The current culture demands that every mother be all in, all the time. My sister-in-law told me about a mom at her kid’s elementary school who took the basic school T-shirt that everyone got and painstakingly created a beaded fringe at the bottom, replete with cinched waist and perfectly cuffed sleeves. All of the other little girls gathered around, screeching variations of “I want the same thing!” Incredibly enough, instead of laughing in their unrealistic faces the way our parents might have, all the adults started mumbling, “Yes, O.K., we can do that, sure, I’ll learn a challenging new craft, no problem. Tonight, of course. We’ll do it tonight.” This made my sister-in-law, who was already late for work, want to teach a few people the artisanal craft of rearranging someone’s face using only your bare hands. We are outclassed at every turn. We are outspent and out-helicoptered and outnumbered. It used to be good enough just to keep your house from being coated in a thin layer of dog hair and human feces. No longer.
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FORTY years ago, my mother and her two friends drank coffee, ate homemade cherry pie and chain-smoked their way through lively debates over whether a popular author was daringly frank or a chauvinist, while their children were expected to play nicely outside and rarely interrupt. Today, all three mothers might instead be engaged in some elaborate craft project, with each woman stopping the conversation every few seconds to open a little jar of paint or to help glue on some tiny eyes.
Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such. But that’s not hard to understand when the reigning cultural narrative tells us that we are no longer lively, inspired women with our own ideas and emotions so much as facilitators, meant to employ at all times the calm, helpful tones of diplomats.