Friday, August 25, 2006

Smug SMUMs
Today, a non-TV topic. In this past Saturday's Globe and Mail, the ever-original Rebecca Eckler decided to write a feature on SMUMs, or "smart, middle-class, uninvolved mothers." Becks didn't mention that the piece had already been written by someone else for the L.A. Times on August 5th. Both articles were influenced by Helen Kirwan-Taylor's confession in Britain at the end of July. (Good to see Ecky is coming up with unique topics, as always.) All of these articles were written to one end: to see how many angry mothers could fill the letters to the editor pages with their anger and fury. And, as I roll my eyes, I shall now weigh in. ;)

Several things bother me about the attitudes brought forth in these articles. First, you have these "moms" coming forward saying, "Hey, motherhood is BORING and EXCUUUUUSE ME if I don't find every waking moment of my child's existence completely exhilarating." What? Not every waking moment of motherhood is full of happiness and light?

Duh. And guess what: not every moment of marriage is full of kisses and roses. If these women think they're offering the revelation of the century, they haven't been hanging around enough mothers. Of COURSE parenthood has its moments of boredom. But my problem with these articles is that the women are suggesting EVERY moment of parenthood is boring, and they're snubbing any woman who thinks differently. My response to that is, Then maybe you should go out and find an imagination. Sure, sometimes I'm standing in the playground with my daughter while she's climbing the slide for the umpteenth time and wants to go down and I'm thinking of other things I'd rather be doing, but A) her face as she goes down the slide makes it all worth it, and B) I can't stop thinking that some day she'll look at me and go, "Playground? Are you KIDDING ME?" and I'll long for the days when something as small as going down a slide was endlessly fascinating to her.

But these moms don't stop there. They dub themselves SMUMs, and take pride in the fact that they have nannies raise their children (their claim, not mine), that they've bowed out of their child's milestone moments to go get highlights put in their hair, and that they'd rather be with their friends than with their children. The real jaw-dropper is the woman who says that she took three months of maternity leave for each of her children, and then stuck them with a nanny to do the rest of the job. The question is, Why did you have more than one child?! As my husband put it when he read these stories, clearly these women see their children as accessories, as little trophies of privilege. They believe in some insane notion that if you get married, you have to have the kids, even if they bore you to tears (their phrase, not mine).

These women are parading their "uninvolved" status in their children's lives as feminism, as if being a loving, caring, involved mother is somehow anti-feminist. Those women who spent years in university only to become a stay-at-home mom are clearly just giving in to a paternalistic society who forces them to stay barefoot and pregnant in a kitchen.

But it's these self-proclaimed SMUMs who are the anti-feminists. Rather than just stating, "Hey, I'm bored by my kids, and that's that," they have to make a pre-emptive strike, lashing out at the moms who might have a problem with what they're saying. They've deemed mothers who might have a problem with their statements SCAMs (the statement is obvious), or "smart, child-centred, active moms" whom one SMUM defines as "the superachieving moms who hand-letter birthday invitations, spend their days in imaginative play with their toddlers, bake from scratch and joyfully embrace each moment spent with their supergifted offspring."

So either you're completely uninvolved in your child's life completely, and would rather be partying it up with your girlfriends, or you're a smothering Mrs. Cleaver meets that woman who runs the Baby Einstein corporation. There's no in between, according to these articles.

I don't bake from scratch. I do play with my toddler, but not all day. I emailed my daughter's birthday invitations. But yes, I do embrace each moment spent with my daughter.

Do I judge SMUMs? Yes, I do. Am I judging them for their admission of child boredom? No, because I think it's a fair thing to say. What I dislike is that they have to take it SO far, and say they'd rather be in a hairdresser's shop than with their child, that they'd rather have another woman raise their children than do it themselves, that they constantly long for days when they could just go to a movie at the drop of a hat. THAT is what bothers me. Have they considered all of those women who have been trying for years to get pregnant, to no avail? I bet they'd LOVE to be bored by their children right now. Do they stop to see the hypocrisy in their statements? That, "Hey, if you want me to believe that you love every moment of sitting on your couch watching your kid watch Barney, then you are LYING" attitude that they take? They are judging ME. And all of the other moms who are offended by these statements.

Yes, I went back to work after I had my daughter, but only after spending nine months on maternity leave (my husband took the next three) and agonizing over leaving her with someone else. I often question the fact that I'm making money working in publishing while someone else is content to make money taking care of my child, and think, what is WRONG with me, that I'M not the one taking care of her? Yes, often in the middle of the night when she wakes up yelling for me, I nudge my husband and say, "YOU do it" and go back to sleep, but when it's my turn, I tell myself over and over again as I sit in there rocking her back to sleep, "Soon she'll be too big to do this. Enjoy it while you can, or you'll regret it later." And I do enjoy every minute of it.

Yes, parenthood is boring for a small percentage of the time. Bravo to the women who say that, who say, "You know, sometimes I think about my old life and I really miss it," because so many of us have. But when you decide to take it to the next level, and hurl insults and stupid acronyms at those who disagree with you, you're taking it too far. These "uninvolved" mothers should shut up, not because they don't have a right to their opinions, but because they're not stopping to think about what those now-published opinions will do to their children many years down the road, who grew up being put to bed by their nannies while their mothers were off apparently pushing feminism forward by writing about how boring those children were to them.


Anonymous said...

Eckler is an idiot.

The Chapati Kid said...

I second that that. Also, spot on, Nikki. I may not be a mum, but it appears that babies are the new trophies. Next they'll be mounted and pinned to walls. What is UP with Eckler? Motherhood (according to all my mummy friends) is often frustrating, but ultimately rewarding. It's also the most unselfish, unconditional expression of love in the world. Yeah. Give me highlights over that one.

Anonymous said...

I tell you, women like that are the reason I'm seriously considering staying away from the feminist movement all together. Unfortunately, this is the generational flaw in many of the past movements - the whole notion of "feminism" as "selfish" rather than as "strong women". These women are far from strong. In fact, they are showing weakness by stating that they are incapable of actually taking responsibility for their choices. "Let someone else deal with it." How very smug. How very Leah McLaren. The whole "selfish feminism" label is a dangerous one. It will come back to haunt them. I think you do a great job balancing both (having seen you do it ;) and as a writer who has worked with you (Alias, anyone?) I can tell you that I'm glad you're speaking out about this. I know a whole range of women who are actually choosing to shift their career focus to be with their kids. They are strong women. The women who whine and complain then shuffle their kids off because they're boring will be spending lots of money in the near future on therapy for their children.

Nikki Stafford said...

Great comments so far. This past Sunday and Monday my husband and I went up to Muskoka for 2 days to just relax while my daughter was staying with my in-laws. It was SO strange not to have a day structured by a 10:30 snack, 1pm nap, 3pm wakeup, 4:30 snack, 7:30 bedtime, etc., and at times we found ourselves bored because we DIDN'T have Sydney around, not the other way around. On Monday, my husband said to me, "So, what was it like to sleep in until 9:00 without anything waking you up for the first time in 2 years?" and I said it was nice, but I missed the little arms around my neck at 5:30 in the morning and Syd whispering, "Hi Mommy" in my ear before going back to sleep. Anyone who finds that somehow boring or invasive, or would take the sleep-in over it, should just make the decision not to have the kids.

I just don't know why parents have to divide themselves over the topic of their children rather than unite. It's ridiculous.

poppedculture said...

The problem, as I see it, is you continue to read Rebecca Eckler! Serves you right, you should know better.

Secondly, I'm sure you traded the toddler structured day for a golf structured day, but that's just me editorializing. ;)

On a more serious side, as a soon-to-be daddy (and possibly a stay at home one at that) I expect my life will change and even though I don't know how, I'm looking forward to those moments, boring and otherwise. And why not? How exciting is anyone's regular routine anyway?

Nikki Stafford said...

You're right, and it's a very, very bad habit of mine. Eckler's very existence is to cause controversy and stir up anger among her readership, and I, like a cow to the slaughter, am right there being sucked right in. Her articles have always been like car accidents to me, and I cannot turn away. It's almost like I NEED her to give me something to bitch about for the rest of the weekend. ;) But yes, I really must stop.

Jonathan said...

I met a woman last year who was articling at a firm, and she told me that she had a baby less than a year ago. She said after having the baby, she stayed home, but after THREE WEEKS, got really bored, so her parents housekeeper/nanny came over to take care of it, and she got a job at the law firm. She told me she was much happier, and said it was so much better to see the baby at night, because then she looked forward to seeing it.
She said a lot of other really stupid things that day, so part of me thinks the child is better off being raised by the nanny. :)