The Invisible Mommy
We all get them. Those syrupy sweet email chain-letters sent to us by well-meaning friends. I love the ones that end with a threat, like "now that you've been marked as a Beautiful Woman, you must send this message to 20 other Beautiful Women within the next hour or bad luck will plague you the rest of your days." I can't hit the Delete key fast enough.
There's another whole genre of these emails that are designed to tug at the heartstrings of women - specifically mothers. I call them Martyred Mommy Mail. They contain long lists of the ways in which us poor, overworked, undervalued mothers are really saints, or soliloquies about how our husbands are idiots when it comes to meeting our needs or taking care of our kids. We are supposed to feel better because we can bond with each other over our wretched lives.
I got one yesterday that starts like this:
"I'm invisible. It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?" Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?" I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?" I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going ... she's going ... she's gone!"
The email then tells the story of how, even as an invisible person, a mother performs the greatest achievement of all - raising a child. Thanklessly, silently, without being noticed except by God. No mention of the Other Parent taking up part of this staggering burden; he's obviously fully visible, out in the real world earning money and tending a career in a way that is no longer an option for his wife.
Now, I'm all for parenting for the sake of our children. But don't we see that these bits of Martyred Mommy Mail keep us thinking that the only way for a family to raise a well-adjusted child is for the mother to disappear as a person? Or that the more we make fun of our husbands for not stepping up, the more it will never cross their minds to do so? Or that the more we settle for martyrdom as mothers, the more we keep parenting a Moms-Only Club activity?
Let's stop complaining, or wallowing or high-fiving ourselves for our sacrifices on the alter of motherhood. Instead, let's see what else we might do, such as consider our husbands as equally competent parents and ourselves as equally able to balance a career and care for our children. In order to get past the inequalities, we have to stop holding onto their payoffs.