Spare Me The Tiger Mom
This article originally appeared in The Guardian on Jan. 4, 2014.
By Michele Weldon
As a 55-year-old mother of three boys/men, (you notice, of course, that I did not use the coy descriptor "of a certain age"), I am reminded that we high-functioning, boundary-minding, nurturing professionals are nowhere to be found on the spectrum of mother stereotypes so popular in the media today. And I'm not even going to include Mama Kardashian in this mix.
In a newly released Old Spice commercial, a collection of pathetic, dowdy, genderless "momcreatures" stalk their sons on dates and other encounters with young women. The momcreatures lament, "Old Spice sprayed a man of my son…" As if these parent predators singing off key were not horrific enough, one scary verse verges on the boys will be boys rape culture with the line, "Now we know just who to blame when our sons have fun with women and misbehave…" Ick. I don't know, maybe blame your sons?
I am mother to three "boy-men" ages 25, 22 and 19. They use cologne. I'm not sure if it's Old Spice or not. The similarities between the ad and our intersected lives end there. I don't show up on their dates, nor do I do mourn their independence or romances. I also don't ask, tell or interfere; I wait for questions and offer minimalist advice. Because that is what normal, non-psycho mothers with fulfilling personal and professional lives of their own do.
I guess it was only a matter of time before the cartoonish cultural image of fully immersed mommies would graduate to helicopter nightmares who can't relinquish the claws in their kids, let alone figure out how to live their own lives.
But do we really have to sit back and watch commercials, book tours and movies where mothers with a failure to detach infect the culture with their toxic madness? Are normal moms really that boring or hard to find?
There are more than 85.4 million mothers in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau. To put it another way, more than half (53%) of all women in America, ages 15 to 44 years are mothers. So there are a lot of us, presumably not all of us are nut jobs.
You would think from the images we see in the media, that most of us moms are insane. Or perhaps it's just that the fringe examples of parenting are what make news.
In her new book, Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld claim the racial superiority of eight groups destined for success. They cite personal experience and statistics. What she completely lacks in fairness and social justice she makes up for in originality – when was the last time you saw Cuban exiles and Mormons praised in the same sentence?
In "The Triple Package," the Yale University law professor and mother of two teen girls expounds on the parenting secrets of her 2011 best-seller, Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother, to explain why Iranians and Jews will rise to the top in life, and African-Americans, maybe not so much. With her smiling, beguiling, Chinese-American daughters at her side, here is a myopic mother role model I dare say no one wants to emulate.
Now playing on the big screen, August: Osage County is a drama of masterful maternal dysfunction, with Meryl Streep as a pill-popping mess. Yes, this is art, not real life, but the Pulitzer-award winning play by Tracy Letts offers us the larger than life view into one more example of a bad mommy.
True, bad movie mommies go back to Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, and move into 2013's Stoker with Nicole Kidman as a crazy mom explaining to her daughter that some people have children to get it right, "But not me, personally speaking, I can't wait to see life tear you apart." Nice.
These are only a few of the many; there are so many rotten mothers portrayed in movies and media, that there is an annual list of The 10 Worst Moms on TV.
Yes, there are many stripes of mothers, including Wall Street mommies who go for the gold while enjoying a mutually beneficial parenting coop with husbands who stay at home. There are single mothers who manage to get the job done and raise healthy, happy children. There are happily married moms, widowed moms, working and stay at home moms – each one of them not settling for looney.
No, I am not a perfect mother, just ask said boy-men sons. But I do not see their coming of age as a threat to who I am, anymore than I saw their graduations from preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, college and graduate school as a sign of my deteriorating relevance.
Maybe normal moms don't sell cologne, books or movie tickets. But from my seat in the stands at the circus of parenting, it's crowded here and anything but dull.
- Michele Weldon is an assistant professor emerita of journalism at Northwestern University.