What Should a Mother Represent

3 Jun

The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Over the memorial day weekend I partied with some really good friends. On one night a woman – who was in her 20’s – came by with her friend and also brought her 6-year-old son. We were all pretty shocked. She was teaching him how to play beer pong, and he was hanging out with a bunch of drunk 20 year olds. Now, I really have no right to judge what she does with her son. Surfin3rdWave over at the feministing community talks about her friends experience as a young mom and the expectations we place on mothers to set good examples, in her post Mothers Shouldn’t _____. I would never try to tell anyone what they should or should not do as a parent. I have no experience in parenting and I can’t even begin to imagine the difficulties parents deal with. But the post and the situation with the 6-year-old at the party raised some questions for me. I also had some of the same thoughts that Surfin3rdWave brings up in Mothers Shouldn’t _____. An excerpt:

My friend, a single mother of two children, celebrated her 21st birthday last weekend. After she tucked her two kids into bed, her trusted neighbor came over to babysit, and she and I went out for drinks.

We got absolutely blasted– I think we each had about five drinks. We stayed out until nearly two in the morning, laughing and cutting up, until the booze wore off. Then, stone-cold sober, she returned home to her kids, paid the babysitter, and returned to her remarkably responsible life as a young, single mother.

I had been recounting our evening out to a mutual friend, and he interrupted me to say that he can’t believe she– my friend– would do that. He said that mothers shouldn’t drink, or at least not get drunk, because they have responsibilities.

This puzzled me– we didn’t get drunk around her children or do anything that could endanger them. Nobody puffed second-hand pot-smoke into  her baby’s crib or handed a margarita to her one-year-old. But still, our friend was judgmental about what mothers aren’t supposed to do.

We are living in a world where women are being taught that they don’t have to jump into marriage and have babies right after they finish college. Many more women are now having careers than they ever have. Yet, at the same time, the US has the highest rates of teen pregnancies and births in the western industrialized world. Thirty-four percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20. (FFA) In 2006 42 out of every 1,000 girls ages 15-19 had babies. Ten percent of all U.S. births are to teens. (Guttmacher)

So in a world where women are becoming more independant, yet we have so many young mothers, where do you find a standard for what mothers are or aren’t supposed to represent?. Who sets that standard? What does maternal (or also paternal) responsibility mean. Was it appropriate for this woman to bring her 6-year-old son to a party and teach him how to play beer pong?

I started thinking about what maternal responsbility means. Mothers should, according to our culture, abstain from drinking, smoking, sex, unhealthy eating, late nights out, and everything else deemed “slutty” or “irresponsible”. Mothers shouldn’t do anything outside the kitchen or the nursery.

What does it mean to be a responsible parent? Can a mother get drunk and still be a good mother? Can she play video-games until three in the morning if she still takes care of her kids the next day? Can she smoke a joint and watch cartoons when her children are asleep in the next room?

Where do you draw the line of maternal responsibility? Is is ever okay to drink in front of children? Can mothers have grown-up fun without influencing their children negatively?

Where do you draw the line about showing your children who you really are? Or how much of yourself should you be willing to give up because you want to set a good example for your children? I don’t think mothers or fathers should have to give up any of themselves as long as they can still have responsible parenting skills. In my opinion, the women I met at the party this weekend should have done what the woman in Surfin3rdWave’s story did. But who am I to say it’s wrong for a 6-year-old to be hanging out with a bunch of drunk twenty-somethings.

When I was younger my parents would have company parties at our house and by the end of some of those parties there were always people so drunk that they ended up falling in the pool or knocking over a planter. But I also saw my parents partying responsibly. For example, they never let people drive home drunk. They were extremely cautious about that.

I also love how Surfin3rdWave poses the same question from the opposite viewpoint:

For that matter– do mothers who resign themselves to childbearing and cooking set a bad example, too? Is it okay for children to know that their mothers like getting drunk more than they like washing dishes?

In a culture where we are telling young woman they can be independent, and be the best them they can be, it should be okay for them to be someone else other then the homemaker, stay-at-home, mom type.

I think it is possible to be a young responsible mother, and allow yourself to enjoy your youth at the same time. I think it’s something that is changing with our culture, which like any good change, takes time to perfect and be accepted.


2 Responses to “What Should a Mother Represent”

  1. Dick Patterson June 5, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    Went to Wing House for a Mahi sandwhich to night. The place was loaded with parents and their kids. Is that a place for an 8 to 12 year old to hang out. Is the waitresses uniform right for these kids, many of them girls may want to emulate.

    Now at the same time, I have seen many kids almost brought up in a nudist camp or resort. Often they seem to be better adjusted from a sexual point of view. Wing House uniforms are designed from a sexual point of view.

    It is very hard to say for sure a person “knows” how to raise a child. Great subject, but whatis “right or wrong” is complex.

    • iamcharli June 5, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

      awesome point – i think we put a lot of unneeded emphasis on sexuality in our culture. I’m so not trying to say I know what is right or wrong – more trying to explore what kinda of person our culture dictates that a mother should represent. I have no place to judge how a woman raises her child, ya know?

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