Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock: Motherhood, Part 1, at School

This is a post from February 2012. I've bumped it up because I've had a few friends ask about it, I seem to have new readers, and because I will revisit and build on these themes at PJLifestyle soon.

In case anyone wondered if I was just a Brit basher who thought everything in America was bigger and better, allow me to put that notion to bed.  Sit back with a soothing cup of tea.  This will take a while.     
By far the most extreme reverse culture shock has been the nature of American motherhood.   
I thought I was prepared.  I started fighting American motherhood (thanks, Maverick) when Christopher Robin was born.  I braced for the return to the States.  Still, the awesomeness of the beast has shocked me.  Not only have I been gone for five years, but I’ve been living in a culture with motherhood issues on the opposite end of the spectrum.   When British motherhood goes of the rails it tends to too little motherhood, but when American motherhood goes off the rails--far more often than its British counterpart by the way--it tends to all consuming motherhood.  An interesting post for another time: Brits have different attitudes about nannies and schooling, often farming childcare wholly out to the nanny or sending kids to boarding school as early as 8.  A sentiment I have often heard that will make Americans' jaws drop to the floor: by 12 or 13, many British parents think their active parenting work is done; the rest of their formation is a job for schools, peers, and society.
Obviously the goal is a balance between the two extremes.  After spending most of early motherhood in London, I am more in tune with British mothers and think that we should take more lessons from our British counterparts.  Not only are British motherhood problems less frequent, but also they don’t necessarily destroy that which they seek build, happy and functional adults.  
Mothering over here reminds me of studying for the Bar exam.  There is so much information to understand that, during the weeks of review, every time you go to the loo, go to sleep, or stretch your legs you worry about wasting those precious study minutes.  The difference with the Bar exam is that the study period only lasts about six weeks.  American motherhood has the same sense of squeezing every moment for purpose and significance, only with no end in sight.  
The relentless nature of American motherhood  tries to do, give, and be everything our children need, and thereby exempts children from responsibility for just about everything and actively promotes their continued dependency on parents.  (I've written about why we do this previously.)  Not content with such irony, American motherhood has few advantages for women as well.  It can rob mothers of a sense of self and chip away at the foundations of marriages leaving mothers fractured and alone. (Fathers can fall to this child-centered life as well, but I will focus on mothers, because the issues a more acute for mothers, and I am one so know more about it.) To round out the horribleness, I seldom noticed the Mommy Wars in London, but I can't fail to notice them here.  They are hotter here.
I have two final notes before I start ranting.  One, isolate any one of the issues mentioned below, and the problem is not apparent.  The damage wrought by American motherhood results from these issues working together.  Think of a death spiral.  Two, this American motherhood is a battleground chosen by the affluent.  The plights I will describe are less dire than, for instance, inability to feed a family, and as such are often dismissed as not real problems.   But smaller problems are still problems, which is why they are only diminished by comparison to extreme hardship.  Worse, middle and lower class mothers get caught in the crossfire of our battle.  They are often left mired in guilt or stranded without options, or both.  To use an expression mothers will understand, we made this mess, we have to tidy it up.  And as the self help books tell us, the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We didn't tell them.

Anon. I'd guess 21 years old. In the Daily Princetonian
It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I finally started regarding my freshman hookups as mistakes. This was partially because I had a hard time admitting that I had messed up. For me, to regret a decision was on par with saying “I screwed up big time,” which I could barely admit to myself, let alone a peer. And the desire to seem like I already knew it all, despite never having lived on my own before, kept me from asking questions when I first got to Princeton. But even if I had, there were elements of the hookup culture I would have never been able to anticipate, let alone seek advice about. 
I was so sheltered and naive as a freshman that I can barely believe I am that same person today. And I just wish someone had told me that the reality of hooking up is monumentally different from what I was expecting. I wish someone had told me that you don’t get into a relationship by meeting someone on the Street and taking him home or that they won’t even text you the next day. I wish someone had told me that when a guy says, “Hey, I want to show you this really funny video, but it’s in my room,” he’s going to show you much more than a video. And the awkwardness that happens when your hookup flat out pretends you don’t exist the day after? No one warned me about that!
Why didn't we warn them?! I have theories. I have advice, too. I'm playing hooky from yet another PTA coffee to finish the pieces up. This just reminded me to work faster. What the women of Gen X haven't told Millenials...this is inexcusable.