You’re Not the Boss of Us

19 Jan

Return to homepage at

If we had a nickel, collectively, every time someone told a mother what to do, we’d have enough money to really change things.  Because there simply is no shortage of such people, no absence of such advice or admonishment, no end in sight to the ways that others get all up in our business.

Take for example something as seemingly simple as that totally unhelpful charge to “enjoy every minute” because it “goes by so fast” that Glennon Melton wrote about in her blog at the Huffington Post this week*.  Of course “every minute” is far from simple in motherhood, and enjoying each and every one of those is even farther.  So now I can feel inadequate not only about how I mother but also about how my day is full of moments I am not enjoying, Melton suggests.  Nice.  That’s helpful.  Thanks.  You know what, I’m going to invoke a retort I’ve heard my kids and lots of other ones deploy in one form or another over the years:  Quit bossing me around!

And then there’s the family dinner example.  This is something I’ve been pushing against for a while now; I’ve written about it before, here and here, and alluded to it in other posts.  I’m also beginning a research project looking at mothers’ experience with the “family meal”  since so many researchers are so acutely focused on the children—their nutrition, their weight, their perceptions, their drug and alcohol use, their asthma, their cancer, their early sexual activity, their weak vocabulary—and how the “family meal” at the end of the day (and no, breakfast doesn’t count) magically saves them and us from all that (I am not even kidding; that’s what the researchers suggest and what the news media have TOTALLY gone with, no one of course mentioning that one of the two most extensive research projects that lead us to these conclusions was funded by a grocery store chain, and partnered with Stouffer’s, and no one of course focusing on mothers, who are likely orchestrating that delicious and magical panacea).   It’s curious that no one mentions mothers in this research (and I do mean no one), nor do responses to the research ask questions about what mothers and their families might need if they are to save the world, or their families, by having a dinner around the table all  time.  Neither researchers nor policy makers seem to groove to the next step:  If the family meal will save the world, how can we help families pull one off the recommended five to seven days a week?  No, that’s where the news media come in with helpful hints like include the children in food preparation.  Clearly these are news professionals who make dinners in their own homes most nights of the week and have experienced firsthand the joys of young people in your kitchen at the end of a long and haggard day.  Nice.  That’s helpful.  Thanks.  They probably enjoy every minute of it too.

And finally there’s the example of the post I came across yesterday in my “family meal” research: “Is Drinking on the Mommy Job a No-No?” a post from last October at TodayMoms on MSNBC.  Aside from the infantilizing that exudes from the headline even as it ostensibly is addressed to moms (but more likely is addressed to those who would police mothers’ behavior), there’s the absence of course of any discussion of fathers, and there’s the convenient invocation of motherhood as a “job” but—oh, I see—only when it suits the status quo.  Nice.  That’s helpful.  Thanks.  So we won’t think of mothering as a “job” when moms are not accruing leave time, or retirement, or health benefits or sick days.  We won’t think of it that way when we’re considering moms whose “work” takes place in unsafe environments.  We won’t think of it connected with the issue of accruing social security or worker’s compensation for injury “on the job,” oh no.  Only when we can drip “the most important job in the world” sentimentality on people (and it’s hard to get that stuff off by the way, once it drips on you) and only when it gives us firm grounding for further policing mothers. We can think of mothers’ work as a job when we can compare her glass of wine at the end of the day or at an evening playgroup to airline pilots  who “have that rule of no alcohol for 12 hours,” as one of the experts did…you know, pilots who have lots and lots of days off, for god’s sake, and lots and lots of income for god’s sake and lots and lots of “work”-related benefits.  For god’s sake.

Mothers are suspiciously absent from discussion of the family meal although their role in it and their obligation to save the world with it is so clearly implied.  And they are suspiciously present in the discussion about drinking “on the job.”  And they’re annoyingly gushed at about never feeling anything but enjoyment over the hard work of motherhood. I wonder when people are going to start talking with us about what we need in order to do this important work and quit bossing us around!

*Special thanks to my cousin Susan Kreider for sharing Melton’s post with me!


Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Families, Feminism, Motherhood, Parenting


Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 responses to “You’re Not the Boss of Us

  1. shoes

    January 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

    My god, yes!!! What a very true and well written post. It is a lack of recognition – no time off- no pay – here is one more tiny thing you can do for me – and oh you should feel guilt if you are not enjoying it All The Time – type of job. Now excuse me while I go stand on my head while making a well rounded breakfast that we can all eat as a family (even though it does not count as that golden ticket family meal) as we head into another snow day; no school day for the boys. Sigh.

    • Dr. Mama

      January 19, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Thanks Shoes! Best of luck and strategy for surviving the snow day. When you read through the lines of the research, what you find is that, in fact, breakfast CAN SO “count”, as do the numerous conversations you have with kids even if, gulp, not over a meal.

  2. K.A. Dorgan

    January 20, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Give ’em hell, Dr. Mama! As a mother of a son with pronounced and deeply-rooted behavioral problems I can say…

    1) No, I don’t enjoy every minute of mothering him. In fact, many minutes are quite painful (Yes, I know I’m not supposed to admit that to myself let alone admit that to others)

    2) No, family dinners have never managed to “fix” his behaviors or even to minimize them. Rather everyone ends up getting more stretched and distorted from the forced problematic family interactions. So, no, I don’t plan on celebrating family dinners any time soon.

    Thank you, Dr. Mama, for voicing something I have long railed against.

    • Dr. Mama

      January 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm

      Thanks K.A. for saying the hard stuff too.


  3. Lila Gail Walters

    January 20, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    That’s right on! I I assume all this is going into a book one day, just a suggestion, I”m not telling you what to do, I’m not sayin’ I’m just sayin. 🙂

  4. Dr. Mama

    January 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks Lila Gail. I’m thinkin’ bout it. Not thinkin’, just thinkin’

  5. Pat Cronin

    January 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    In a sea of great posts this seems to me the best one you’ve done and the most important, as it gets to the heart of so many issues but especially the role of so called “experts” on how mothering should occur. Thanks for having the guts to say what parents (both “moms” and “dads”) have always known which is experts are there to sell us something: buying Stouffers, buying at he Win Dixi and they don’t really care about how scientific their research is as long as it sounds good, drips with fake sentimentality and makes sure to keep “Moms” in their place….workin’ for the man. Thanks Dr M…..Great post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: