A bracing, hilarious manifesto for motherhood as it ought to be: spontaneous, loving, and just a little bit selfish
Pre-chewing toddler food. Flash cards for two-year-olds. Endless hours of school gatherings to sit through in smiling silence. How did motherhood―which even under the best circumstances comes with a million small costs and compromises―become a venue for female martyrdom, verging on a sort of socially approved mass masochism? How did the great natural force of maternal love get channeled into a simpering, slavish adherence to an inflexible social norm, a repressive sentimentality festooned with hideous pastel baby accessories? How did the bar to good motherhood get set so high that it's impossible for modern mothers not to feel like they're failing?
It doesn't have to be this way―and Daisy Waugh is here to tell us how to opt out of the masochism cycle. Part feminist manifesto, part hilarious rant, The Kids Will Be Fine asks modern mothers to stop confusing love with subjugation. This is a book for moms everywhere who are fed up with the constant stream of unsolicited, impractical, guilt-inducing advice directed their way; for moms who have always secretly suspected that children would turn out okay even without handmade organic snacks or protective toddler headgear. With biting wit and lancing observations, Waugh gives women permission to slough off the judgments, order in some pizza, and remember that motherhood is also about the mother.
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Daisy Waugh is a weekly humor columnist writing on family for The Sunday Times of London, among other publications, a presenter on BBC radio, and a novelist. She lives in London with her husband and three children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Some Potentially Liberating Observations
Researchers have found that children born to older mothers have stronger language skills and face fewer social and emotional problems compared to children born to younger mothers.
Recent studies show that children of older mothers are more at risk for autism.
Studies have shown later development, poor verbal skills, and lower test scores of children whose mothers returned to work in the early months of their babies’ lives.
Researchers have found that mothers who are overinvolved or overprotective during the early stages of a child’s development can increase the risk for anxiety later in the child’s life.
Recent studies have shown that babies who are breast-fed exclusively for the first six months of life are at greater risk for developing nut allergies.
Recent studies show that infants who are breast-fed are less likely to suffer ear infections.✻
It is tempting when trying to make a point (especially an argumentative one: namely, most of what follows) to do a quick foray through Google in search of a study or statistic to back it up. Look hard enough and there will almost certainly be one. And although studies per se are clearly a good thing when used to illustrate a strong point of view, they are probably best taken with a pinch of salt. The above selection of beguiling but contradictory information took me about half an hour to cobble together while waiting for my yoga class to begin.
There are lies, there are damn lies, and there is Google for some slick-sounding studies to back them up. I am going to resist the temptation to bamboozle us all with studies.✻
I was at a working lunch not so long ago, sitting at a big table, surrounded by clever, accomplished men. In a roomful of twenty or more, only four of us were women: an Estonian intern in her early twenties who didn’t seem to speak any English; an expert of some kind, a gentle, unassuming woman; a secretary to the man hosting the lunch; and me, out of my depth, outnumbered, and a bit distracted. But the food was good, and it made a change from writing.
One of the guests was an expert on welfare reform. (This story gets better.) He was a highly respected gentleman with a mean mouth, I noticed, and a good suit; he was advising the current government, as he had the last, on sundry initiatives related to welfare-dependent single mothers. Maybe—who knows?—some of his illiberal-sounding initiatives might indeed prove helpful one day, but in my heart I doubted it, if only because of the scorn-filled tone he used to discuss them. He had statistics aplenty and an unshakable confidence in his own rectitude, and also a noticeable dislike for the people he proclaimed himself so keen to help.
In any case, call it sentimental (I’m sure he would), but it seemed to me that, statistics or no statistics, any child-rearing initiatives devised by men with mean mouths and smart suits enjoying extravagant weekday luncheons in Mayfair dining rooms where there weren’t enough women present were unlikely to bring much wisdom or kindness to the effort.
The main gist of the man’s intended reform was faintly reminiscent of that creepy Tom Cruise film Minority Report, in which, thanks to a brilliant fortune-telling computer, government officers could incarcerate villains for “pre-crimes” before they’d had a chance to think of committing them. The mean-mouthed man wanted to send parental instruction officers—I’m not sure what name he had devised for them—into the homes of young, single mothers who looked as though they might yet prove unfit for the difficult task ahead. These girls, the men around me agreed, simply hadn’t the faintest idea what was required of them, and they needed to be told.
Quite quickly, the conversation took what I felt was a nasty turn; if I’d known I was going to write about it later, I would have made notes. At the time, I sat as politely as I could while the steam began to whistle inside my ears. Mr. Thin Lips delivered his statistics and anecdotes with a sneering viciousness, and the clever men of Mayfair—of all political persuasions—nodded and sighed and rolled their eyes at the desperate state of the masses until the plates were cleared for dessert.
What these mothers needed . . . What these girls failed to appreciate . . . What these women had to be made to understand . . . Some of these little children, we were told, arrived at school having been so horribly neglected by their so-called mothers, they couldn’t recognize their own names. They couldn’t dress themselves. They weren’t potty trained. They’d never laid eyes on a book. Many of them couldn’t even speak properly. The single skill guaranteed to these children, it seemed, was the ability to open a large package of potato chips.
God knows there are some cruel and irresponsible mothers out there, and I’ve no doubt that in the course of his research, Thin Lips had encountered more than most. But something in the tone of these men, how lightly they dismissed these apparently hopeless women, how easily and complacently they judged and damned their maternal efforts, crystallized an irritation that had been bubbling away for years. I have to say that the anger I felt, listening to them sneering and despairing from their easy moral high ground, took me quite by surprise. You know how it is: one minute, you’re sitting quietly, slightly intimidated, listening to the experts. The next minute, it occurs to you that some of these emperors at the table might, in fact, be naked. I looked at these men, from one to the next, and I wondered which of them had played what kind of a role in the potty training of their own wretched toddlers.
More to the point: What was the longest stretch of time spent by any one of these men, absolutely and entirely alone, with a child under two years old? A single morning? A weekend? Maybe even one whole, long, nightmarish week? Perhaps a wife had been in the hospital, the mother-in-law was dead, there were no sympathetic neighbors or sisters, no nannies available. . . . But even then (I thought), they would have known that such an arrangement was temporary. Some ghastly mismanagement on the part of someone else, probably female, had led them to this unavoidable situation. But it would be okay, because everyone would feel sorry for them and laugh indulgently at their incompetent efforts. And in any case, even a week of solitary potty training is bearable for a clever fellow in a suit, if he knows that, come Monday, he’ll be safely back at his piss-and-puke-free desk, engaging his brain and, above all, feeling guilt-free leaving the potty training to somebody else.
Anyway, after several long minutes of listening quietly and smiling pleasantly at this VIP lunch, I started to feel so angry that my vision began to blur. “You go on as if these women were barely human!” I burst out, before I had quite noticed I was speaking. “But you don’t seem to realize that the very fact that these chip-eating children still exist by school age is a testament . . .”—I didn’t put it quite as neatly as this—“. . . the mere fact that these children made it as far as elementary school at all is a testament to their mother’s love. You’re all sitting around sneering, but do you have the faintest idea how much effort and care is required simply to keep a baby alive?”
I said something along those lines, and I definitely said the bit about them sitting around sneering, thereby declaring war on the entire room. I rounded off my speech with a sweetener, a nugget of humor I thought might help smooth things over, while also, pretty much, summing up. “What I’m trying to say is . . . maybe a few rotten apples, like Stalin, for example . . . but on the whole, in general . . . I bet the Russians love their children, too.”
They looked angry and confused. “You’re coming at the whole matter of motherhood from the wrong angle.” (I tried again.) “You may not approve of what their children eat. But these women aren’t raising children for your benefit and approval. They love their children. Even if you can’t understand how or why.”
To be clear, this book isn’t about men. They are the least of our problems. I’m only setting them up as a common foe, so that the rest of us—the ones actually doing the potty training or feeling guilty about employing someone else to do it—can be loosely united, no matter what we feed our children, how hard we work or don’t work, how too old or too young we may be. This is a book in defense of mothers everywhere who have had enough of the constant commentary—the stream of unsolicited, sentimental, impractical, and guilt-inducing advice on something that we might do far more enjoyably (and far better) left to our own instinctively irritable and lazy but loving devices.
Not all mothers love their children, of course. And I pity the infinitesimal few who can’t, though not as much as I pity their offspring. But I don’t speak for them, only for the rest of us: for that truly vast majority of women who, in our own imperfect and infinitely varied fashions, in the privacy of our heads and hearts, love our children fiercely and without the smallest shadow of doubt, yet who nevertheless sometimes feel the need to go to extravagant and impractical ends to prove it—not to ourselves, or to our children, but to an ever more censorious and sentimental outside world.
Modern parenting—like the men at lunch—disapproves of idiosyncrasy. It requires all of life to be laid flat and bite-size at the altar of a child’s serenity. Leaving aside the spirit-sapping assumption that serenity is the be-all and the end-all of a well-lived life, it fails to take into account that loving mothers and their beloved children often want different things from the world, and from each other, too. We don’t have to dance to an identical jig. In fact, if I may say so, we damn well don’t have to jig at all.
And yet as the civilized world continues on its long and laudable trek toward greater tolerance in other forums, the Good Mother prototype seems to have got stuck—or worse, actually: it seems to have regressed, becoming ever more rigid and one-dimensional, to the point where even the smallest aberration from the simpering, slavish norm is scowled at. As any pregnant woman who dares to drink alcohol in a bar soon discovers. Such minor lapses in personal, prenatal care (if lapses they are at all) are now monstrous crimes: monstrous enough for total strangers to feel comfortably within their rights to approach and remonstrate.
We live, for the most part, in an unself-consciously selfish society. That’s the way it is. It’s how we’ve evolved and learned to survive. But future mothers are meant to set themselves apart: to forget everything we’ve been taught about the importance of “self-actualization,” of “life being a journey,” “fulfilling our potential,” and so on—to cast all that aside and fix a hurried halo over our heads. Hopes and dreams, personal tastes and individual requirements—all the things that raise us above animals and make us human—become not simply irrelevant but faintly embarrassing. It’s as if their mere existence might somehow undermine not only a mother’s gratitude for the gift of giving life, but the magnificence of Mother Love itself.
What we have, for the most part, is repressive sentimentality, a smiling acceptance of female martyrdom that teeters, at times, beyond martyrdom into a sort of approved mass masochism. It’s creepy. And it reaches its creepiest, most perverted climax in the delivery room, where women, for reasons that have never made any sense to me, are encouraged to endure the extraordinary pain of labor without calling on the perfectly safe and incredibly effective painkillers that we all know to be available.
I have three children. During labor for the first (before I knew any better), so pumped up was I, with nerves and hormones and fear of disapproval, that I allowed the midwife to negotiate me out of an epidural and into a hideous birthing pool. She said I was very lucky one had come free. So I lay in this idiotic tub, naked, frightened—and in agony—while my husband and the midwife stood awkwardly side by side looking down at me. Painful. Humiliating. Lonely.
But we learn. By baby number three I knew exactly what I wanted. And though the doctor rolled her eyes and looked queasy, and told me that “only the middle-class women” insisted on epidurals (perhaps because only the middle-class women are confident enough to demand them?), the hospital eventually relented. Better still—I had a husband who traveled, other children to care for, and I was living in a place far away from family and friends, so I had something called a “social induction.” In other words, I was given drugs specifically so that the baby was born at a time to fit with my schedule. And—bless that scruffy little hospital—before anyone even gave me the induction drugs, they fitted me up with an epidural. Which meant, reader, a 100 percent pain-free delivery, at a time that suited me.
The midwife was an older woman: earthy, gossipy, and warm. We chatted up to the last minute about all sorts of things—her grandchildren and my children, The Apprentice. . . . At some point our conversation was interrupted by one of those shattering, agonized screams the likes of which you hear only on battlefields (I imagine) and on delivery wards where they’re being stingy with the epidurals. The woman in the room next door, I was told, had “opted” for a “natural delivery.” So natural, her screams made the flimsy walls between our two rooms shake. As the screams faded, and the poor woman paused for the panting exercises they no doubt told her would help with the next agonizing round of contractions, my midwife gave a merry, bosomy chuckle and shook her head.
“Another natural childbirth,” she laughed. “I don’t know why they bother.” It’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since about so many of the aspects of modern motherhood that we’re told to adhere to.
As I typed these words, I received an e-mail from a friend, written in hurry and rage, with a Web link to a precious-looking book called Recipes from My Mother for My Daughter. I will quote the e-mail verbatim: “For God’s sake, look at it! Even the cover is so SANCTIMONIOUS! I’m pretty sure her mother never made anything with mascarpone anyway, because even garlic was barely even invented in the UK till the end of the bloody 70s!”✻
What are children for?
Depends who’s asking, doesn’t it: the CEO of Toys “R” Us, Sir Jimmy Savile, you, me, Joseph Kony, or the pope. Broadly speaking, I suppose, children aren’t really “for” anything much, except for growing into adults so that they can have children of their own and perpetuate the human race. Which is nice.
But it doesn’t really explain why, as individuals, we continue to go to the inconvenience of bringing our own children into the world. “Perpetuating the human race” was not even at the bottom of my list of reasons for having children. It didn’t feature at all.
Bearing in mind what an appalling impact children have on our finances, sex lives, friendships, ambitions, our bodies, and our freedom—and bearing in mind the overwhelming sense of doom: the black cloud of world-at-an-endness that hovers between the Western consciousness and its broken ozone layer—and bearing in mind that the planet is already horribly overpopulated, that Venice is sinking, the ice caps are melting, the welfare state is unaffordable, the politicians are crooks, the world economic contraction is a Braxton Hicks to what lies ahead, that retirement’s a pipe dream, and we...
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Book Description Metropolitan Books, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M1627790128
Book Description Metropolitan Books, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # INGM9781627790123
Book Description Metropolitan Books, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P111627790128