Sit down, this is going to take a minute.
Do you know how hard it is to be a mom in modern America?
Being a parent is a ridiculously difficult, notoriously underappreciated job. One where someone will *literally* die if you get things wrong. As a parent your main job is to make sure a tiny human with zero sense of self-preservation, who genetically programmed to be curious about everything, survives the day. That’s hard. And, if your child is at the stage where they put everything in their mouth, it’s even harder.
On top of that you also need to make sure that tiny human is educated, clothed, fed, loved, raised correctly, and gets to all the places they need to be. You’re chauffeur, professor, moral role model, doctor, chef, and entertainment … and people will judge you if you do this wrong. Not that there’s any consensus on what Right and Wrong are for parenting, so be prepared for someone to call child services because you abused your child by getting them vaccinated, and to be told by the random person in the grocery store that letting your son wear pink will turn him into a gay communist, and that having more than one child is selfish, and that only having one child is selfish, and that the way your are dressed is going to lead your child to a life of drug addiction.
This is a little bit easier if you are the parent that presents as male. Dad Bod is a thing. A little chub, the relaxed, kind of neglected look of an unshaved face, sweat pants, and a shirt that’s older than your kid still gets you bonus points because taken care of your offspring while having a penis is enough to win you Dad Of The Year. Which says a lot more about the low expectations of father’s in this country than it does anything else. Feel free to worry. Poor father figures are more likely to drive kids to drugs than mom’s mini skirt, but that’s not my point!
My point is: it’s harder being a mom.
As a female-presenting parent there are certain requirements, a set of guidelines that society has kindly outlined in every major form of media for the past sixteen decades so that you mothers will know how to behave. It involves looking like you have never given birth, spent several hours in the gym each day, eat healthy (but restrained) portions of food, you must wear clothes that appeal to the heterosexual male gaze but don’t overstate your wealth (and can never imply poverty because it’s a sin to have children if you’re poor, dontchyaknow), your makeup must be flawless (even at the ER with a kid who tried to eat the mushroom out of the front lawn and is puking everywhere), you must have a good career (but not earn so much money your husband feels threatened), and you must belong to the right political party for the given era, you need to keep up with every trend/political movement/celebrity scandal (while working full time and parenting and doing Self-Care), and if your feminism isn’t flawless and completely up-to-date you can just forget it because you will be a traitor to the gender and can never be forgiven.
Someone did the math once, and the average mom needs a 96-hour day to stay well-informed, well-shaped, and well… sane.
For all of you still trying to live on a mere twenty-four hours a day you can just forget it. You’ve failed your children and the entire human race already.
NO! WAIT! COME BACK!
… we can all agree that this list of things women are expected to do is unrealistic, misogynistic, abelist, old-fashioned, and ridiculous. Any sensible human being knows that jobs come and go, kids get dirty, the political landscape is a nightmare, and everyone is still learning.
Everyone makes mistakes.
Eventually, you’re going to realize your political views aren’t as fair or enlightened as you want them to be. You’ll realize you were not a perfect feminist at nineteen (but you were trying and that’s important). That your views on body types, poverty, and workplace politics weren’t flawless when you were twenty-seven. And that, at forty, you still have a lot to learn as a human being. That’s a healthy place to be, honestly.
The thing is, this long and silly list of Rules written by society adds to the emotional labor every woman (using this as a catchall term here) shoulders each day.
WHAT’S THIS GOT TO DO WITH DATING?
Over the holidays my husband asked what I wanted, and I really couldn’t think of anything. There are things I’d like to have around, but I know realistically they’d break, or I don’t need them, or whatever. So I asked for him to take vacation time while I go to comic con, and for him to plan a date for us.
His response. “Sure! Where do you want to go on the date?”
And I couldn’t really put into words why that wasn’t the right answer.
I mean, it was a fair question. I tend to be a very decisive person. I know where I like to eat. When we sync our schedules so we can have a date, it’s usually with something in mind. But that’s not what I wanted…
… in fact, it took me a few weeks to realize what I was asking for wasn’t dinner out, but for him to do the emotional labor.
I didn’t want a date. I wanted him to take the decision making – what to eat, where to go, when to go, what to feed the kids, is the car gassed? is the traffic good? are the reviews good? – and do the work that I usually do as a matter of course.
Which led to another realization… I would really love a day where no one needs me.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants to feel needed. Everyone wants to feel special, loved, appreciated, and wanted. That’s basic human nature.
But there is a world of difference between Loved And Appreciated and OH MY DOG!!! THE WORLD WILL END IF YOU AREN’T HERE!!!!
And for the last few months, I’ve been putting out fires and saving the world.
For the kids, my husband, my friends, my parents, my neighbors… everyone has needed me for something. Which is fun for about ten minutes, and after that it’s just work. Free, emotionally-intensive, often thankless work. Speaking of that, have I ever told you about how magical it is to hear someone say Please or Thank You? Remind me to do that sometime-
It’s exhausting being the emotional dumping ground for everyone around you. And it seems to be the default Mom Role. As if incubating a kid for nine months also qualifies you to be the psychologist for someone at the pick-up line at school. I don’t know about you, but my first child did not come with an honorary diploma and a doctorate. I wish she had, because that would have covered the medical bills.
Was I polite enough to Jon at work today, or is he going to get me fired because I didn’t smile enough?
Did I give my kid a balanced lunch?
Am I dressed professionally, but not in a way that will invite sexual assault from the serial harasser that our university refuses to fire because he has a good publication record?
Did I feed myself something healthy?
Did I leave enough of a tip so the college kid waiting tables at lunch can pay their bills?
Am I doing enough for my community and the environment?
Really, the more you think about all the things you *should* do the more your head spins and the less you *can* do.
You’ve probably noticed this already, but most of these things shouldn’t be solely a woman’s problem.
Jon should stop telling women to smile.
The kid, the kid’s siblings, and dad should all have checked the lunch for fruits and veggies to.
The serial harasser should be fired, and possibly in jail.
Healthy food should be readily available and affordable to everyone.
The college kid should get a living wage, free healthcare, and a free education.
The environment should be everyone’s concern, and the packaging on the thing I just bought should be recyclable.
But we live in this imperfect world where misogyny, rape culture, oligarchies, and oil conglomerates hold sway.
If you really want to make someone’s day, take away some of the emotional labor being dumped on them.
Tell Jon not to tell women to smile.
Check the kid’s lunch and make sure there’s something healthy in there.
Fire the serial harasser.
Promote legislation that makes healthy food available to everyone.
Elect officials who will raise minimum wage or provide a universal basic income.
Do your part to save the planet.
PLAN THE DATE.
Look up the restaurants. Check the reviews. Book the sitter. Clear the schedule. And plan the date.
Give the woman in your life a day where she’s loved and appreciated, but where she isn’t the care giver. Make some decisions without her for once. It’s not all the time (please don’t do it all the time), but pick a day and let your special someone know you’ve got it covered for the day.
After all, every Evil Overlord will tell you they love running the world, but even villains need a vacation!