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Elizabeth Renzetti

From inside the trenches of motherhood, a plea for a ceasefire Add to ...

This week, British website Netmums.com released a telling survey of its 5,000 members, which essentially said mothers despair over their parenting skills and lie to each other constantly to save face.

They lie so that they don't feel guilty about the kitchen that can't be used as a surgical theatre, or children who don't play like Rostropovich and never get to hang out in Stella McCartney's backyard. The mothers lie to each other about how much (that should be “little”) time their children spend on TV and video games. They pretend to be baking cakes for the school fair when, in fact, they are napping. Half of them thought they were doing a poorer job than their friends (who are, of course, also lying about the amount of flax they feed their kids).

Netmums is calling for a “real parenting revolution,” which is backed by British Prime Minister David Cameron. He may be a rich and insensitive Tory, but he did make his infant daughter Florence sleep in a cardboard box, so he can't be all bad. “It's our imperfections that make us human,” Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said.

Simply, she's calling for a ceasefire in the so-called “mommy wars,” for mothers to stop being so hard on themselves, and so snarky about their neighbours' choices. A momistice, if you will.

In the long-ago days when I was huge with my first baby, a well-meaning prenatal instructor at a Los Angeles hospital advised that when agonizing pains racked our bodies, instead of ripping our husbands' fingers from their hands and screaming, “What have you done to me,” in their faces, we should breathe deeply and “go to our special place.”

My special place involved lots of tranquillizers and vanilla lattes and sadly never materialized. I now realize that the instructor should have put a General Patton helmet on her head and barked, “Ladies, clamp your legs together, because there's a war coming, and it ain't gonna be pretty. You see, it's a mommy war, and the fighting will be dirty. You'll have overachieving mommies over here socking away money for their kids to go to Harvard and therapy. The therapy account's gonna be bigger, by the way. And then you'll have slummy mummies over there, pretending not to care, but complaining about all the other moms anyway. The rest of you are going to second-guess yourselves till you fall down in a babbling heap. Remember this one thing: Nothing you do will ever be right. Now, drop and give me 20, you big whales.”

But no one said that, and I foolishly went on to assume that we would parent in the time-honoured way – badly some times, half-asleep often, usually with great joy – but not under the kind of scrutiny reserved for inmates in the Big Brother house.

I didn't foresee the approach of the multimillion-dollar mom-anxiety complex – so lucrative, so seductive, and requiring almost no maintenance, apart from the odd barbed remark: “I'm sorry Eva didn't pass Grade 4 piano. … Don't worry, there's always janitorial college. Or the street.” It seemed inconceivable that we would care so much about how other mothers raised their children, whether they worked outside the home or not, co-slept or not. It seemed inconceivable that we would care at all, when there were so many more interesting things to think about than motherhood.

Amy Chua, the Yale law professor who recently dominated dinner-party conversation with her Joan-Crawford-in-Asia polemic, didn't start the battle. Her war-on-fun parenting style, outlined in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is just the latest grenade. The troops had been out there long before, feeding on titles such as Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts and Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood. You thought that was a monster in the mirror, with the red eyes and scaly patches? No, it's just you, mom.

You notice I say “mothers.” Dads have wisely quit the battlefield. They're upstairs in their offices, hoping you haven't noticed they're on the 143rd hour of Grand Theft Auto. At a certain point, they'll look up, say, “You're my kid, right? What do you need? Bail money or a car?” and go back to the screen. Wise dads.

The Netmums campaign is well worth supporting; I just hope they'll have a ribbon, perhaps in the shape of a dribble of fried egg, that you can pin to your shirt. The momistice might resemble the great Christmas truce of 1914, except instead of playing soccer in the frozen mud and worrying about tomorrow's gas attacks, we'll get manicures and chat – about anything except our children.

 

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