Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"I'm a Mommy First"

On my way to work today, I witnessed a familiar scene: two mommies on their porch steps, adorned in tichel and tights and their favourite accessory- their children. As I walked by, their conversation was utterly predictable, namely what time little Shmueli went to bed last night and what time he woke up this morning. I was mentally thankful that I had missed the required discussion of his bowel movements.

Now I believe that it is only natural that a woman's primary focus be her children, except perhaps when her spouse is present. And I also understand that mothers need to discuss what is happening with their children with other mothers. There seems to be an inherent need to benchmark what is normal and to seek out advice with parenting issues or concerns. More to the point, due to the fact that parenting is the world's most difficult occupation, like any worker, a mommy needs support. She needs to gripe to someone in a similar position. Fair enough.

So, while I am not myself a parent, I can empathize with the impetus for the witnessed scene. That said, it would seem that mothers fall into one of two camps:
  1. Those who identify themselves solely as a mommy, i.e. being a mother becomes their sole reference point for who they are.
  2. Those who remain individuals despite having children.
In other words, some mothers retain a self-image of themselves that goes beyond being a mother; others do not. Where the frum world is concerned, at least in Brooklyn, you do tend to encounter the "I'm a Mommy" group frequently. In a way, how could you not? After all, this self-image is an extension of the Torah concept that a woman's primary role is as teacher and caregiver of her children.

Still, when you read someone's online dating profile and the first sentence is "I'm a mommy first", doesn't that make you feel just a tad sorry for any guy she may date? Maybe she is capable of making room in her life for a man, but the sentence does not create that impression. To be fair, my view on relationships-any relationship, be it with your spouse or with your children- is that you remain separate entities who come together and form a common ground called The Relationship. By definition, a relationship is the connection between one part or entity to another.

Growing up, I never once heard my mother discussing my bowel movements or other features of my development with guests, friends, or family. Rather, topics discussed included the arts and culture, with the men veering off on occasion to discuss the economy or politics in a light-hearted fashion. So when I witnessed that the majority of conversation on the women's side of the mechitzah revolved around their children (or outfits for their children's simchas, if they were already grandparents), I was dismayed. I recall distinctly telling my first husband that I *hated* the kiddush at our shul, because there was only so much patience I could muster for sheitel and baby talk.

Recently I went to a family for Shabbos. The hostess had been in a high-powered position prior to getting married and having children. On the one hand, she seemed to be very proud of her previous career, yet on the other, she was now compensating by making her entire life about her children. As she had been involved in arts and culture, I tried to converse with her on those topics. She responded by ignoring my attempts and instead telling me what age each of her children had been potty-trained. Indeed, she spent 99% of the time I was in her house ignoring me and instead playing with her children or otherwise occupying their space. By the end of the evening, my impression was of a woman who had made her children her top priority, to the detriment of herself, her children, and her marriage.

Thus, while parenting is an all-consuming job, one where a mother can feel overwhelmed and require support, I worry about the women who seem incapable of remaining a self-contained person after having children. Because it strikes me as unhealthy to not have any concept of yourself beyond someone else, even your children (the ten-cent psychological term for that phenomenon, by the way, is co-dependency). So, while a child is naturally co-dependent to a degree on their parent, I cannot say that the reverse is necessarily productive, for either the child or the parent.

But then again, I am not a mommy, right? What do I know?


  1. Well, generally speaking you are right. On the other hand, the phrase, "I am mommy first" does not invoke the feeling of pity for the guy she dates/marries. I have seen first hand the damage a mother can do to her children by placing her own happiness/needs ahead of her kids'. Like with anything, there needs to be a healthy balance - yes,I am a human being with needs and children should understand that; however, I am a mother and that affects all aspects of my life.

    Regarding the conversations - I generally think that frum women are not as worldly as the rest of the population and thus have fewer topics to discuss with each other. Unlike the rest of society, most frum women have one thing in common - little children, so they don't need to fish for common interests to discuss. Pretty much everyone is on the same page between the ages of 25 and 40.

    Also, this is the "helicopter" parenting generation. Even those not hovering over their kids all the time tend to be affected by this and overanalyze every little thing Shmuly does. This kind of goes away with time. For first time mothers, children do tend to occupy all of their thoughts and conversations. (After all, when you are woken up every hour every night for MONTHS, what else can you possibly talk about other than how to get your kid to sleep through the night?) As kids get older and more independent, this tends to somewhat diminish. that could account for you never hearing your mom discuss her parenting issues with friends.

    Okay this is already too long.

  2. Well you're a poopy head! :p

    People can also have topic friends. Separate people for discussing kids, cooking, entertainment, etc.

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  4. M, I expected a more original comment from you. You're just stating the obvious here.

  5. I have become comfortably numb.