Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

An Incidental Mother

Nobody COOL ever had a happy mother.

Some are born mothers, some achieve motherhood, and some have motherhood thrust upon them.

In strictly historical terms, most women probably had motherhood thrust upon them, what with a lack of reliable birth control for the first couple of thousand years of our species. Only recently has motherhood been one of many options for females who want to fool around. In the past, it was pretty much how my grandmother (mother of nine) described it: “If you wanna have sex, then you’re gonna stay home for the next twenty years.” I thought she meant “stay home” as in “luxuriate in a totally fulfilling domestic environment” when what she meant was “not leave the house without a small child attached to your person until you hit menopause.” Only in her later years did she sum up her own childbearing philosophy: “Everybody thought I was sexy. But, to be honest, I was only very bad at math.”

As I said in the previous post, I am quite happy as a stepmother, but I have never been a mother. Sometimes that’s hard to explain, which is weird, really—people look at you like you’re missing a limb, or not quite human, or as if you should be pitied, or as if you are a monster who might eat their children when you explain you don’t have kids “of your own” (this phrase amazes me, actually; I explain that my step-sons are indeed my OWN step-sons, but they don’t usually get the joke).

I am also what I call an “incidental mother.” And incidental mothering is one of the best things I do.

My suspicion is that “incidental mothering” is the best lots of women are cut out to do.

Not that I haven’t experienced what my friend S. calls “baby lust.” But just as almost everybody loves kittens (even those who don’t particularly like cats) everybody loves babies--even those who would not be especially good at the daunting and demanding job of actually raising them than to adulthood.

As an unbiased observer of children past the Baby-Gap stage, I can say without the risk of traumatizing any one individual: kids, especially after they exhibit signs of their actual personalities, are exhausting. For example, Heidi, a young friend from Columbia who has two little daughters, is currently trying to toilet-train them. From her account of this endeavor, it is simply astonishing that ANY of us are walking around without wearing either Pampers or Depends. I suspect that mothers everywhere deserve far more applause than anyone in a MBA program has EVER received for the accomplishment of helping the youth of America manage their own business.

Because I do not have small children to raise, I can also be as neurotic as I wish without fearing that a minor under my aegis will carry lifelong scars. This is important since children envision even the most normal of women as desperate creatures, which means that I would have been regarded with more than mild trepidation as a primary caregiver.

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Have you ever met an interesting person who declared, without hesitation, “My Mom? She was the happiest woman you could ever meet.” No, all intelligent children believe their mothers to be, at best, unfulfilled and, at worst, miserable, depressed, competitive, angry individuals who should be diagnosed with a borderline-personalitydisorder.

Put it this way: nobody COOL ever had a happy mother.

Yet few mothers have ever described themselves, at least in public, as  “wildly unhappy” about their assigned role as “mom.”

Line up the numbers and the meaning is clear: somebody is lying.

You think I’m exaggerating?

(Your correspondent is not passing judgment here; your correspondent is only reporting the facts.)

The point is that certain folks were chosen by destiny to be biological parents while other folks were chosen to listen to those parents when they needed to whine.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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