“You’re being an uptight mom,” the little voice says, insistent and derisive.
I attempt to ignore it as I spell out the evening’s schedule and routines for a babysitter. I swat it away as I leave the children with my mother, go over the times for meals and naps and bottles. It’s there as I write out notes for my husband before leaving for an outing.
No matter how hard I work to shut out this voice, it finds its way in, rude and loud and contemptuous, like a heckler at a comedy show.
“Loosen up,” it shouts. “You’re so rigid. You’ve got to relax.” There are endless variations, but the core message is always the same. When it comes to my kids, I’m too controlling, too neurotic, too overbearing.
As mothers, we’re constantly teased for these traits.
It’s a running thread in society, an easy punchline. There’s the rigid, stick in the mud mother contrasted with the fun-loving, laid-back dad. The frantic, bossy Claire Dunphy next to the goofy, sweet-tempered Phil.
We’re supposed to smile and sheepishly apologize. Just have a good laugh about it all and try not to be quite so domineering when it comes to our children.
No, I’m not going to apologize.
No, I don’t think mothers should feel bad about being too uptight.
And no, I don’t think Claire Dunphy is a shrill nag. I actually think she’s a completely relatable lady who I could totally bond with over a glass (or bottle) of wine.
- Neurosurgeons don’t get chastized for being too controlling. Like hey man, I know you are highly trained and educated and have been doing this operation for ten years. But maybe just let the med student wing it today. Freestyle a little. Have a jam sesh in the cerebellum. It’s just a brain.
- Or if a skyscraper is being built. And there’s an engineer in charge of making sure the skyscraper doesn’t, you know, fall over in a strong wind. How often do you think that engineer hears that maybe she should just chillax. Let Howard in Accounting take over the engineering reins for a few days. What’s the worst that could happen?
- We don’t make fun of lawyers for micromanaging trials.
- You don’t hear people complain that their accountant was a little too rigid during tax season and that they really wish he could have just been a little funky this year.
- We don’t call nurses stick in the muds for being too regimented when they stick needles in people’s arms. We don’t suggest that teachers should just throw their lesson plans out the window, burn all the books and really lean into an improv, interpretative classroom style.
- When’s the last time someone walked up to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and said “Hey so I think you’re being a little bossy when it comes to the whole constitutionality thing. Maybe have some fun with your next ruling, be a little saucy and spontaneous.”
- Or the person who is in charge of the room at the CDC where they keep the last little bit of smallpox. How often does he hear that he’s too overbearing? What with the rules and the restrictions and the not letting random terrorists wander in and out! SO uncool.
When someone performs a job and is good at it, as a general rule, we chill the fork out and let them do their thing.
Granted, mothering may not be as complex or intensive as what it takes to be a neurosurgeon or Supreme Court Justice or keeper of the smallpox vials. But anyone who has done it gets that it is absolutely still a job. There is a learning curve. There is a lot of training involved.
We spend days and weeks and years learning how to do this. We fail, a lot. There is endless trial and error, disaster after disaster until things finally start to click.
We go weeks where our kid will only nap on our bodies. So when we learn how to get them to nap in an actual non-human location, you better believe we are going to repeat the exact same steps every single time from there on out. That doesn’t make us uptight. That makes us not morons.
So often, we are the ones keeping the ship afloat. We know where the backup pacifiers are kept, the order of the delicate 5-step process that ensures a smooth bedtime. Moms can find the foods in the pantry that will get eaten versus tossed to the dog. We know the tricks and tips for evading a meltdown. Mothers can tell you the precise number of milliliters of formula our kid needs to drink every three hours.
The breadth of knowledge, the depth of experience, the years of learning. This is no joke.
When we leave our kids in the care of another person. When we try to pass on this information. It’s not because we’re uptight or controlling. We insist on this because WE’RE GOOD AT THIS. It’s because when it comes to our children, we are, unequivocally, absolutely, overwhelming experts in their care, in their quirks and idiosyncrasies and nuances. We have our Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs in the habits, behaviors, and rituals of these tiny humans.
No matter what other careers we pursue as mothers, a large portion of our life’s work will be our children, their health, and happiness, the beats and rhythms of their days and nights. So maybe we can all just stop feeling guilty, once and for all.