Resenting Motherhood

I awfully much enjoyed this funny, revealing, wacky, heart-rending article about motherhood by Sandra Tsing Loh, but what about this sentence?
To be a mother—even simply to be a woman—in today’s world is to be made exhausted and resentful by a role or set of roles that we don’t recall deliberately choosing.
When I read this before Christmas I thought--Not Me.  I love being a mother. In fact, I love being a mother more than anything else.  I don't feel resentful about the role--in fact, I feel grateful.  Gratitude comes to mind all the time, in the middle of doing all sorts of things. 

So .... how is it that last night I was standing around in  the local Hobby Lobby feeling resentful?  You see, I was trying to find just the right model rocket for my son to take to school.  He couldn't come with me on the shopping trip, so I was yelling into a malfunctioning cell phone about rocket engines and skill levels, and all sorts of other tedious stuff.  It seems there was a sheet of paper he was supposed to have shown me, but didn't.

This brought to mind many other trips to places like that, like the time when my son had to make a model of the Roman coliseum.  I can't say that making a model of the Roman coliseum was really on my list of things to do -- er, help with.  How do you do it, anyway?  After hours of painful discussion and reading, $40 worth of supplies were purchased.  And no, my son didn't go home and cleverly build a coliseum while I sat back and read philosophy books. 

It isn't really anything inherent to parenthood that I resent (much less motherhood).  My husband and I resent the teachers who tell kids to go home and build a Roman coliseum.  We resent the fact that they tell kids to do science fair projects, knowing full well they're assigning the job partly to parents. We resent being expected to enforce the orders of teachers who never, ever ask for parent input. ("Parent Teacher Association"--bah! )  We resent having to crack the whip for hours every school night, getting our kids to complete the 50 math problems, or the endless, mind-numbing worksheets, or preparation for yet another state exam.  In short, we resent the way teachers invade family life, without always having a good reason for doing so.

But what about playing the basic role of mother? Is it really true that to be a mother is to be made resentful?  OK mothers, be honest.  Do you agree with Sandra?


Wayne said...

Wait... Why are you doing your kids' homework?! Isn't there something a bit unethical about that? (Not being a parent, I don't know... but I have an inclination that I probably wouldn't do it for them... help maybe, but build a colosseum? do their science fair project?)

Jean Kazez said...

Ah, you'll find out. Teachers assign things that kids simply cannot do on their own. Just not possible. All parents (ALL) help kids figure out what to do for the science fair project, how to build the Coliseum, etc. I would just love to have teachers change the assignments, so they can be completed from beginning to end by kids.

With ordinary homework I give my kids no help, but I do have to crack the whip to get them to start and stick with it. Ugh!

Wayne said...

But if you're going to buy them a kit to build a colosseum, can't you just tell them to follow the directions? And if they waited too long, wouldn't that be a good lesson in the perils of procrastination?

Sure parents can help with the science fair project (although my parents never did... but my science fair projects were usually optional, and the ones that I did turned out to be pretty shoddy because I was aiming way to high... With the exception of my candle and water trick, and my correct explanation of it rather than the usual explanation of it.)
but shouldn't the child be doing a good amount of the work? Constructing the thing, or gathering data, etc?

Jean Kazez said...

You think there's a kit for building a Coliseum? Are you kidding? No...the point is there's no kit You actually have an 11 year old who's supposed to make something that looks like the Coliseum from scratch. There has to be parental supervision.

Yes, the kid does the work, constructing the thing, gathering data, etc. But there's no way a half-way decent project is going to be done unless there's a certain amount of supervision from parents.

FYI--We are relatively hands-off. I think I exaggerated how much we do in the post. It was supposed to be funny, not literally true. There...I changed a few words. I think I was making myself look more involved than I really am.

The candle and water trick...cool!

By the way, my kids have done some cool science fair projects, and some of them completely on their own. Just thought I should say, before they read this and kill me.

Wayne said...

btw The usual explanation for the candle and water trick (light a candle on a plate of water, put a glass over it, the candle goes out, and water get sucked into the glass) is that the candle burns up the oxygen, and the water takes the place of the oxygen in the vacuum. But that doesn't work, since the oxygen isn't consumed, its converted into CO2. Actually there is more gas since there is vaporized wax in the glass too.

The resulting vacuum is created by the expansion of the air in the glass as you put the glass over the lit candle from the heat of the flame. When the flame goes out, the air cools, contracts, and sucks up the water.

But anyways.... back to the topic at hand, I think it would be hard not to be resentful partly because you put so much into child rearing, and the return is so intangible. But the costs are quite tangible to you.

Costs hurt us more than benefits help us in the subjective experience of them.

Unknown said...

My suspicion is that Sandra's comment is a gross generalisation. But then I am a father, and not a mother.

Here is one thought. Resentment by parents might be of particular contingent features of the parental role - like the perceived need to spend hours building model collisea. Alternatively, perhaps there are parents who resent motherhood (or fatherhood) per se, perhaps the dependency of another, or the responsibility, perhaps the loss of control over one's life.
But I suspect that the most common source of resentment or regret is negative, rather than positive. It is the absence of activities, roles and freedom that were enjoyed prior to becoming a parent, or are enjoyed still by parentless peers.
I think that this sense, that life would or could have been quite different is one that all parents share.
I do not resent or regret for an instant my own becoming a parent. But that does not stop me from acknowledging that it has prevented me from doing a large number of things that I would otherwise have enjoyed.


Jean Kazez said...

Hey, we'll have to try that!

Re: tangible results. So we wound up with a pretty good $40 Roman Coliseum, and what happened to it? We threw it out during a massive room clean up recently. You're right about the difficulty of identifying benefits. It's not like we now own a model of the Coliseum, but is the kid in a better position to tackle life because of this experience? Er...let's hope so.

s. wallerstein said...

I'm a father, not a mother, but I did play the role of single-parent for over a year when my son's mother was in England. No, I never felt resentful, but I did avoid building colisea and other bothersome school tasks. Given stupid homework, I always advised my son to take shortcuts, and I never demanded high grades, just that he passed the year, since I considered and consider school to be just plain stupid. Life is too short to waste it on stupidities.

Melissa said...

I don't feel resentful about my role as a mother, however I can empathize with article and I do see how there are plenty of issues parents (mothers especially) quite rightly feel resentment over. For example, shouldn't we as a society formally teach young people what it means to be a mother -- the nuts and bolts of it all, the work involved. Perhaps have teens study the opinions and writings of various women/feminists about what it means to be a mother. Discuss in great detail how a mother's time is spent, and so on. At least then perhaps young women will be better equipped to make the more conscious decision whether or not motherhood is for her. Perhaps then women will have less reason to feel resentment. Generally, the issue of motherhood is ignored (it's just not taken seriously enough), however the internet is changing all that for the better I think. But we should be teaching this stuff in schools, shouldn't we?

Really, most of us enter motherhood with faith that it will all just work out, but it's not always that easy for everyone. I feel fortunate in that I want to be a mother. I am not terribly concerned with being a "perfect" mother in the eyes of others, I just want my children to feel loved, safe, secure, supported and all that good stuff. I'm not a Buddhist, or religious, or a believer of any type, however I love how "mindful parenting" has helped me. (Mommy Mantras by Bethany Casarjian, Ph.D & Diane Dillon, Ph.D is one of my favorite books.)

Homework is for the dogs! I do not understand why teachers pile it on as they do. Children are at school all day and then are expected to work more at home. I don't feel comfortable with that.

Jean Kazez said...

Dom, Yes, it seems like a big overgeneralization. I'd be awfully surprised if that sentence really struck a chord with the majority of mothers. (Hmmm...maybe I should create a poll and find out.) Yes, I can see how lost opportunities and roles, etc., COULD create resentment, but only if you didn't choose that or didn't go into it knowingly. Resentment implies a certain sense of powerlessness, I think.

I really am powerless where school and homework are concerned...so (grr) resentful.

Melissa--At my kids' school the 13 year olds have to spend a week carrying around a baby doll that's been filled with a 10 pound bag of flour. (seriously) This is supposed to teach them that having a baby wouldn't be such a good idea. I think the boys have to do this too (not sure). No reading opinions and writings, just carrying the flour baby!

Laugh, groan, resent...

Unknown said...

I always thought the flour baby assignment doesn't quite capture the baby rearing experience (not that I've experienced it first hand). I think instead, kids should be forced to carry around water balloons. Not super thin ones, but not impossible to burst either. And somehow at random intervals, the balloon should leak. And it should be filled with water perfumed with some kind of fecal matter.

There should also be a little electronic device that makes it randomly scream during the night.

Flour is just too clean.

rtk said...

I am a resentful puppy's Alpha. This morning, one new inch of snow on last night's ice, at 6:13 a.m., Punkin lifted his leg 17 times in 25 minutes. At noon, while I try to have a leisurely lunch with a sudoku, he will tug and whine until I take him to the icy dog park and repeated throw the ball, then wrestle it from him, reminding him that I can't throw it if he won't drop it. Oh, to build a nice coliseum or toss a few water-filled balloons. But the rewards! They are unconditional. Puppies trump kids any day.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, but do you resent playing the role of dog servant, a role you don't recall deliberately choosing?

By the way, we found the coliseum. Houston, we have a $40 coliseum. The whole thing was not for nought.