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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Mileage May Vary

Jacinta Tynan wrote an article. She thinks parenting is a breeze, and everyone should stop whining. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/lifematters/is-motherhood-really-that-hard-20100802-1131y.html

To her I say this, for all the parents out there:
There is a popular saying on the internet - YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary. This apology for given advice based only on individual anecdotes and experiences is something Jacinta Tynan may do well to remember the next time she feels the urge to tell mothers to "quit moaning."

To go even further and imply selfishness or self-absorption in mothers who may be having a rougher time than you is crass and short-sighted. It is a short leap from Tynan's words and implications to this message: if motherhood is so hard for you, obviously your kids are not important enough to you. Is this a message she sent with her words? No. Did it take me long to get there? No.

Tynan’s attitude is based on being a mother for only nine months – and of an easy baby who cannot yet crawl at that. One of my friends who is both a mother and a runner likened parenthood and infancy to a marathon.

"[Tynan] is just getting past the first mile wanting to know what the runners at miles 5, 10, and 20 are complaining about. Every woman starts this marathon at a different place. Some come in with the best running shoes money can buy, a backpack stuffed with power bars and a tube of water running into their mouth. Some women come to the race in flip flops or barefoot. Some women come to the race malnourished to begin with or low on energy already.

Both Tynan and I are television journalists. While we may not connect on a mothering level, we do share professional experience. So that I understand perfectly when she says, " Like most mums I have to 'juggle' – just as I was warned – often presenting six hours of live TV news in a fog of sleeplessness." (Although, very likely I would have used the word sleepiness, instead of sleeplessness.) But that may be where our similarities end.

I have twin two-year-old girls. When they were nine months old, I found them both easy and hard, both frustrating and rewarding. Now that they are two, I find the same. Was my ride as easy as Tynan's has been thus far? Probably not. At nine months, my children were the size of three-month olds having been born prematurely. They had reflux, and, yes, my clothing was covered in vomit at all times. I even began to like the smell of "milk pukies."

I may, perhaps, have complained about their reflux. I may have complained about their constant waking, about trying to keep them on a schedule, about juggling two babies in my arms, about feeding and nursing and cleaning and cooking and working - full time - for a television news station. I may have complained about these things, it's true. However, I never, not once, compared my hardships to those fighting cancer. I never compared my trials to those of a woman having trouble conceiving. In my mind, those types of battles are incomparable and analogies like that are hurtful not only to the mother having a tough time but also to the cancer survivor and the woman struggling with infertility.

My mileage on this road of motherhood is still in its beginning stages. My children have yet to learn to talk. They're years from school. Soon they will be teenagers, bringing into my home an entirely different set of problems than crayon on the wall and marbles up the nose. Parenting doesn't stop after baby. Tynan will be a mother for the rest of her life. She may not want a medal after nine months, so we'll save hers for another 5, 10, 15 years. The road of parenting is bumpy, with lots of twists and turns - not everyone's straight and downhill sections occur at the same time.

As for the mothers who came before us, many things about parenting were different even as recently as 20 years ago. Our parents used different guidelines, practiced different methods, and had different outlets. If my mother had hardships when I was a young child, I would never know about it today, as Tynan clearly doesn't know about her own mother's hardships.

"My mum had six children, no help and, on occasion, a job. Yet she gave it her all with grace and joy. Our generation acts as if we deserve a medal."

I find it highly improbable that Tynan's mother, lovely as she must be, was able to give it her all with grace and joy, all of the time. I have a feeling it's far more likely that, given the different forms of outlets in those days, her mother's complaints and anxiety were simply less public.

For instance, in 1982 - the year I was born - one didn't have the internet within which to write down every fleeting thought. Even if my own mother had had a journal, it takes longer to write out a journal entry than it takes to type a blog, and those minutes can be precious in the early stages of parenthood. To assume our parents never complained to their friends and companions is, in my opinion, utterly naïve. Times are changing, outlets are changing, but, I dare say, the parenting hardships remain, including perhaps the simplest of hardships - the crying baby.

And while I thank Tynan for explaining to me that babies don't cry to annoy us – “they cry because they are hungry or tired and we are here to solve that..." - I am sure I am not her only reader who already knew that. Parents worldwide understand that babies cry because they need something; it's toddlers who cry when they simply want something, unfortunately for me.

I'm not angry that Tynan's experience with motherhood has been "a bit of a lark." I'm not upset that she chose to share her joyful experiences with a large audience. After all, many times what a woman needs most is a buoying story to build her up for her own day ahead with her own children and her own challenges. What I am trying to say is, it is not up to Tynan to tell other mothers that their complaints are invalid. It's not up to her to chastise, however gently, the very real hardships others may be experiencing. What I'm trying to say is your mileage may vary.

8 comments:

  1. Nice blog Dar....I agree with you, my mother was a single mother of 5 all within 4 yeas of each other (having had twins herself) and I remember just how tough it could be for her. Easy babies, if you are lucky enough to have them, are a breeze but colicky babies, or babies that are born with pre-existing issues that need medical assistance immediately, for example, my sister had to have surgery within 10 hrs of birth because of a problem she had. That is a very hard issue for a parent, on top of having two kids at home that are under three to take care of too. No one should ever assume that it is as easy for everyone as it may at this time be for them.

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  2. Tynan also misses a very important distinction between mothering experiences: special needs babies. Whether you define that solely as disabled children or whether you include personality types like "high needs" every mother must respect the fact that some babies are beyond "difficult" they actually require different parenting techniques. How arrogant and presumptuous (and naive) for her to assume that mothering a laid-back 9mos old is anything like parenting premature twins, a mentally disabled 4 year old, a bipolar 2 year old or a depressed 14 year old.
    She completely ignores the fact that she has not only an "easy" baby but an rather easy lifestyle: a partner, a lucrative job and high quality daycare. Good for her. Many others are not so blessed. How dare she ignore them. Not only are other parents experiences just as valid as hers, other parents LIVES are just as valid.

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  3. and yes, plenty of past generations complained about parenting; I've read stories (Elizabeth Bowman is one, Sylvia Plath another) and heard stories directly from senior parents. Just because SHE hasn't run across any senior parents who complain doesn't mean they don't exist.

    Its wonderful how parenting has created a cozy little bubble of happy-land for her, but everyone does not exist in that land all the time and its not because they can't see it.

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  4. This was great. This post is being linked around my facebook feed by various momma friends.

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  5. Thank you! Just because parenting is hard doesn't mean it's not enjoyable, and I'm so glad you liked it!

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  6. Man, that woman pissed me off, but all I had time for with MY 9 month old baby was to quickly scream at her article before having to chase baby down.

    You've eloquently untangled that scream.

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  7. I can see what this would make a mother a little angry....but if it inspired you to blog, then maybe it has some purpose? Happy SITS day! I love your blog! And as for parenting, it is the hardest job I've done (b/c it means the most to me, perhaps), but also the most rewarding.

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  8. Thanks for linking up your first ever post - you will see there is always something going on over at my blog - hope you make lots of new friends with the various link ups - check back often ... but I will remind you by computermail (just warning you!)

    and now your first evah post has another COMMENT!

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