The Mommy Mystique

The Mommy Mystique tells us that we are the luckiest women in the world -- the freest, with the most choices, the broadest horizons, the best luck, and the most wealth. It says we have the knowledge and know-how to make "informed decisions" that will guarantee the successful course of our children's lives. It tells us that if we choose badly our children will fall prey to countless dangers -- from insecure attachment to drugs to kidnapping to a third-rate college. And if this happens, if our children stray from the path toward happiness and success, we will have no one but ourselves to blame. Because to point fingers out at society, to look beyond ourselves, is to shirk "personal responsibility." To admit that we cannot do everything ourselves, that indeed we need help -- and help on a large, systematic scale -- is tantamount to admitting personal failure.

Comforted by the Mommy Mystique, we are convinced that every decision we make, every detail we control, is incredibly important.

Entire towns turn themselves inside out for a spot in the right ballet class. Parents prostitute their souls for spots in private schools. We read about how our children can't get into good colleges unless they are superhuman. We know that our public school systems can't provide an education in superhumanness (much less basic well-roundedness, in many places). Without a good college education our children won't be able to get jobs, won't be able to pay back their college loans (tuition having become unaffordable for so many of us), won't be able to buy a house or have the middle-class existence our parents seemed to find easy but that we can barely sustain. Ergo: soccer and violin and public service and weekends of baseball practice become vitally important because if we don't do everything right for our children, they may be consigned, down the line, to failure. To loserdom.


We are consumed with doing for our children in mind and soul and body -- and the result is we are so depleted that we have little of ourselves left for ourselves. And whatever anger we might otherwise feel -- at society, at our husbands, at the experts that led us to this pass -- is directed, also, just at ourselves.

Or at the one permissible target: other mothers.

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