The Trouble with Mary Poppins

“Wanted: Mary Poppins. Call HELP NOW. Must have own transportation and speak English.” I’ve seen this ad more than once placed by mothers seeking solutions to life’s problems. The trouble is that substitution method of motherhood just doesn’t work. Substitution is a great solution for certain algebra problems. Whole milk is almost as good as half and half in your coffee (but not quite). Fix-a-flat may just get you home. When it comes to motherhood, there is no substitute and quite honestly, there are no second chances. Our children need us to be there and we are fooling no one but ourselves to think that we don’t matter.

Suzanne Venker tackles the 7 Myths of Working Mothers head on. She begins with this fabulous quote by Michael Niziol:

“It takes immense character to be able to give without recognition, to put aside the trivial material needs that seem so pressed but in reality are so trivial, to have the clearness of mind and the strength of spirit to look at what really matters and to give of yourself to make another better. And so the next time you question why the fabric of society is continuing to unravel at the edges, ask yourself what the emotional, financial, and intellectual value of motherhood is.”

One of the problems in the culture is that many women think they must have it all now. To be honest, there are not enough hours in the day. Being someone else’s mother is a full-time job and this is precisely why cramming in another huge work commitment simply doesn’t work.

  • Men Can Have It All. Why Shouldn’t We? Do I hear a whining four year old here? Venker suggests that mothers can have it all but they need to “sequence” or plan their careers around raising their children and not vice-versa. What kind of mother does a child have who comes home stressed out at the office, gives them a bath and puts them to bed (if she doesn’t fall asleep on the couch before that?)
  • I Could Never Stay at Home Full Time. Women who say this usually don’t understand what they are saying. There is so much more to a mother pushing the baby buggy that the non-mother does not see. The emotional attachment, squeals, the squirrel and bunny sightings and the simple joy that comes just from a walk around the block.

    Statistics are inflated to show a greater number of “working mothers” than actually exists. Anyone who makes any amount of money is considered a “working mother.” I think my favorite response to the “working mother” as only the one who works for money is the joke about the father who asks what his wife does all day. One day, she didn’t lift a finger to cook or clean, stayed in bed and read. If you have small children, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There is no more destructive force in nature than a two year old on a mission. It’s why Bill Cosby once said, if he had an army of two year olds he could take over the world. Naturally, the house looked like a war zone when Dad got home. “What happened here today, he asks?” She replies, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

    Venker also lets out a couple of well kept secrets. Kids are fun and mothers have fun when they get together.

  • You’re So Lucky You Can Stay Home. Luck has nothing to do with it. Plan to stay home with your children. Save your money, don’t spend it. Relocate the family to an area where living is affordable if you can’t do it now. The author herself, a former middle school English teacher, moved from New York to St. Louis for this very reason. Plan the career around the family, not the family around the career. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s all a matter of priorities.

    Venker also points out that “our generation does not embrace sacrifice. The practice of doing for others, of finding personal satisfaction in helping others, is foreign to us. We have been taught that immediate gratification–whether in the form of a paycheck, a pat on the back or the ability to do what we want, when we want–is the only way to be happy. But as Sir Wilfred Grenfell once said, ‘Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile.'”

  • I Could Balance Work and Family if I Had More Support. Wrong again. There’s more to life than work and errands. Time spent with friends and family will not be regretted. Working mothers have no time. When the guilt kicks in, they have to turn it off and suck it up and that’s just not psychologically healthy. Venker also points out that the guilt doesn’t affect mothers who absolutely have to work to put food on the table. They are not the ones out promoting the benefits of bringing home the paycheck and stuffing the kids in quality day care.
  • I’m a Better Mom for Working. Really? Children flourish when they are unhurried. What kind of life does a child have whose parents commute? A teacher friend of mine told me her young students were falling asleep in class. Some children are pulled out of bed at 3:30 a.m. to leave by 4:30 so Mom and Dad can be on the road by 5 a.m. Shift from early care to before school care to school to after school care. Home. Eat. Bathe. Start all over again. No small wonder they fall asleep in school. When my friend suggested a mother not do this, she was told, “But then we couldn’t make the boat payment.” And we won’t even begin to think about what sort of nutritious dinner the children eat when Mom and Dad have been at work all day.
  • My Children Just Love Daycare. It’s amazing how rationalization works. In an interview with Katie Couric, Ellen Galinksy notes that 12% of day care can be classified as truly good. That means 88% is not. The liberal solution is to throw more money at day care. In fact, Venker writes, “But money can never fix a system that is rife with dysfunction at its very core.”

    Nor does day care promote independence, which springs from stability. The single greatest feat of a newborn is emotional attachment. How does this happen if Mom is not there? How sad that some mothers have to come to this realization when their baby calls someone else, “Mommy.” Worse yet is one case I know of where the mother, a physician, purposefully changes her nanny every six months so her children do not become attached to anyone.

  • I have it all planned out. Motherhood changes the dynamics of life. Listen to your heart and when you want to be home with the baby, just do it. You don’t want to end up like Judith Regan. Venker cites an interview recounting with Regan in O magazine in which Regan admits her son didn’t want to spend vacation time with her. “‘It’s too late. I’m all grown up. You missed my childhood.’ Regan adds, ‘It’s true. I’ve failed him. And I know it.’ ”

    Societal issues, as always, have so much to do with how we perceive the culture. Venker illustrates these issues. There are things in life that are more important than money. We live in a divorce ridden culture that prompts women to know how to take care of themselves, lest they be destitute. The sad irony of all this is, of course, that the stress a second job causes to marriage may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Mary Poppins is one of my favorite children’s movies. She sings like an angel, she’s cheerful and in her own gentle way she makes all the of the Banks family realize the importance of what they have. The trouble, of course, is that Mary Poppins is just a movie character. Reality is different. Real children need real Moms who there with them everyday. Children instinctively clue into the fact of whether or not we think they are worth our time. The days may sometimes be long but the years are short. One day we will blink and realize they’re all grown up.


    To purchase 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don’t Mix, click here.