Sacrifice of power doesn't help mum or child
Demanding a little respect from the offspring would give parents back their life, writes Catherine Walsh.
My children went to a museum on the weekend where they saw a mother crying. Her son wasn't interested in being there, and she was saying, "I brought you all this way. I thought you would like it."
Women have fought for the right to vote, to work, to run companies and countries. It seems to me that the modern mother is in trouble because after having a baby she gives her power away. To her children.
I understand society does not support mothers or value their work, but that is no reason for mothers to internalise those messages and devalue themselves. So many mothers I see need Supernanny to help them get respect from their children and take control of their lives. Modern, educated, affluent mothers are making themselves subservient to their children.
A mother told me her child lost the $50 note she gave him to hold. At playgroup a child plays with a noisy toy during storytime, annoying everyone, and the mother says meekly, "Darling", sighs and shrugs as if she is helpless. Another mother told me her toddler won't eat leftovers. She has to cook fresh food for his every meal. Has to.
Many mums give away their power in the way they talk to their children, as if the child is in charge. Saying, "Let me finish this" or "Give me a minute" instead of "You will wait until I have finished". Asking "Will you pack away the toys?" instead of instructing or commanding. Saying "Do you mind?" Why are you asking permission of a toddler? Why are you allowing yourself to be nagged by a five-year-old? There is no dignity in arguing with a pre-schooler. And please, just take the offending item away from the child.
You are the parent.
There are times when a firm "Because I said so" is best. It means the parent is in charge and expects to be obeyed. How many times have you heard mothers saying to their children "That's the last lolly for you". Then the child takes more and the mother says, "OK, just one more". Then "OK, but that's the last" and on and on. It is time mothers say what they mean and enforce what they say.
Some parents may think that you will break your child's spirit by teaching them to sleep on their own, or giving them clear commands. Modern mothers are expected to hang on their children's every utterance, analyse their every move and attend their every whim. I say children deserve a mother who doesn't feel crap all the time.
We need to stop trying to bolster our children's self-worth at the expense of our own. The idea of giving your children high self-esteem is now being debunked in the US as children are leaving school with their bubbles bursting. They can't cope with criticism or independence.
A generation of children raised on false praise has given them an inflated sense of themselves, say teachers. There has not been as much benefit as hoped, say psychologists.
Why are mothers so afraid of stepping up to the parenting mark and taking their places as responsible adults? Is it because they want their children to like them? Your children don't have to like you. They have to trust you. Trust that you will provide their basic needs and comfort them.
Your children need you to be present, reliable, stable and consistent. They need you to be a person they respect. If they don't respect you when they are small, what hope will you have when your son is 15 and taller than you?
And they need you to teach them to behave in a way which is considered socially acceptable, and that means good manners and respect for women.
Motherhood has probably never been more difficult. We do it in isolation, without preparation, without support. We do it in a world that values the economy over care. The expert advice keeps changing and we're constantly being told that we're wrong. No wonder mothers are crying.
But the present phase of parenting is taking a lot from mothers, without any benefit. We need a new parenting phase which empowers mothers. We give up enough to become mothers; to some extent our bodies, our sleep, earnings, friendships, hobbies. We don't need to sacrifice our self-respect.
Those who fought for women's rights would be horrified that we have given our power to small children. Instead we could raise our children with less effort, give ourselves more respect and have a life that includes whatever else we want: adult relationships, a career, sport, a social life, hobbies, community projects, political activism, working for women's rights, refugees' rights, environmental issues. Without guilt.
I've had my turn of being a child, and I did as I was told. I had an extended adolescence. And now I've had three children, I'm turning 40 and I want my turn at being a parent. And that means being treated with respect. By children, by men, by government, workplaces and the whole of society.
Catherine Walsh is writing a musical about motherhood. She also contributes to The Mothers of Intervention, http://www.moi.org.au