In its Sunday edition, The New York Times published an article that attempts to poke fun at the frustrations of motherhood, but it comes off as just bitter, inexperienced, and sad. Entitled “Job Description for The Dumbest Job Ever” for the job title “mother,” it gets in a few good jabs but includes cringeworthy bitterness and recycles unfunny tropes about family life.
Consider this awkward swipe at the author’s husband in the “key responsibilities” section: “Read every book about the job. Provide verbal CliffsNotes version to adult partner who apparently can’t read these same books although you know for a fact he’s a college graduate because that’s where you guys met. You actually studied together. He’s capable of reading, processing and retaining volumes upon volumes of complex information. Nevertheless. Observe verbal CliffsNotes go in one ear and out the other.”
Ma’am, couples therapy should be conducted in private, not in public, and certainly not on the pages of The New York Times, please. You’re publicly shaming the man you chose to father your kids and help you raise them, and on rather petty grounds, too. Neither a good look nor conducive to helping that man be the best husband and father he can be. If the latter is your goal for the sake of yourself and your kids, proceed accordingly.
To keep things orderly, let’s talk about the good, the bad, and then the whole shebang.
Here, She’s Totally Right
Any mom who has ever planned a trip for the family will roll her eyes in knowing sympathy at this section:
Oversee reservations and coordination of overpriced rental minivan, multiple flights that will ultimately not work out, strange babysitters, creepy outdated tours you had a free coupon for, family-friendly restaurants where all human hope goes to die and other assorted details. Create packing list. Create shopping list. Create list for house sitter. Create list for pet sitter. Create list of reasons everyone should go on this godforsaken trip without you. Weep.
I’m not going to lie, I too would rather pull out my own teeth without painkiller than take the kids on a trip. That is the real reason we make our relatives come visit us if they ever want to see their grandkids, nieces, and nephews. All the people in their households are potty-trained and don’t need to get in 60,000 steps per day to stay pleasant. Since they mercifully avoided the era of car-seats-until-you’re-seventy, they also don’t have to splay spread-eagled and upright during a 12-hour drive.
I hear from mothers of older children, however, that this situation solves itself after the children mature, if they’ve been taught well and once they learn coping skills like reading and bladder management. I too would be a grump if I had to sit in my own sewage for six hours. So here’s a suggestion: Simplify the trips, or leave the kids at home.
Here’s another gem:
Become unnaturally intrigued by what gets stains out of clothing, trade tips with other moms and hate yourself for it, bookmark stain chat blogs and hate yourself for it, share hot tips (sunlight! vinegar!) with your friends via text and hate yourself for it.
True story: When I found that a certain mother friend wanted to spend our playdates obsessing about her kids’ poop, sicknesses, and quack remedies like essential oils, I stopped having playdates with that friend. Problem solved.
Tip number two: If you don’t like getting stains out of clothes, buy them from the local secondhand store for a buck apiece. They will look indistinguishable from what everyone else wears, because most Americans overbuy and overpay for clothing. And you won’t care if they get stains because then you can just throw that $1 shirt in the trash. As a side benefit, you will find that kids suddenly got way cheaper to keep clothed. And then you can focus on the most important things in life, which aren’t clothing.
These Parts Are Dunderheaded and Untrue
This section is accurate and even funny until the last line:
Stay on trend but not too on trend with your clothing, if you know what we mean. Don’t look dowdy, but don’t look like you’re trying to dress like a teenager, for God’s sake. Wear things that are flattering but not too revealing. Bare shoulders are O.K. as long as the rest of your arms are fully sheathed. Bottom line: You’re culturally irrelevant — embrace it!
Now, maybe her kids are so little she’s unable to think straight. I hear this part of motherhood is all-absorbing but passes quickly, and then your brain and lifeblood slowly seep back into your body. If that’s the case, girlfriend gets a pass, but it’s a shame The New York Times‘ editors didn’t know enough about mothering to tell her, “Hey, girl, I know you feel like a crazy person right now because you’re mothering very small people, but that makes what you’re writing here a very shortsighted take. So give it five years and bring this essay back then with some long-term perspective, okay?”
That’s because it is the very height of simplemindedness to think that somehow one’s fashion choices are a more integral part of one’s cultural relevance than one’s capacity for and attention to nurturing human life to maturity. Fashion is certainly fun and I wish I had some, but compared to turning baby barbarians into contributing citizens it’s nothing. Nobody with an ounce of sense would say that one’s cultural relevance is determined by what’s outside your body than what’s inside, most especially if what’s inside occasionally is a brand-new human being with his or her very own soul.
Perspective, ma’am. Get some — preferably before you appear on the pages of one of the most competitive publications in the country for a writer to break.
Here’s another comment that is technically accurate but while being so entirely misses the point: “Although you will coordinate, plan and do almost everything, you should expect to crash face-first into bed every night feeling that you’ve accomplished basically nothing. Welcome!” I don’t know if the author learned about a little thing called entropy in those college classes she attended (because colleges almost never require a broad core curriculum of graduates it could legitimately never have come up), but it exists, and children accelerate it light-speed.
For the past several weeks we have had nonstop visitors, so I’ve tried to clean my bathrooms more frequently. In so doing I discovered that it doesn’t matter whether I clean the bathroom every two weeks (or, let’s be honest, three or more weeks) or every three days: They look exactly the same about an hour after I finish regardless. Apparently some male preschoolers think a sparkling toilet seat is an invitation to fiddle their pee-pointer all over the room.
So I get it. But the thing is, getting to zero is actually an accomplishment. At zero, everyone is alive. That’s good, because children are like self-victimizing terrorists (see the pee incident above). A month of no terrorist attacks doesn’t mean no terrorists have been plotting them. It means they were foiled.
And nobody goes around saying we obviously don’t need Homeland Security because there haven’t been terrorist attacks for the last month. Neither do DHS agents sit around bemoaning how they’re so useless because all they did was stop the country from exploding constantly. Neither does anybody think this sort of thing about mothers except, apparently, people who write for The New York Times and people who think they write gospel.
Lastly, for the Heart of Things
The real problem with this article, one of an entire modern genre of disillusioned mom blog posts, is that sarcasm is a bitter pill appropriate for bitter subject matter. That makes it an unfitting treatment of motherhood. While motherhood is absolutely comic, it is generally of the zany variety that speaks to an underlying good we all recognize.
Cynicism is a good fit for con men, but motherhood is no con. The hair-pulling moments are at least equally balanced by the serendipitous — a newborn clutching your finger, a child’s eyes sparkling in sunshine, a terrified child in the middle of the night wanting you and no one else. That’s because children are a miracle, and mothers their lifeblood. Cynicism about this amounts to a lie. Rather than exposing or embellishing a truth, cynicism about family obscures and belittles truth.
The author’s tone is a perfect match for combating greed, ambition, and self-seeking, as here, where she lands one on target:
This position manages to be of the utmost importance and yet somehow also the least visible and/or respected in the entire organization. You will enjoy a whole bunch of superficial attention and lip service from culture, advertisers and politicians, but will never receive a credible follow-up in the form of a concrete plan for advancement, support, benefits or retirement.
There is certainly much sanctimony, foolishness, martyr complexes, ego compensation, and other vices among mothers that are worth skewering. But the work they properly aspire to and attempt to do well is not itself worthy of anything but celebration. In other words, being a mom is not dumb. Because it’s not true, it’s not funny or even interesting to say so.