Just this week, working mothers got more alleged good news about our guilt. In a piece from the Washington Post entitled “Proof That Working Mothers Need to Stop Beating Themselves Up,” we learned that there is almost no correlation between the amount of time we spend with our children (ages 3-11) and their overall achievement and happiness.

4nuvGEe18yrOik4DLlG83dfEtxu-YiC-kmyEdLeB8NyqBzwl85OvXiO9raadIgKrwo0JHZtitz1lH1JLVF-uPGJZY0wRs-YEv5kJOFfI4bKl88ohhdoLn6u0YJxu2vBwdx-f_OOhmJ-GrsZo36LsbgZtKy6o_3dKA10-ZUSxeiSOGjv44vpXuhQTPjORNyv8AttspNI91eViTUAO4TdHrXWWFDx-OAs irony is a literary theme in my life, I heard the reporter discussing the subject on NPR this morning, as I was driving to work. Even after I arrived at the office I sat in my car, rapt, listening for the experts. [It just so happens that one of the experts being consulted was journalist Brigid Schulte, who is interviewed in the new issue of The Mockingbird].

This seems like such good news for all us working mothers out there. We need/want an expert to come on the air and let us off the hook. And one did. Sort of. She came on and said that despite our cultural concerns about our children suffering from a lack of time with parents, “the facts tell a different story.” It turns out our children are not destined to be sociopaths if they don’t craft with their mom for two hours a day. Well, you could have fooled me.

I kept thinking: this should make me feel better. Instead, all I could do was think about my grandmother’s frustration at dieting fads. She used to complain, “One week they tell me I should stop eating eggs! And then they tell me ALL I SHOULD BE EATING IS EGGS!”

I need a law fixed in my head about what is right and wrong in the bringing up of my children. Because when my kids look back on their bucolic upbringings, I want them to judge me as righteous and worthy. But, how can I ever get it right when all of the little laws around motherhood keep changing?

The painful truth is that all of these studies make us jive around the same dance floor just trying out different moves. We are hoping and clawing for a control in our children’s lives that we simply do not have. And the studies are telling us that regardless of whether we breastfeed until they are in middle school or we drop them off every day with Mary Poppins, our children will still suffer and fail. That is, in the end, the stuff of life.

There have been so many great pieces written lately about how we should hearken back to parenting in the 1970 and 80s. We are told that we should be less paranoid and more hands off. My goodness, I wish that were possible. But like the Mad Men parties that were all the rage 5 years ago, I would suggest that each generation’s modus operandi comes with its own problems and no era gets it all (or even most of it) right.


I remember being at a clergy event a few years back where an expert my parents’ age was explaining the difference between how children are raised now and how children were raised in previous generations. He casually suggested, “The issue today is that people parent towards the ‘cult of the child.’” It took every fiber of my being (and remembering my professional reputation) not to yell back: YOU MADE US LIKE THIS.

Of course, his observation was not wrong. Why are we so much more concerned with our children? Well, because we love them and want them to be happy. And yet, there are some darker justifications for our parenting anxieties as well. These days we are told that we can wield power over so many of life’s challenges. Out of shape? You can wear a bracelet that shocks you into taking more steps. Drank too much at the company party? No worries. You can take a breathalyzer with your iPhone. Our children have become the final frontier (or at least the most vulnerable one) of life-management. Unfortunately, the app is still in beta-testing.

And so study after study gives us new parenting laws, which we shuffle around to obey. Meanwhile, the impossibility of trying to control our children is a reality that never sinks in. They aren’t projects. They are people. Some days I gaze upon my four year old and feel like I’ve given birth to a mini stranger. Whether it be prison bars or passing the bar, so much of his future is not up to me. Even more humbling, most of the failure he will experience in life, he will do so without me by his side. None of us can hold fast to an expected outcome. Even though that is all I want. Perhaps that’s where prayer comes in. And no one prayers better than Tina Fey. Cue “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” from Bossypants:

First, Lord: No tattoos.
May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo
stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged,
for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye,
not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered,
May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half
And stick with Beer.