and happy that home, family life, and the high privilege of mothering are hers. I worry for my young Korean friend and the joy that she may never know; the depth and beauty of character she may never experience and joy in her posterity that she may never feel. It reminds me of a lyric from a hymn:
“Thus on to eternal perfection, the honest and faithful [parent] shall go, While they who reject this glad message shall never such happiness know.”
For, as Victor Hugo said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” But what does this mean when you consider, as Joseph F. Smith taught, that “the love of a true mother comes nearer being like the love of God than any other kind of love” ? If a child never knows the love of a mother, will he ever believe in, let alone seek to know the love of God?
Many today seem to think that the role of mother doesn’t matter as much anymore, and besides, who needs all the grief of such a thankless servants task? “Oh spare me!” they quip at their kids, and indeed, as many ways as possible are found to spare themselves the trouble of actually rearing them. After all, parenting is such a pain in the butt and motherhood is such a burdensome chore that we don’t really want to do it ourselves, or waste our lives on it when we could be doing that “something better with your talents” that all our teachers talk about. So when we’re told that we really can’t do it ourselves and shouldn’t be expected to lead out and take charge of the task which has been given to us alone, we, like willing village idiots buy into the comforting and convenient lie that we need a Village to help us. All the help that it used to require was the Family and after that, the Extended Family.
But today, the Family has been replaced by a Village-For-Hire. Now we can walk Village streets brimming with day care centers and nannies, public schools and babysitters, camps, clubs and extra-curricular activities! From birth right on up through to universities of higher learning, the Village is more than willing to take them off of our hands and “help” us rear them up to be what we choose to presume is a commonly held goal. In no way is this an equal replacement! In fact, I assert that society has fallen prey to a crafty trick of bait-and-switch.
I worked in day care centers while I was in high school, and again after college. I saw how the children were treated… in some centers how the Directors eyes practically lit up green with dollar signs every time a new child walked in the door. We were not allowed to rock them in a rocking chair, or comfort them beyond a few precursory moments. .. lest they get too close and love us more than their paying parents. These places felt like a factory or even a prison to me, with nothing like a home with mother there… where there is time to rest and wake up to the smell of breakfast cooking, time to contemplate raindrops on the window, time to laugh and play with tickles, messes, kisses and smiles… time to be totally at ease with self, with God and with man. Will a child of the future even understand a lyric such as “no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home” when they have spent almost every waking minute since birth being dumped off and cared for everywhere BUT home and by everyone BUT mother?
I remember one little girl who came full-time, five days a week, and would always cling to her mother and tearfully beg her ot to leave. The mother would impatiently peel her off, coolly insisting that her daughter “had to be a big girl now” since Mommy had to go to work. She’d then turn to us with an impatient look that said, “Hurry up and get her off me!” Some directors supported mothers like these, telling them that their children were being controlling and they had to lay down the law. In the case of this little girl, everyone on staff knew that what this woman said was partly a lie, but we were under orders not disclose anything to the child. This Mom worked half days and Wednesdays were her day off. However, she still dropped her daughter off every day of the week, to spend it with us from 7am until 5:30 pm. Mom spent her afternoons and Wednesdays as she chose, while we were left to deceive the child all day about where and how busy her mother was. I remember the day that this little girl looked out the back window of the day care center and discovered that her mother was playing tennis with a friend in the park behind where the daycare was located. I remember the expression of devastation in her face as the tears rolled and rolled down her cheeks. She stood there, silently staring at the ugly truth and then gave me one of the most hurt and questioning looks I’ve ever seen in my life. She didn’t have to ask, “Why doesn’t my Mommy want to be with me? ” All I could do was put my hand on her shoulder. I didn’t know what I could possibly say to her. All I could think of was that song by Harry Chapin, The Cats In The Cradle. All I could think of was my own childhood… and wonder how that mother would feel when, in future years, she began to reap what bitter seeds she had sown in her daughter’s heart.
When I was born, both my parents were busy with their careers and like my older siblings had been, I was cared for by my grandparents during the day. It is said that we arrived in our pajamas, and we left in our pajamas, with Grandma “filling in” with the breakfast, lunch, dinner and nightly bath before my parents arrived to pick us up. Often we fell asleep in the car and were carried to our cribs to repeat it all again the next day. When I was around 18 months old, due to various reasons, including social pressure at church, my mother reluctantly left work and returned home full-time. Suddenly my whole world changed. I went from the lap and rocking chair of a doting caretaker who was happy to be with me and a comfortable daytime place of laughter, comfort and joy to hours and hours of being in a strict, stifling environment without the sunshine of my Grandma’s care. My mother may have been “home”, but she wasn’t really at home. I remember smelling of urine and crying in a crib, seeing the sorrowful faces of my sisters staring through the bars and hearing the threatening voice of an approaching exasperated and angry adult. I remember that my mother was always busy with something and that much of our interaction as I grew up was being kept busy with lists of somethings she expected us to do, mainly without her and on our own. My parents were in their own world of tasks and concerns; it was our job to keep it that way. I remember being told to “wind the swing up again” for my younger siblings. I wasn’t allowed to get them out of that baby swing, even to hold them. I was told that if they cried, it would be my fault. I remember silently pitying my siblings and thinking that it made no sense that they were left there to hang bored in the swing for hours… or that their crying could possibly be my fault… or the babys.
I remember strong reactions to a couple of movies I saw when I was in elementary school. In second or third grade, I saw a film about science experiments which Harry Harlow performed on baby monkeys. I remember identifying very strongly with the scared and frightened baby monkeys. It upset me deeply that they had to be robbed of their mothers, deceived and manipulated by unfeeling scientists, and forced into unnatural behaviors with mothers that weren’t even real. It depressed me that their mothers were powerless to return to them or rescue them, but at the same time I feared that they didn’t really care that their babies were gone. It angered me that such stupid, senseless science experiments had to be done at all when they just cruelly proved the obvious. (As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Harlow is the Dr. Mengele of the macaque monkey world. ) I also remember seeing the film version of Ray Bradbury’s The Electric Grandmother. I remember feeling envious of all three of these children and very irritated with Agatha’s initial rejection of the grandmother figure. They got to be motherless orphans and raised by a good and kind custom-made-for-them Grandmother who lived forever! It hasn’t been until the last 7 years that I have begun to understood why I never forgot these films or how I felt when I saw them.
It is interesting to me to observe that among my sisters, the divide created by the differences in caretaking during our formative years still exists. My older siblings are all very adamant about having mother in the home and breastfeeding. My younger siblings have values more resembling those of our mother. These younger siblings have no problem with a mother finding personal fulfillment in gainful employment during the day, and are comfortable with allowing their children to be cared for most of the time by others. As for my grandparents, though they have passed on now, my older siblings and I still speak of them often and honor their memory. My younger siblings really don’t seem that affected by the loss. I don’t know why I should expect them to, since they did not begin life as the rest of us did, with our grandparents. I really believe that my Grandmother, like all mothers, reaped what she sowed. All of us older kids feel the fierce loyalty to home and family which she and my grandfather planted and nurtured in our hearts by showing us just what home and family meant. Because of them, we learned that it felt good to be part of a family like that, and a home like that. We learned to love it.
But what are we sowing at large in America? What is being sown in South Korea and across the world?
I was shocked to learn that in Korea, the company often provides the lunch and dinner meals for it’s employees. Having studied nutritional issues because of my thyroid disease and my interest in herbal medicine, I came to realize the power of food… and the power that we place in the hands of those from whom we obtain our food and medicine. I couldn’t believe that the Korean people could trust their employer with the responsibility to provide nearly half of the materials which made them them! When your boss provides as many as 10 meals out of a possible 21 meals a week, do you know what kind of power you give him over your health and well-being? I couldn’t help but think of the radioactive Quaker oatmeal scandal, or the Tuskegee experiments , and the Nestle breastfeeding boycott. HOW could these Koreans be so trusting, so gullible? But we are no better. In fact, we are worse.
Thanks to the legalized theft of the U.S. taxpayer by the Federal government, and the happy abdication of American parents not only the physical but also the mental, social and emotional nourishment of our children is provided by the State. With the addition of serving breakfast, American public schools provide as many meals for low-income children as Korean companies provide for their full-time employees. Having gained 50% stake in their bellies (which is actually their health and the quality of their physical composition), we entrust the State with the lion’s share of our children’s waking hours. We rely on the State to fill their hearts and fashion their minds as we would or better (after all, they are the experts), believing our evening and weekend tweaks between soccer practice and going to the movies will be enough. The State picks out the textbooks, hires and pays the teachers and administrators, sees to the upkeep and maintenance of the facilities, determines the rules and how they are enforced and ensures that EVERY child somehow spits out the same or similar product as his classmate in grades, test scores and even artwork. The State basically does whatever other unpleasant or boring task we parents are willing to hand over to them… much like an affluent Victorian woman who leaves the baby to the Nanny most of the time and shows it off for 15 minutes when company comes to call. No need to change the diapers or wipe up the projectile vomit… that’s the Nanny’s job. We surrender our children to the age-mate pecking order of peer-group conditioning under cramped conditions ruled over by authoritarians of varying degrees of quality in expertise and compassion. Somehow we expect them to properly socialize our little puppies into the group-attack wolf-pack social order of the playground and the high school hallway. All this to prepare them, I guess, to survive in and acquiesce to the petty personal politics of the office, the church and the community. What?! Why do we think that letting them marinate in this kind of social acid for years is normal and normalizing?
Then, of course, there is now the double-edged sword of modern conveniences and pursuits. Because they exist we have more time and more money, but because they exist, we also spend more time and more money. The same things which have the power to unite and strengthen families also hold all the addicting power of Pleasure Island. Any member of this plethora of options has the potential to replace the parent-child relationship and the entire family bond. Television, movies, video games, Mp3 players, cell phones, computers and the Internet, clubs, classes, lessons, sports, sex, cars, clothes, collections, possessions, peers… even hobbies, social causes, church, volunteer work, community service, political activism, school work, personal studies, modern convenience and fast foods, overtime hours for Disneyland vacations, etc all have the power to strengthen and/or disintegrate the family bond. Eeenie, meenie, myenie, moe, sure can catch the tiger by its toe… but for too many parents, the tiger of these influences has caught them.
I am reminded here of the story, Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. I read this book for the first time when my oldest child was very young. When I saw the elephant-bird, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. The lazy mother bird who had abdicated her right and privilege to serve and sacrifice in favor of anything but the child still fully expected to reap the reward of the time and effort she herself had never spent on rearing her young… just because she was the birth mother. When I hear affluent young mothers talk about taking their 6 week-old-babies to day- care, while ignoring the tears streaming down their faces and having to walk away from their screaming child, or worse, sneak away, I want to HOLLER!!! When other women who have kept their children home relate that they “just ignored that inner voice”, I wonder how they can downplay the trauma that they and their children experience on this day of civil society’s victory over the home which we photograph with plastered-on smiles and hyped-up encouragements – the day we call the First Day of School. I want to SCREAM! I want to tell them to turn around and bring their children back home! I want to BELLER in the faces of the parents of elementary and secondary school students for acting as if the absence of a truly entwined family life is a good thing or that a daily, constantly shared interacting relationship is somehow the bane of their existence… or only possible for anybody but them. We blame our choice to step down from our duty to this primary role on the expectations and demands of society, tradition, government and the pocketbook… but I have found that people usually end up doing what they really, in their hearts, most value. Cost doesn’t matter, hassle doesn’t matter. If they want it, they want it, and they need no outside urging to pursue that thing they desire. When the strange apparition-of-a-bird emerges from the all-too-eagerly abdicated egg, our birds will reflect what our hearts treasured most, and our excuses will be as hollow as the now-empty egg. Who’s sitting on YOUR egg? What great price, what sacrifices, what actions are worth ensuring that the child which you envision successfully emerging into the adult world really does? Or will that creature’s form and features be unrecognizable Horton seemed to know how to tend the nest. I don’t know why it’s so hard for so many of us.
A book written by Dr. Edward Keller makes me cry. It’s a story about his mother called My Mother’s Apron. When I was growing up, I remember my Grandmother wearing an apron in the kitchen and sometimes in the garden. In my childhood, I also saw media messages about the modern feminist woman “freeing” herself from the “constraints” of the home. One of the most commonly used propagandist images was of women giddily casting off and throwing aside the aprons they were wearing. When I got done reading this book, I mourned the loss of my own apron. In this age of YaYa and Traveling Pants Sisterhoods, I mourned that there was no longer a widespread, common, easily found and happily embraced Apron Sisterhood. I mourned that instead of donning a complete, ready and waiting apron, prepared together with my mother and passed down in patchwork pieces from the aprons of my own maternal line, I was having to struggle. I was having to piece together a covering without a much of a pattern besides the my memories of women I admired, both real and fictitious. It is a feeling somewhat akin to being placed buck naked on a beach and trying to sew yourself a bathing suit at high noon, in front of a crowd of people… while your baby toddles off alone toward the rising tide. The timing is then forever off. I always feel like I’m at least a decade behind… and while I struggle to sew, my babies do not wait for me.. they keep on growing up and needing me to know what to do next. I have had to learn to struggle against the beating waves and penetrating heat, never mind that I’m half-naked… because that’s my baby in the surf!
Why it seems that most other women don’t feel this way, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because they’ve never been rocked on a Grandma’s lap in an apron.
One Sunday shortly after my Grandma died, a hymn was sung to close church services. I was still mourning for her, and for the complete loss of the only grandparents I had really ever known. When the congregation began to sing, it was as if cooling floodwaters had been opened from behind a dam, and come to put out the heat and pain of the desert in my soul. Images of their home and the feelings I had whenever I was there came flooding into my mind and healed my pain. I leave them here with you as the final testament to all I have written today. I may have been born as just a Mayziebird with Maziebird tendencies, but it is the kind and diligent devotion of my grandparents which changed me forever… and gives me hope that maybe someday my aproned daughters will say that I was “the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in ”
Let us oft speak kind words to each other
at home or where’er we may be,
Like the warbling of birds on the heather,
the tones will be welcome and free.
They’ll gladden the heart that’s repining,
give courage and hope from above,
And where the dark clouds hide the shining,
let in the bright sunlight of love
Oh, the kind words we give shall in memory live,
and sunshine forever impart.
Let us oft speak kind words to each other.
Kind words are sweet tones of the heart.
Like the sunbeams of morn on the mountain,
the soul they awake to good cheer
Like the murmur of cool, pleasant fountains,
they fall in sweet cadences near
Let’s oft then, in kindly-toned voices,
our mutual friendship renew,
‘Til heart meets with heart and rejoices
in friendship that ever is new.
” I want to impress upon your hearts that you can do nothing, that you can make no sacrifice but what sooner or later the reward will come to you, either in time or in eternity, and almost without exception when we make any sacrifices in the line of duty in performing those things that are pleasing in the sight of God, we get our reward during our lives.” – Heber J. Grant, 8/28/ 1923
9/24/2012 There is another Dr. Seuss book that I fear many parents do not recognize as a plea and a parable. It is The Cat In the Hat Comes Back. In the original book, The Cat In the Hat, the two children were left alone, all day. The “mother” did not think it unreasonable to leave them unattended, and, apparently with the command to be inanimate objects all day, pristine and motionless in two chairs, doing nothing. I wonder if we all don’t do that too much with the convenience of television, DVD’s and Netflix. It is also interesting that the two children were willing to assume all the guilt for the disruption in the house and the mess that was made when mother wasn’t present. Why is that the case? Shouldn’t some of the fault or blame be laid upon mother for not being there to answer the door when the Cat and Things 1 and 2 showed up? Was it the fish’s job to be the guardian of the home or babysitter? In book two, both children are a little older, a little more useful to mother. By the time we get to book two, there is no fish. There are just two Somebodys, “Sally and me.” They are now old enough for mother to leave behind without worrying about what the neighbors will say. She can let them outdoors! She can even make them work the day away while she is out and about doing something vastly more important than shoveling the snow. The message becomes painfully clear, just about kills me, when the Cat In The Hat realizes he’s put the pink spot on the wrong kind of bed. “I can’t do it alone.” Yeah, and these two little kids outdoors shoveling snow all by themselves can’t do it alone, either. WHERE IS MOTHER? WHERE IS FATHER? The Cat in the Hat proves himself wiser than the parents of “Sally and Me”. He brings his children with him. He enjoys them. He enjoys the mess they make. He makes work play and he works and plays with them. He doesn’t worry about the short-term, he doesn’t fret. He finds joy in the moment… and again, his children are always with him. It makes me so sad that in both books, the two human children are so worried and flustered about the wrath of their absent mother and father that they never are happy. I think about these things sometime, when my kitchen is a mess from making bread, or there is dirt tracked in everywhere from the garden. When I view the scene around me as chaos, my reaction is negative. I forget that it is constructive destruction. I forget that the memory of love, of being together, of happiness is the Voom that will erase all that, if only I will let it. My children won’t remember the mess, and neither will I, if I will just trust in the process. If I will just believe that loving them and being with them is greater than any inperfections or mistakes which may be made in the process. That’s the whole point.
6/4/2013 Attitudes like the one in this blogpost below are what I am talking about.
I just don’t understand this kind of parenting attitude at all. It’s not funny, it’s tragic… and it’s been picked up by Huffington Post and is going viral on Facebook as we speak. All these parents going funny ha-ha, but somebody, somewhere, had to sit and listen to this blogger learn to read and write when she was a child so that she could produce this piece in the first place. Somebody, somewhere, had to be patient enough to work with the people reading the blogpost now, when they were children, heading off to school to do colonial projects or whatever. Is the root of the problem that we’ve all just become peer-oriented in the last century? Such that we can’t stand the feeling any longer of the traditional vertical bonding?
5/2/2015 Here is another disturbing post, thanking people who don’t want kids for not having them. I guess, on the one hand, I am glad somebody too selfish to have children has decided not to carry on their genetic heritage. They have also spared the world from another half-hearted, bitter parent creating a miserable childhood for a half-wanted child. Neither the child nor the parent is really benefited (1 Corinthians 13:3), and that’s the tragedy of it.