Monday, December 7, 2009

ON SPAWN AND ON AND ON AND ON


I pity women who become mothers and then allow all other affinities and ideas wither to death.

Am I saying that motherhood is mediocre and women who make that their profession are wretched and pitiable? No. And if that's what you think I would imply, you're the one that's pitiable.

Listen carefully: I believe that motherhood is a divine calling, and should you choose to be a stay-at-home mom, good for you. If you choose to be an out-of-the-home working mom, again: good for you. Do what your life dictates. Fulfill your needs. But be more than that which the needs of your children prescribe. Have hobbies, and, in conversation, cover more topics than just your spawn and their development. Notice the world outside your home. Please. Otherwise, how will you be able to teach your kids about what they'll encounter when they step out the front door?

I believe that a woman who is a mother can be more than a taxi-driver and spoon-feeder; and I believe that when she does keep her horizons wide she is doing her kids a great favor. Conversely, women who completely lose themselves in their children are doing their little 'uns a great disservice. They're showing their kids that there is nothing more in life than than one choice at a time. That's false. You can be a great mother and know how to talk about more than soccer games, first steps, and rice cereal.

How do I know this when I've never been a mom? I know because three of my greatest friends embody this type of behavior. Three women in three different stages of motherhood.

And without their permission, I'm going to talk about them.

One is my sister, Whitney--your favorite not-really-a-rookie chef. Whitney has two kids and another one to arrive around May 2010. Jack is four and Van will be 2 next June. When you first meet my sister you'll learn that she's a mom within the first bit of the conversation. It's what she does. It's her job. It's who she is. It makes sense that such a tidbit would make the top of your initial interaction. And though she's a committed mom, you'll find that she understands that not everyone cares about her eldest son's propensity to play fireman all day long. She'll ask what you do for a living or for enjoyment and will very quickly locate a point of interest the two of you can discuss whether or not it has to do with her kidlets.

Whitney and I have little more than blood and religion in common--she's a SAHM, while I am a corporate slave; she loves to cook, while I believe that if I end up in Hell I'll be stuck in a kitchen for eternity; I love yoga, while Whit's never been to a class; I have a dog, and she doesn't want one. All this and so much more define our differences, yet she is my friend and we can talk for hours. We talk about people. We talk about current events. We talk about what interests us individually. And we're both invested in the answers. Not because we're sisters but because we're bound in a friendship we both value.

She knows I love her sons, so she'll let me in on their latest, but she also knows that I have a hard time relating to motherhood, so she makes sure that we talk about more than just what she does during her day. I do the same when it comes to work. I give her the cursory stuff, trying not to bore her stiff with pharmaceutical minutiae. It's gracious.

She remembers what we talk about so that when we next interact she's able to follow up. It makes me feel important to her. I am positive that her kids are her number one priority, but through her recalling my tidbits, I'm also sure that she finds me valuable. It makes me that much more interested in asking after her day-to-day when I know that she cares about more than just herself and her offspring. Her responses aren't tiresome. She's well able to function in a world that doesn't make her kids the number one priority like she does. Unfortunately, I've not found that she's the majority of mothers. She's an exception.

Another exception is my friend, Rabidrunner. She's a mom of two boys as well. Hers are older than Whit's. One eight, the other a kindergartner. I know their names, but I'm not telling you. To you, they are Yahoo #1 and Yahoo #2 (Yahoo #2 possessing perhaps the most awesome voice I've ever heard).

Rabid has done a great job of being an attentive mom and still cultivating outside interests. She's a runner of terrific proportions. She's a photographer. She's a crocheting machine. She's fluent in present happenings the world wide and has informed opinions on such. And along with caring about her kids and Spouse, she has a heart large enough to make me, a familial outsider, feel special.

Again, this isn't the norm. I have acquaintances who have a kid or two and they have done a lousy job of integrating motherhood into their lives. They have a baby and then, a year or a few years later, they still have nothing else. The bits they once had are gone. No hobbies and no remaining friends that aren't also obsessed with their own offspring. That's fine, of course, for we all have our choices and I am a respecter of those decisions, but if you're going to fall into motherhood and never emerge or emerge with nothing but your kids' stats to talk about, keep your mouth shut. You're an egocentric bitch if you have nothing to offer the world aside from tidbits on your children. It's narcissistic and dull. No matter how cute and "advanced" your child is.

In living in the world and interacting with people of all sorts, we have to be able to discuss and show varied levels of interest on many topics. This means that I need to try to understand how important your kids are to you and somehow demonstrate I comprehend that value. My way of doing this is through remembering bits about your children and actively asking after them.

Whatever way it is that you show interest in other people's lives (because it's the polite thing to do)--whether or not they have children--do it; that's just the right way to interface with people of the planet. If it means that when I ask about your kids you don't take the next 30 minutes answering me, bless you; because although I inquired because I honestly care about the answer (to an extent, that is, for I'm not your kids' grandmother), it doesn't mean that you should doom me to a three-month play-by-play. Good manners shouldn't be punished.

My third example of reasonable motherhood is my own mother. Despite the fact that my mom spent the last 28 years rearing daughters, she managed to cultivate a set of killer skills. Specifically, she's written one book that's ready for publication and she's heading into her second.

She didn't get her writing skills from school, instead she used opportunities like church callings and employment at the elementary school her girls attended to better her ability to work words. She used her job as a mother to make the most of the talents God granted her.

To do so, she had to write. She had to read. She had to listen. And she had to talk about more than just her daughters. Had she spent the last 28 years blabbing only about her kids to all who'd listen and even to those who would have spent conversations wishing she'd shut up, she wouldn't have the writing ability she does today. Good writing takes living on more than one plane, and even though my mom did a terrific job showing her daughters the ropes, she did it while diversifying herself to a point that made her able to call herself a Writer.

She wasn't the mother that everyone dreaded talking to because they knew the conversation would revolve around MeganWhitneyCaitlynHaleyMalloryandLauren. For that, I'm incredibly proud of her. It means that today, when I'm able to call her more my friend than just Mom, talking with her has the kind of dimension I appreciate in a friendship.

I don't have kids, and I'm not the only one. If you have small ones (or big ones) and find yourself interacting with people outside your home, you're encountering plenty of folks who are without children, whether that be by their choice or inflicted unfortunate circumstance. If you come across those people, please don't make the mistake of thinking that they care about your kids just as much as you do. For perspective, consider that you really don't care about their job or their dog as much as they do.

As a parent, you have a choice: you can teach your kids that its important to know what matters to other people, or you can demonstrate to them that giving a damn about other folks' interests and being polite in talking about your own is trivial and without consequence regarding social success. If you go with the latter, you'll be wrong.

I'm fed up with making efforts for friends who have kids--remembering their kids' names, ages, and interests--while these "friends" cannot manage to remember the name of the company I work for. It's pathetic, selfish, and one heck of a disincentive for me to focus my intentions and monies on their family unit.

23 comments:

Lars said...

Amazing. This felt like an extension and elaboration on my theory to you once upon a time ago. At least the first bit. Time as in last Monday I believe.

Just an opinion here. I think the difference in the mothering styles you noted may come from life experiences as well as the environment one was raised in. As humans we all have the need to tell our story and have someone actually actively listen. For those mothers that explored and discovered who they were prior to birthing and rearing I think that is what makes the difference.

I am sure that it is their greatest blessing, that it is beyond difficult, but as with most things in life they realize that having kids IN THE NEST is just a phase and at one point they will transition and they sure as hell better have something to occupy their time when that transition comes. Ergo having the hobbies and the interests and the other pieces that help keep people in check and sane.

rookie cookie said...

You write such nice things about me. Thanks. I like when you write about me.

If I only had my kids in my life and nothing else, I would go insane. Why do you think I cook like the dickens? It's an extension of me and my talents. I have to have something like that or I hate having children. Being able to express myself as a woman makes me a better mother and wife. Your talents and interests as a woman benefit your family far more than not.

What do kid-obsessed mothers talk about with their husbands? Ethan loves the boys, but he doesn't care about Van's really gross diaper or how much Jack ate for lunch.

Even though I hate her, I am so glad I was friends with Shannon- you know the one. She helped me know exactly how I didn't want to be. She only talked about her kids. She couldn't stop. All she wanted to talk about was baby phases, baby food, toys, developmental music, play groups etc. She once asked me why I don't read books about parenting and I said because I don't need to. I don't need to talk about all of this stuff. You can only hash around opinions and ideas before you are wasting time. Plus, by the time you read about it and talk about it, your baby is finished with that phase and you have wasted all your time. Spend more time enjoying your children's personalities instead of checking off the developmental list, let natural development take place.

Maybe someday I will bombard this space with my opinions on natural development. I am full of perfect opinions on that.

rookie cookie said...

And question, are you talking about any person specifically in this post? I am trying to think of who you could be aiming this at and I am coming up blank.

Sparks said...

I love you because you know exactly who I'm talking about. That's the only reason I love you. Too bad she doesn't read my blog anymore. Someone should tell her that's she is now socially inept.

Tricia said...

sitting here wondering if I ever did that to anyone......bored them with boring kid info. I hope not. I know it takes me one full year after a baby to feel social at all, let alone have a hobby.

now that my kids are older, I have more time and desire to be well-rounded and it's mostly because there isn't a baby hanging off my boobage every 45 minutes. I see it from a different perspective, where your days run together, and you're in the trenches of motherhood. it does have a way of consuming you, and I can see how the divine calling can easily become a divine obsession over tiny beaded bracelets and gymboree coupons....therefore, that's where the conversation begins and ends.

it bugs me too, although I may have been guilty just a time or two....of exactly what you're talking about.

rabidrunner said...

I am so fired. I can't remember the name of the company you work for. I know the name of the company you used to work for, but not the current one. Fired. I do know the name of one of your drugs, so I can google it now and figure it out. That's cheating though. Feel free to retract all of those nice things you said about me.

Can we still be friends?

I think you've touched a problem with conversations in general. Any time you talk too much about any one topic, it becomes horribly dull and self-centered. I have friends that I run with who talk of nothing but running. Running this and running that. Drives me crazy. I'm not too hip about scheduling any time with them.

Another interesting thing about people who consume conversations over one specific thing, is that the conversations inevitably turn to either a brag fest or a competition.

"Well Johnny's been potty trained since he was 6 months. My labors were harder and stronger. I have all my babies natural and at home and while we finish projects around the house. Johnny's in the 80th percentile and is so smart that he's bored in school. I wash my baseboards every week as part of my general cleaning plan. I never use a towel more than once before washing it."

I could go on ferever.

Keli'i and Megan said...

I really, really enjoyed this post. One other thing that bugs me about kid-obsessed moms are that they never let their kids leave their sides...these moms refuse to find babysitters to spend one on one time even with their husbands...trust me, I know a lot of girls out there who do this. They're obsessed with being around their kids because they have NO idea who they are without them.

Their kids define them. And those poor kids...they're going to have some major responsibilities to uphold.

Sparks said...

Megan, I really hope that Whitney comes back to respond to your comment. She hates it when people won't get a sitter for their kids when they're going out with her and she did get a sitter. It ruins her time with them. She wanted a night without kids, spent the money to have it, and then you brought yours. How rude.

rabidrunner said...

Tricia... I believe we've all been guilty. I know I have. But the difference is in people who will admit it and move on and the people who continue the delusion that others are actually that interested in them. These people also fail to return the favor by not listening and not caring.

That sounded harsh. Not meant to be. It's just some people care about the people they spend time with and others do not. Listening shows that you care. Simple as that.

Andria said...

I have to say that I LOVE this post. I am probably the only one out of my high school friend that still hasn't had kids. They are now all on their 3rd or 4th. I have tried to remain friends with most of them, but there are certain friends I had to let go of for this exact reason.

I especially hate the people that have kids and say that they don't have time to call me back or email or even reply to a text because they are so busy now. As if I'm not. It's just really interesting to watch.

And I hope that when I become a mother, I keep my hobbies and my friends and that I still make an effort to make those I love feel special outside of talking about kids.

Sparks said...

Andria, I'd like to believe that if you make it a priority you'll be okay. Or at least that's what a therapist told me years ago.

And Rabid, I'm putting that on a shirt: Listening shoes you care.

Andria said...

I also just linked to this post. I hope that's okay.

Sparks said...

Not "shoes" you care. Shows. Shows you care.

Shoes could be cool though too.

And of course I don't mind, Andria. I'm flattered.

Misti said...

I'm knocking on 30's door and the baby things just keep coming faster and faster. It's like my life isn't somehow complete because I don't have a kid. I do want one, just not now. Some day I will get knocked up and you'll (a general you'll) know and until then shut up! ugh.

Jessica said...

The piece I find most difficult (and saddening) is that when women allow this type of thing to happen (for they do allow it), the pendulum inevitably swings the other way. At some point. And when it happens it isn't good for the woman or anyone involved.

Of course, balance is a tricky thing (as has been discussed in your Remarks), but striving for it is essential as a woman. As a person. With or without children.

Maria said...

I know way too many Moms that do nothing but obsess over their kids and cannot seem to find anthing else to talk about but them, and it is so very sad. I have four kids of my own, and do talk about them here and there, if I didn't it wouldn't be natural. They are a huge part of my daily life and much that goes on around here involves them. But, I have boundaries and know when enough is enough.

These same Mom's who talk incessantly about their kids, also seem to find it impossible to even think about leaving their kids with a babysitter so that they can have a date night. I actually had one Mom look at me with disgust when I told her we were using a new babysitter (was referred to us) one night as our regular one was not available. Like how could I even think of leaving my child with someone I had not met before. Really?

I seriously wonder how these women keep it together. I stay at home with my four kids, and I need to get out at least 2 times a month - if I didn't I think I would go crazy. Like send me right on over to the mental institute crazy. Don't get me wrong, I love my kids but I also need to detach from them on occasion to spend time with friends/my husband and get out of "mom mode". I truly believe getting out and away from my kids makes me a better Mom.

Oh - and one more point. These women also don't realize the damage they are doing to their marriages. They spend years and years doting and obsessing over their kids, and naturally forget about their husbands. What they forget about is that the kids eventually grow up and leave the house. Then they are left with their husband - the one they in a sense ignored for years and years because the kids were "more important." I have heard of many, many marriages ending because of this.

Sorry, that was a whole lot of rambling.

rookie cookie said...

Maria, I liked your rambling.

Like Megan said, I don't love it when people won't get a babysitter. I really like eating at a restaurant without children. Like it's my favorite thing to do. And the longer it lasts, the better. I think Ethan's and my record is 2 1/2 hours. Just sitting in a booth, eating slowly, talking about the food and of course our children. The rest of the week is better when we get out and leave the children with a sitter.

This weird friend Shannon that I used to have was weird. Her and her husband rarely went out because they felt guilty for not letting their kid in on the fun. They never went out to dinner alone and thought Ethan and I were selfish for going out once a week. The thought of them going on a vacation alone was completely out of the question. "No honey, I don't want to go to Hawaii, even if we have a sitter. I will feel so bad when little Whatever isn't sitting on the beach with us." Weird.

Anything in excess isn't good. Even if it's your children. Moderation and balance is the key to happiness.

NatTheFatRat said...

I have nothing witty to add except to say AMEN.

AMEN AMEN AMEN.

AMEN!

Keli'i and Megan said...

My very least favorite of all of this, though, is I have a friend who bore her testimony in Sacrament, on how grateful she is to be a SAHM, which is perfectly great. But then she went on to add how each mother who works should quit her job and be with her kids 100% of the time because God would be mad at us for neglecting our children. As a working mom, WHO HAS TO WORK, I thought that lame. Stupid and lame.

Keli'i and Megan said...

PS- I rather enjoy working from time to time. Does it mean I'm a bad mom? No. I think I'm better because I come back to my kids energized and refreshed and all the smarter from getting out and learning something new.

Rae Lynne said...

As a SAHM, I completely agree with this post and especially with what Rookie said:
"If I only had my kids in my life and nothing else, I would go insane."

Whatever the topic of the conversation, it has to be a give and take.

Jodi said...

The first part of your post struck a cord with me. I work in a treatment center for adolescent girls and I see exactly how damaging extreme mothering can be. Sad.

pink coffee photoart said...

amen-amen-amen!!!