Monday, February 05, 2007

The Momtini Wars

Mothers: Have you ever thought about what might happen to your children while you are asleep during the night? Or when you are in the bathroom (unless you bring the kids in with you, every time)? Perhaps you should not sleep. One of your children might have a heart attack or develop a sudden fever and succumb to it before you wake up.

Do you have a car? A driver's license? A home resuscitation team handy? If you don't, you are a very bad mother. What will happen if your child suddenly gets sick? What are you gonna do? Get a cab? Bad mother!

You may be thinking that I've gone crazy, but I'm just reporting on the momtini wars: the Today Show (in late January) which decided to do a story about stay-at-home mothers drinking during playdates. "Decided to do a story" is exactly how they went about it, and it was specifically "mothers" who were to be evaluated as to how good caretakers of their children they might be after a glass of wine:

Well, the Today Show wasn't kidding around when they put together this "trend" piece more or less alleging that mothers who have a glass of wine while their kids are playing nearby are bad caretakers. The story implies they don't just drink, they get drunk: "There are safety issues to consider. Who would drive to the hospital if a child were hurt?"

That there was a subtext to the program is supported by this statement from one of the mothers who were contacted by its producer:

In the beginning they wanted to come and film my playgroup for the piece. Since our kids are now all in school full time, we don't have a weekly playgroup anymore so this was problematic. I suggested a more 'happy hour' gathering where we'd meet after school and our husband's would swing by after work for our usual family pizza night. Alicia [the NBC producer] said the mixing of dads would 'taint' the story (Read: "Make the subject more palatable because men keep their women in line and they have an auxiliary liver in their penises.") So I told Alicia it just wasn't going to work out.

Sheesh. Another one of those fake trends. Fathers would "taint" the story, because either fathers are allowed to drink or fathers are assumed to keep the mothers' drinking under control or, most likely, fathers are not seen as responsible for the children 24/7 so it doesn't matter what they do.

But mothers are on duty 24/7, and everybody can have an opinion on how they should act. This opinion is almost always that mothers should be perfect. Nothing less falls short and can be criticized. A good mother should lie in bed at night worrying about the possibility that an airplane might crash on the nursery. A good mother should imagine every possible if ever-so-unlikely risk her children might have, and a good mother should sacrifice everything, including all personal life, to prevent such risks.

I find it ironic in a very unpleasant way that now it is the stay-at-home mothers who are being criticized by the mother-the-madonna-or-the-whore school. We already know that this school finds all employed mothers to be heartless egomaniacs who have abandoned their children somewhere along the road to careers and to a paycheck, but it used to work as a defensive shield to stay at home. This is no longer true. Now the binoculars of the critics are aimed straight into the living-rooms and bedrooms and nurseries of all mothers.

I will now take a deep breath and say all the expected and moderate things I'm expected to say. Of course getting drunk while taking care of children is bad. Of course alcoholism is a terrible thing and having alcoholic parents is not good for the children at all. And of course it is a good thing to talk about how drinking and driving or being in charge of small children doesn't mix. But to then imply that there is no safe limit to the number of drinks a woman at a playdate can have? And to say nothing about the drinking that both parents might do after the father gets back from work (who's going to drive to the hospital?)? Or the father's drinking when he is in charge of the children? Or those similar risks caused by sleeping I mentioned at the beginning of this post?

No, the story is not about alcoholism per se. It is about women without a male supervisor possibly drinking and having fun while the Puritan ethic says that they should be suffering or at least feeling like they are performing some boring duties. The story is about the Mommy Wars, and the only new twist it has added to these wars is that now there are hardly any good mothers left at all and that everybody and their uncle Bob can criticize mothers while doing none of the duties themselves.